Almost Human now has fart jokes. Given the quips about testicles back in “Skin,” I suppose it was only a matter of time. Still, while I’m as big a fan of flatulent humor as the next 14-year old boy, seeing these kinds of jokes in my action-packed science fiction programming rubs me the wrong way and, furthermore, only reminds me of the infamous farting aliens in the revamped Doctor Who (in my mind, a personal low point of that season).
Also, unfortunately, despite being titled “The Bends,” there are no Radiohead references to be found in this particular episode.
But that’s a personal tangent—how does the rest of the episode hold up?
Taking a page from many a J.J. Abrams productions, the episode opens in medias res. Rudy, the awkward robot technician who has been circling the main action since the pilot episode, is shown running away from a pair of men with guns. What’s more shocking—he’s wearing quite the snappy suit.
We immediately flashback 24 hours prior and discover the genesis of this situation. An undercover cop named Cooper is killed by an enigmatic drug dealer named The Bishop. In typical dramatic irony, the fact that Cooper is speaking with his angelic wife and exchanging loving pleasantries just prior to meeting the dealer all but telegraphs this outcome. Though initially classified as crooked, Kennex sets out to prove Cooper’s innocence and capture The Bishop, who has been distributing a highly potent drug named The Bends all across Los Angeles.
Needing someone to infiltrate the drug market, Kennex and Dorian turn to the only man capable of displaying the necessary scientific know-how: Rudy. It’s not long, however, before the geeky scientist discovers that he’s way out of his element.
As someone who treats the British version of The Office as a quasi-Holy Grail, I’m always pleased to find Mackenzie Crook, who played unrepentant brown-noser Gareth Kennan (the American version was Dwight Schrute), getting steady work over on our side of the pond. Yet while the story certainly plays to Crook’s unique charms as a comedic actor, the episode simply doesn’t do much to alleviate the generic procedural feel that has permeated the show’s initial crop of episodes. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a good procedural (while steeped in mythology, shows like The X-Files and Fringe spent many episodes as basically supernatural cop show), Almost Human has yet to tap into a way of making this familiar template compelling. The action scenes are serviceable but lack any substantial momentum, and none of the show’s antagonists have proved to be anything approaching a formidable adversary. The Bishop perhaps serves as the major standout so far, but that’s mainly due to the twist surrounding his identity.
As his years on Fringe have taught, showrunner J.H. Wyman is a skilled storyteller with a talent for combining intellectually intriguing plots with emotionally intense character drama. (See the fantastic season two Fringe episode “White Tulip.”) Here, between the Kennex/Dorian relationship, Crook’s endearing side character and a futuristic setting with endless possibilities, Wyman and Co. have the broad streaks of a good show available. Perhaps the show need only last long enough for the writers to really stretch their legs and start experimenting.