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