Well, two episodes in and Almost Human have already learned the cardinal (or carnal) rule of selling sci-fi to the masses: never be afraid to show some skin.
Perhaps to counterbalance the more muted, sterile atmosphere set by the pilot, “Skin” takes us deep into the sexy, seedy underbelly of future Los Angeles. (Technology aside, it probably hasn’t changed that much.) In the opening teaser, we witness the murder of a technician famed for his work on female sex robots (or “bang bots”). This provides the catalyst for the week’s investigation, leading Kennex and Dorian on the trail of a nefarious organization bent on creating the ultimate sex robot. Such a thing wouldn’t necessarily be a crime, until it turns out they’re harvesting female skin to make it happen.
I read that last paragraph and it no doubt sounds like the plotline to some off-the-wall sci-fi dark comedy John Waters would have made in the ’80s, or, at the very least, a creepy, fan fic-y Battlestar Galactica spec script. Yet, to their credit, the production team behind this episode manages to transform the idea into a compelling and even poignant hour of television.
While it has its flaws, “Skin” makes a strong case for Almost Human’s possible longevity as a series. Rather than pursuing the Insyndicate plotline from the pilot episode, the writers have wisely decided to expand the scope of their universe. Moreover, without the burden of the obligatory first episode exposition and set-up, the episode has more time to breathe and, more importantly, pay service to the show’s strongest element: the Kennex-Dorian relationship.
Karl Urban and Michael Ealy’s rapport remains just as strong as it was the first time around. What’s all the more impressive is the fluidity of their chemistry. One minute, the two could be discussing such heavy topics as the afterlife while the next will be spent mining humor from the fact that Dorian has scanned Kennex’s body and determined he is in need of sex. (“Don’t scan my testicles…ever again,” Kennex snaps in the one of episode’s funniest lines.)
That’s not to say the more serious stuff is undermined by comedy. Though Dorian’s probing questions about death at first feels like a shoehorned-in attempt at pathos, this subplot actually becomes quite the emotional arc in how it affects both Dorian and Kennex. This becomes particularly apparent when the episode incorporates Vanessa, an escort robot who has been injected with human DNA.
Besides digging deeper into its characters, “Skin” also takes the time to show off its setting. Oftentimes, in projects of this ilk, the tendency is to restrict spending too much money on developing an elaborate future setting in favor of using mainly modern-looking sets with a slight futuristic-looking chrome added in for good measure. While it remains to be seen how the show will moderate its special effects spending overtime, nifty devices populate a good chunk of “Skin”—from the big (masks that distort a person’s features on camera by covering their face in bright lights) to the small (a movable giraffe figurine). It’s a nice touch for sci-fi fans and makes the world look a bit more lived in and fleshed out.
“Skin” marks a good step forward for the show, taking what could easily have been sordid and cheap subject matter and finding an emotional and heartbreaking take on it. If the pilot episode continually towed the line between mediocre and good, this one veers more steadily towards the latter territory. At the risk of making the joke that everyone and their mother have no doubt already made, Almost Human is well on its way to being an almost good show. God willing, one day it can be a great one.