‘Almost Human’: J.H. Wyman talks sci-fi cop show’s brighter futurism

Nov. 30, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.

Karl Urban, left, and Michael Ealy star in "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) goes undercover to help battle a dangerous street drug in the fourth episode of "Almost Human," "The Bends," airing Dec. 2. (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) goes undercover to help battle a dangerous street drug in the fourth episode of "Almost Human," "The Bends," airing Dec. 2. (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

From left, Anthony Konechny, Michael Irby and Karl Urban battle drug traffickers in the fourth episode of "Almost Human," titled "The Bends." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

Karl Urban as John Kennex battles drug traffickers in the fourth episode of "Almost Human," titled "The Bends." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy, battle a highly addictive street drug in the fourth episode of "Almost Human," titled "The Bends." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) assists Dorian (Michael Ealy) in the third episode of "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) in "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) in "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) in "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) are dispatched to investigate a murder and high-profile missing persons case in the second episode of "Almost Human," titled "Skin." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) examines a sexbot while Dorian (Michael Ealy) and John Kennex (Karl Urban) look on in the second episode of "Almost Human," titled "Skin." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) are dispatched to investigate a murder and high-profile missing persons case in the second episode of "Almost Human," titled "Skin." (Liane Hentscher/Fox)

When it comes to sci-fi, bleak and brutal are all the rage, but with his new Fox series “Almost Human,” J.H. Wyman is attempting to shine a little light onto all the darkness.

“When you think about shows or movies that are placed in the future, the tendency is it rains all the time and the atmosphere is messed up,” Wyman said. “In the future, you’re telling me that no one has a 7-year-old daughter that they have a birthday party for and maybe buy her a present? Nobody’s happy? I don’t believe that.”

With its gleaming silver skyscrapers and high-tech gadgetry, “Almost Human” is more late-model “Star Trek” than fashionably dystopian nightmare, which is perhaps not surprising given both J.J. Abrams’ executive producer role and the presence of star Karl Urban.

Fresh off two stints as Leonard “Bones” McCoy in Abrams’ recent “Trek” films, here, Urban plays gruff, robophobic detective John Kennex, a classic tough guy who develops a disdain for so-called synthetics following a botched raid that killed his team and left him without a leg.

When he returns to the force after a years-long absence, he’s partnered with Michael Ealy’s Dorian, who belongs to a class of android known as a DRN, machines that had been decommissioned for too closely approximating human behavior and emotion.

As the unlikely duo solves cases together, friction gradually gives way to friendship, and a futuristic buddy-cop bromance is born.

Touted as one of the most anticipated new entries on the fall schedule, “Almost Human” premiered as part of a special two-night event Nov. 17-18, earning mixed reviews but better-than-average ratings.

The show’s gleeful embrace of TV procedural protocol didn’t exactly charm critics — writing for The Times, Mary McNamara said “mashing up sci-fi with ‘Starsky & Hutch’ does nothing much for either genre,” while Entertainment Weekly described the show as “a slick, polished formulation of familiar dystopian tropes elevated by an unusual and central relationship.”

Karl Urban plays a part-human, part-machine cop in "Almost Human." (Liane Hentscher/Courtesy FOX/MCT)

Karl Urban plays a part-human, part-machine cop in “Almost Human.” (Liane Hentscher/Courtesy FOX/MCT)

Still, audiences appeared intrigued. Buoyed by an NFL lead-in, the first episode drew a rating of 3.1 in the key 18-49 age demographic and attracted an average of 9.1 viewers. The following night the show fared less well but still performed quite respectably — about 6.8 million viewers tuned in to watch Kennex and Dorian investigate a shadowy Albanian group abducting women to build realistic “sexbots.”

It was not sexbots but conspiracies, lost love and parallel universes that informed Wyman’s previous series, “Fringe,” which wrapped a five-season run earlier this year. Wyman said that show, which was also executive produced by Abrams, helped him “exorcise a lot of existential demons,” but it never managed to attain much mainstream success.

“I think a lot of people didn’t watch it because the concept sort of froze them out,” Wyman said. “I get it. You get home from work, you don’t want to get a lesson in string theory.”

Wyman hit on the idea for “Almost Human” late last year and pitched the concept to Abrams, who expressed enthusiastic support and who also suggested Urban play Kennex.

Casting was key as the chemistry between Kennex and Dorian drives the show, Abrams said.

“With something like ‘Almost Human,’ the challenge of creating something that feels new is not in even the case of the week, or the look of the world,” he said. “It goes down to how do these two interact. There’s some really funny and sweet exchanges between these characters as the relationship develops. That is what’s taking you through the event.”

“It seemed to me that there was a huge potential for fun, for comedy,” Urban added. “What I realized was at the heart of the show, both these characters are learning from each other. They’re learning about what it means to be human, and that was really quite an interesting and exciting concept.”

Ealy and Urban had to find their footing on the show’s Vancouver set, however. The actors only met in March on Ealy’s first day of filming, shooting a scene in which Dorian saves Kennex’s life.

“We met in the makeup trailer,” said Ealy, whose previous TV credits include “The Good Wife” and “Common Law.” “He came straight from New Zealand and I came straight from L.A. — it’s not like we could go out to Koi and have some sushi and talk about the show. We’ve been getting to know each other as we shoot. … I can learn more about Dorian sometimes by talking to Karl about it because he’s the one who’s looking at me every day.”

Wyman said he has “grand designs” for “Almost Human” and has a “feature film storyline” in mind for each of the characters, including such supporting players as Lili Taylor’s nurturing police captain, Sandra Maldonado, Mackenize Crook’s lab rat, Rudy Lom, and Minka Kelly’s detective, Valerie Stahl.

But for now, Wyman and the writing team are focusing on crafting 13 entertaining episodes that won’t alienate viewers with dense, heady mythologies or overly complicated plotting. The idea is to keep things mostly upbeat and stay on the bright side.

“I want the world to connect, I’m always writing about the same thing — life is valued by the human connections that we make,” Wyman said. “Fringe” was “heavy at times for me. This is lighter, more fun, I’m trying to make it a little bit more of a fun pill.”

– Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

– Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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Comments


3 Responses to ‘Almost Human’: J.H. Wyman talks sci-fi cop show’s brighter futurism

  1. Vicki Shipley says:

    Love the show, the characters interactions and the great storyline. I'm hooked!!!

  2. iamagoodteacher says:

    I love this show. I am in love with Michael Ealy and Karl Urban!!! They are two hotties!!!!

  3. eki says:

    Just not sold on this couple. Not a warm and fuzzy feeling and no connection with the actors. Sorry but I don't think this is working.

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