Almost Human "The Bends" Review (and 4-Episode Test): Side Effects May Include Boredom

By Cory Barker

Dec 03, 2013

Almost Human S01E04: "The Bends"


It might not seem like a big deal, mostly because Almost Human has been so heavily episodic in its first three weeks, but the decision to jumble up the show's episode order is pretty important—and the reason I'm bringing that up again is that the production code for "The Bends" was 107, not 104. Generally, networks and/or producers chose to pull the ol' switcheroo with a young TV show in order to push the best episodes toward the front of the season, and thus to postpone the lesser stuff until a later date. But sometimes they do it to make sure the audience is eased into a show's universe and premise. After the second night of Almost Human's two-night premiere, I assumed that we were dealing with the latter rationale. But after the last two episodes, I'm guessing that it's more the former, because if "The Bends" represents the best that Almost Human has to offer, the show is in a little bit of trouble. 

Look, just like last week, it's not as if this was a bad or completely boring episode of procedural television. It simply didn't have many overly compelling moments, and relied almost exclusively on Mackenzie Crook's admittedly tremendous charm to carry an otherwise rote case involving drug production and corrupt cops. Crook did a really nice job of playing Rudy's nervousness during both the preparation stages and the actual mission. Those were easy moments to play—and ugh at the show for relying on fart humor in just the fourth (to air) episode—but Crook found a few ways to make them worthwhile. Rudy's desire to dress all posh, hat included, was fun and probably fitting for a character who seems to spend most of his time talking to disembodied synthetic heads, or worse. 


The case itself was less successful, as the episode treated the mystery identity of the mastermind behind a drug operation as a much bigger deal than it actually was. That's a basic approach to take when you're trying to drum up the drama and tension for an ultimately lightweight case, and The Shield's Benito Martinez did what he could to make his Captain Barros character appear as villainous as possible. There just wasn't much on the page for it to matter. And the same could be said for the case's introductory catalyst, with the murdered, seemingly crooked cop having a personal connection to Kennex. The show keeps trying to give Kennex this emotional tether to the weekly stories, and while they're fine enough and give Karl Urban something to do other than growl, they don't really add much to Kennex as a character. The fact that he shot Barros at the end of the siege helped remind us that Kennex isn't afraid to color outside the lines or throw out the rulebook or whatever, but the follow-up scenes didn't do much with that notion. By the end of the episode, Kennex was back to being a grump, back to getting his balls busted by Dorian, and back to rolling his eyes at Rudy. Now, it's early and the show isn't required to deliver character-altering moments with any consistency, but if the show wants us to think this stuff is important, or that it RAISES THE STAKES, shouldn't there be a reason behind it? Does it really matter that we now know that Kennex's training buddy wasn't crooked and thus died honorably? 

This episode also didn't do much with its namesake. Future drugs could be so cool and weird! And though the exposition about The Bends suggested that they were just that (and thanks for the info, Valerie), this hour didn't show much of that. The Bends is green, it leaves a really nasty effect on your face, and other stuff. Maybe there's a concern about pushing the  show's premise too hard when Fox really wants (or perhaps wanted, since the ratings aren't so good) it to be a hit, but Almost Human's been a bit matter-of-fact about everything in the last two episodes.

I know, I know, it's just the third week. I should relax. The issue I have with Almost Human is that when Fox and the producers said that this was going to be a clear police procedural that happened to take place in the future and involve synthetic robots, I guess I still expected that it wouldn't literally be that. Just about everything that happened in this episode could have taken place in any number of a dozen contemporary procedural shows. Using the "nothing is original" complaint isn't something I like to do, but in this case, it's fitting because this is a world with really limitless potential and a creative team (or at least a showrunner) with a proven ability to do some wild stuff with story worlds that are just different enough from our own. The second-to-air episode, "Skin," was more successful in that sense; throwing in a cool robot fight during the big siege sequence like "The Bends" did doesn't really count.


And this is where the episode order thing comes in. It'd be easy to let this stuff go if "The Bends" was the fourth episode produced and it was clear that J.H. Wyman and Fox were sort of slowly dipping their toes into this universe. You expect that sort of thing to happen, just as you expect later episodes to involve more complicated and interesting premises. But this was the seventh episode produced ("Skin" was the fifth, and last week's "Are You Receiving?" was the sixth). Does that mean that Wyman eschewed toe-dipping and went full-bore weirdo with the premise in the scripts for Episodes 2 through 4, and Fox subsequently asked him to dial it back/chose to air these episodes first? It's possible, but I really have no idea and I haven't seen a whole lot of discussion about it elsewhere. But no matter what's going on, I hope it gets figured out and/or the logic reveals itself soon. There's so much promise here. Everybody involved could help make a really great show. Almost Human just isn't there yet.



NOTES TO BE UPLOADED

– Considering the show debuted so late, it didn't really fit within our official 4-Episode Test schedule. Pretend this review is an expanded version of what I would have written if Almost Human premiered in like September. You shouldn't give up on the show quite yet, but it's definitely on notice. If there's something else you'd rather watch on Mondays at 8pm, shift this one to the second or third spot in line on the DVR queue, and hope it improves. 

–I felt like there was a weird Breaking Badundercurrent moving through this episode: The brightly colored drugs, the use of the phrase "the cook," and Rudy putting on a hat to become a criminal character. I think that was on purpose.

–This week in future tech: liquid that turns your whole body into a walking GPS tracking signal. That could totally be real sooner rather than later.

– This wasn't a particularly big episode for Dorian, but Michael Ealy made the best of it. And the brief fight between he and the other robot was pretty solid. MORE ROBOT BATTLES.

–It's not a good sign for your dramatic arc when I'd prefer to watch Rudy, John, and Dorian head to the bar to pick up badge bunnies. Seriously, why couldn't that have been the episode?


What'd you folks think of "The Bends"? Will you be sticking withAlmost Human?


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  • reasonating Dec 13, 2013

    This show has potential, yes, but so far it is just mediocre overall.

    The buddy cop/procedural idea has been done to death, but can still be enjoyable if done well, regardless of the setting. If you are interested in the show because you like watching the developing friendships of the characters, then, this whole shifting the episodes out of order kind of ruins that, now doesn't it? So, if the chronology is screwed up, the things that you might like in a buddy cop show are diluted. I actually had been thinking that their relationship development seemed uneven, now I know why.

    But, maybe it is a well-done procedural, and that is what draws you in? Nope, this is one of the weaker procedurals I've come across in a while, and I LIKE procedurals for the most part. The stories are fairly cliched, and could be put into any setting. The show barely makes any use of its future setting, and wouldn't be very interesting or well-done in any setting.

    So, what is the draw to this show then? It is weak as a procedural and keeps getting in the way of its possible strengths as a buddy cop show. So, maybe the future setting is interesting enough on its own? Once again, no. There are so many missed opportunities here, it is almost painful to watch. We get a little voiceover at the beginning credits telling us about why the world needs robot cops, but wouldn't it be more interesting if they added some more depth to the world they live in? Real depth, not cheesy, pseudo-depth. Tell us more about the politics of the place, the cultural shifts that brought about the current state of affairs, give us an overarching issue, some bigger stakes, or something to make it more interesting than a weak procedural.. Give us some meat and something to chew on.

    Frankly, it is disappointing to see Fox use the future setting as a thin gimmick to get people to watch a mediocre procedural. It doesn't have to stay a gimmick, Fox. The future setting could be the show's best asset, if you would just develop it more. Still hoping they'll make some changes and allow this show to reach it's full potential.

  • Bicketybam Dec 11, 2013

    With the difference with production order and broadcast order, I want to know how is the 3rd episode "Are you receiving" meant to be episode 6 when that is the episode John tries the "olive oil trick" ? So he waits 6 episodes (whatever that equates to in actual days) to finally try using olive oil to sooth his sore leg?

    Who would wait that long? That reasoning alone suggests to me that "Are you receiving?" was meant to be the 2nd episode anyway, not the sixth.

  • Syrinx2 Dec 06, 2013

    I´ll give this a check-up next week to see what bunnies the trio picks up.
    Sad to see such a weak episode, this early.

    With the stellar Blacklist and POI episodes from earlier weeks, I guess I´m picky. But this wasn´t the brilliance I was hoping for. (Even with the few Blade Runnerisms.)

    I was missing a story arc from the previous episodes. This was very self contained. I´ll still be watching, though.

    Peace!

  • shunsai Dec 06, 2013

    A little late to the party, but I'm instantly hooked (just caught up with all 4 episodes). I don't find myself being critical of anything yet. I think it's been great so far! One of the most important questions that any show that wants to be great has to answer is: Do I care about these characters? And so far, I really do. So far I'm curious about their backgrounds and curious about where they're headed. And I have to admit, with a Fringe producer at the helm, I really can't wait to see what the bigger picture and larger arcs will be.

    If what Cory says is true about the reasons for scrambling the episode order, I could very well see it being moreso to get the viewer acquainted with the world and the characters before delving headlong into overarching plots. I don't know what J.H. Wyman's contributions were to Fringe, but I hope he carries that torch. I miss Walter and Peter and Olivia and Astrid and Broyles. This futuristic vision and it's technology feels really reminiscent of that for me. Wyman's already got my vote of confidence!

    To end what's already turned out to be a long post, I remember when I watched Fringe's first season from week-to-week, I didn't feel very connected or compelled by the characters at first. But the quirkiness of it hooked me, and the relationships really solidified over the years. I'm still really glad Fox gave Fringe the chance to tell it's wonderful story. I hope people haven't started pulling away from Almost Human, because this is one show that I really believe has a lot of potential. I really hope they get a chance to tell their story.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Dec 06, 2013

    Rudy was pretty hilarious! wonder what the other side effects were

  • ummhaniyyah Dec 06, 2013

    Yes, I'm also really disappointed. The show has so much promise but every opportunity the writers have had to make it compelling has been missed, so far. I say "so far" but the way they've set things up and the fact that the season's episodes have already been shot makes it unlikely that things will pick up.

    I feel like although "Almost Human" is set in the future that as a show it is dated. This kind of straight-forward cop procedural may have been okay in the 1980s but we've moved on.

    -Chances have been missed to explore the (possibly exciting) world in which the characters live.

    -There is a nod to "Blade Runner" and cyberpunk in the umbrellas and clear raincoats people in the streets wear and the Asian district where Kennex grabs his meals and sees his blackmarket doctor, but none of the edge that would have made things interesting.

    - Lost opportunities -- no larger story around the Syndicate mentioned in the pilot. John isn't hunting them and (as would be more compelling) they aren't hunting him. His duplicitous ex hasn't reappeared either to ensnare him, because she feels remorse or because he bumps into her on a case or by chance. Maldonado mentions that John is the only one in the department she trusts but there has been no indication that there is reason for her to distrust anyone. Where are the other models like Dorian? What's the story behind their decommissioning? There are little hints of a world perhaps more fractured than our own (the city is walled and people find ways over the wall - what's beyond the wall? The terrorist army in the hostage ep were religious terrorists of some kind).

    - Several episodes in we still know very little about any of the characters beyond their roles and a sort of cardboard cut-out representation of who they are.

    I like

    - Backstory
    - More than one storyline

    - Some sort of story arc - hate stand-alone cases of the week when nothing else is happening plot-wise. Arrow has cases of the week but then there are always several other twisty/mysterious storylines going on at the same time to keep the audiences interest. Even a pretty unremarkable franchise like the Law and Orders always introduces twists (and not "the captain is really the criminal mastermind, discovered by a simple search of arrest records") and complex characters.

    - No Big Bads.

    - Non-linear story-telling: I guess there was a little bit of an attempt with this by having the first scene take place at the end of the story -- but I don't think it really counts.

    The "Almost Human" writing team just haven't, for some reason, been willing to take any chances. The dialogue between Kennex and Dorian is well-written and there they do allow themselves to play but that's about it. It's a shame because the acting team is pretty decent.

  • shunsai Dec 06, 2013

    4 episodes in seems a little bit hasty to be pronouncing opportunities 'missed'. You may be right, but I think establishing a solid foundation is more important than taking huge plot risks right away and pigeonholing yourself in from very early on in your story. I sense they're softballing it these first few episodes, allowing us to get more familiar with their world and characters, not missing opportunities. It's clearly a wide world and future within which they have many possible directions to go. I don't fault them for not hastily rushing down one narrow alley.

  • JT_Kirk Dec 06, 2013

    Cory, you nailed it. Almost Human was Almost Interesting, but the compelling stuff from the first few episodes has been flushed down the drain entirely in the last 2 episodes. There isn't even a focus on the ethics of the future, so it's not even a police procedural that is doing something different, and it's certainly not compelling to watch these same stale stories get told in a new setting.

    I might give it a few more watches, but it's definitely not a priority show anymore, they wasted too much goodwill from the little thought found in the pilot and that's a shame. I don't even care if this is Fox's fault for tampering with the order, if these are the types of filler episodes then what they're saying is the foundation they're built upon is too flawed to be compelling.

  • WarrenSmithJr Dec 05, 2013

    Why does everyone have to be modern day critics? If you like the show, watch it, if you are growing bored or dont think you like it much, find something else to watch.

  • glenguti Dec 05, 2013

    I enjoyed this episode. Mackenzie Crook was fantastic! I also liked seeing Benito Martinez as I was a fan of The Shield. What I thought was bad was that they could've built up to this episode and used Benito in previous episodes. I felt like the reveal that he was in charge of the drug operation was too rushed and they killed off a good character too soon. But I'm still interested and still look forward to watching this on Mondays.

  • MikeUK123 Dec 05, 2013

    It's a great show, better and more different to a standard procedural than I think Cory gives it credit for.

    But what it needs to do is explore the defining elements much more. I think this should be a continuous examination of what makes a human tick using smart androids as a comparison, and building a story that makes all that interesting. At the moment I would say it is the other way round.

    The stories have only been good cop stories, with the tech and android moments thrown in when there's a chance, rather than the story being built around all that.

    Oddly, the example I would want to give is Fringe. That did a great job of building stories around the science. But it's the same guys........

  • shunsai Dec 06, 2013

    I completely agree, with the exception that it's still too early to say that it's only been good cop stories rather than building stories around the character dynamics. I feel like the arbitrary 4-episode test doesn't always apply.

    I'm not sure if it's what you had in mind, but the Data/Geordie relationship from Star Trek TNG came to mind. Sometimes that dynamic was played up too much and didn't feel it had the right degree of subtlety. So far, I like Michael Ealy's Dorian: he's not your typical Data/Pinocchio android... at least they haven't made him to be that... yet. He has a great sense of humour and empathy, which makes him seem almost human, but still an android. To me he's like Data, minus the outright Pinocchio complex. He has emotions to some extent, and to me that is the most unique thing about this interpretation of an android. I do look forward to seeing how they develop stories around that dynamic, but I hope it's done in subtle ways- not in outright "I wish I were a real boy" tropes.

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