It is a truth universally acknowledged that a loner cop in possession of a traumatic back story must be in want of a partner. He (and very occasionally she) may bitterly refute this but we, and his superiors, know better.
Sometimes this partner will be a rookie, or a woman, or a person of a different race. In Fox’s “Alien Nation,” which aired in 1989, he was from another planet.
No matter the particulars, the partner will seem at first to be nothing but trouble, the loner cop’s worst nightmare. Eventually though, they become a team, proving once again that no man is an island.
In Fox’s new police procedural “Almost Human,” debuting Sunday, the year is 2048, a time when Los Angeles has clearly lost the battle for a revitalized downtown. In this future, criminals are so powerful that mere humans cannot stop them.
So the LAPD is augmented with androids, here known as synthetics or MXs. Our loner cop is John Kennex (Karl Urban, last seen as Bones in the new “Star Trek” franchise), desperately trying to retrieve his memory of an ambush that cost the lives of his team two years ago. Not surprisingly, he blames the synthetic who at the time assessed the situation as unwinnable and ran away.
You can imagine how thrilled he is when upon returning to duty he is assigned one of the new “battle ready” models. The robots are clearly programmed to be unnecessarily irritating. Through plot twists designed to reveal the depth of Kennex’s anger and introduce us to his obligatory special-geek friend (“Pirates of the Caribbean’s” Mackenzie Crook in thick glasses), Kennex winds up with an older model, one decommissioned when the human-emotion-mimicking hardware proved too successful.
Dorian (Michael Ealy) is an android who feels it’s his job to make Kennex a better man. Like every Transformational Partner, he does this by causing the emotionally frozen human to explore his prejudices and, most important, accept his own emotions. A botmance, instead of a bromance.
“Almost Human” isn’t terrible, it’s just not terribly interesting, at least in the first hour. Though created by “Fringe’s” J.H. Wyman, it’s produced with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot imprint, which seems, for once, regrettably fitting.
Both Urban and Ealy are likable leads, but they’re trapped in a machine constructed mostly of spare parts. The wary ambivalence people feel toward strides in artificial intelligence has fueled science fiction since its invention.
Classic films and television shows have explored the definition of humanity — emotion? memory? simple biology? — for decades and indeed, “Almost Human” pays homage to a few of them. Certainly Kennex’s distrust of synthetics is directly descended from that of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in “Aliens.” But mashing up sci-fi with “Starsky & Hutch” does nothing much for either genre.
And once again Lili Taylor is wasted, this time as Kennex’s chief. Ditto Minka Kelly, as another non-synthetic officer.
There are hints in the pilot of a wider story to be told — how the infrastructure of L.A., and presumably the country, came to fail so spectacularly. (Was it Obamacare?) There’s also a conspiracy within the police department that led to Kennex’s ambush. But the heart of the show, one fears, will be the increasingly affectionate banter between man and bot.
By the end of the pilot, Kennex admits that Dorian is “different” from the other robots. As everyone knows, that is the first mewling step toward overcoming both pride and prejudice.
Unfortunately for “Almost Human,” we know this because we have seen it so many times before.
When: 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)