Where Fringe's old sets in Vancouver once housed a fake cow named Gene and rows of jars filled with red vines and other assorted candy, now stands Almost Human's space-age-looking police precinct. But using the same sound stage isn't the only thing the two Fox shows have in common.
Like Fringe, Almost Human (Sunday, 8/7c) also comes from producers J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman and is set in the not too distant future. Police officers are partnered with androids as they tackle cases with futuristic elements that border on the fringe. Sound familiar? But apart from those glaring similarities, Abrams insists that the shows are fundamentally different.
"The Venn diagram of these two [shows] might be that they're pushing the edge of technology and what might be possible in that regard," he says. "[Almost Human is] much more of a cop show that you might feel is familiar with a huge wrench thrown into that. It feels very distinct and different from the world of Fringe, which, at its core was a much more serialized show about this dysfunctional father-son [relationship] and romance that went over not just years, but different worlds. This is a show that doesn't quite get into that level of serialized storytelling."
On the series, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) wakes from a two-year coma after an incident that claimed the lives of several officers, making him a pariah upon his return to the precinct. Making his transition more difficult is the mandate that officers now must ride with an android. Kennex quickly dispatches his robo-partner because "[he] has always been a little bit reserved when it comes to relying on technology to do a man's job," Urban explains. As a replacement, he gets a defunct and flawed model named Dorian (Michael Ealy) that exhibits compassion — something Kennex will not be happy about. Urban notes, "The wonderful thing about the partnership with Dorian is that it engineers somewhat of a paradigm shift."
Kennex and Dorian's partnership highlights another big difference the series has from Fringe in the exploitation of and dependence the future has on technology. Where the former series focused on a desperate group trying to hold on to a semblance of family, Almost Human takes a look at those trying to hold on to humanity. "Almost Human is about finding your place in a world that is rapidly changing," Wyman says. "It's about connection in a time when connection in undervalued. It's about the facility of technology to make us forget what it's like to be human in a moment and connect. It's about people trying to hold on to a humanity that is quickly being left behind. It's about people who deeply care about others who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to maintain peace and order in a world where not all the time do they get the proper credit for."
It's that desperate need to be human that's actually one of Dorian's biggest flaws because he can never achieve that goal. "It's one of his more charming qualities, but it's also one of his biggest flaws because he's not happy with who he is," Ealy says. "Anyone who's not happy with who they are, obviously that can create problems."
In a way, Kennex can relate, which is why they make the perfect partners, even if they don't know it just yet. Following the incident — caused by a mysterious organization called Insyndicate — Kennex has been struggling to find his own way back to normalcy. "This guy is coming out of a coma and he's been out for two years," Urban says. "In that regard, he's kind of like a dinosaur. He's waking to a world that's quite different. It's recognizable, but it's different even in two years. Not only is he trying to find his place in the society, he's also trying to deal with the baggage of the past."
The mostly case-of-the-week show will evolve into that of a buddy cop drama, of sorts, once Kennex does finally let himself trust Dorian. Both Ealy and Urban liken their characters' relationship evolution to the one in Midnight Run. "That's a really good touchstone for the ballpark we want to be in," Urban says. "Two characters thrown into a situation that neither of them want to be in. Well, Dorian wants to be in this situation, but Kennex doesn't. Through the course of them spending time, there develops a bond and a friendship and the respect. But they're still getting under each other's skin."
But Almost Human will have some serialized aspects, namely in Insyndicate, the aforementioned organization that will cause Kennex and the police department much strife. "There are many groups that are actually taking advantage of the fact that the [technology] genie is out of the bottle and taking advantage of the fact that they can make money in new ways and they can use people in new ways and they can destroy the world because they want to see it burned in new ways," Wyman says. "Insyndicate is one of these many faces that are terrifying."
Almost Human debuts with a two-night event starting Sunday at 8/7c on Fox.
Will you tune in for Almost Human?