Three episodes into its run, Almost Human has given us a ruthless, yet highly organized crime syndicate and a collective of sleazy black marketers bent on collecting human skin. This week we have … stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.
With last week’s “Skin,” I complimented how the story and production design helped expand the boundaries of the series. Still, I wondered how the creative team would budget itself going forward. I believe I now have my answer. The restricted setting of “Are You Receiving?” without a doubt represents a cost-effective move for the conscientious freshman series and, unfortunately, the episode inevitably feels slighter as a result.
During the cold opening, we see a nefarious group of black-clad individuals enter an office building, execute the security and promptly take several workers hostage. Kennex and Dorian immediately hit the scene. Though their captain instructs the pair to withdraw, Kennex’s bullheaded nature will not allow it. Soon, the two find themselves the only law enforcement in the building. Their only link to the hostages comes in the form of phone calls from a frightened young office drone named Paige, who has taken refuge just outside of the criminals’ sights. All of this effectively means that our two heroes spend an ordinate amount of time in the episode’s first half climbing the same stairwell, only to spend significant portions of the latter half sneaking around and dispatching bad guys like video game characters.
Needless to say, the show’s world building takes a back seat this time around. Moreover, remove the occasional instances of VFX and fancy robotics, and “Are You Receiving?” is not so different from the kind of story you’d likely find on a standard, mainstream cop procedural (think NCIS or Hawaii Five-0). If “Skin” expanded the world of Almost Human, “Are You Receiving?” retroactively shrinks it down to size.
All this wouldn’t quite be so bad were it not for the presence of Karl Urban, whose very involvement brings to mind his role in the exhilarating 2012 film Dredd—another story primarily set in a single building where the outnumbered protagonists must creatively battle gun-wielding flunkies while climbing to the top floor. Whereas Dredd used atmosphere, grimy art direction and explosive, gory violence to augment its singular setting, this episode must make due with a limited, TV budget and TV-approved gunplay. The deck is somewhat stacked against them.
Despite its somewhat generic plotline, “Are You Receiving?” is not devoid of notable moments. Chief among them is a brief bit where we get to witness the true extent of Dorian’s abilities. Because Michael Ealy tends to play up Dorian’s more mild-mannered tendencies in his performance, it’s quite easy to forget the character’s inherent strength and power. This makes it such a joy to then see him rapidly climbing up elevator cables before flying into a room with guns (accurately) blazing. Dorian may be an exceedingly kind fella, but you’d definitely want him on your side in a fight.
Rumor has it “Are You Receiving?” was originally slated to premiere later in the season but was promptly bumped up the schedule. If so, it certainly shows in the way Kennex and Dorian interact with one another. Any tension that existed between the pair in the pilot episode now appears to have effectively vanished. While the two are still prone to good-natured jabs and amusing banter, there’s a real sense of warmth that’s suddenly developed. After initially scolding Kennex for his tardiness in one of the opening scenes, Dorian nevertheless heats his partner’s coffee to the ideal temperature. This thoughtful act receives a callback later on when Kennex affectionately (or as affectionately as Kennex gets) refers to Dorian as his “coffee warmer.”
The Almost Human writers seem to have quickly realized that the Kennex-Dorian dynamic acts as the show’s major draw and, as a result, look to be beefing up the comedy bits in a big way. Though I’m certainly not opposed to bouts of levity in what can otherwise be an overly self-serious genre, here’s hoping J.H. Wyman and crew keep the “yuck-yuck” factor at a reasonable level. In an industry where more serious sci-fi programming seems to have gone the way of westerns and anthology programs, Almost Human stands a chance at bucking the trend.