Almost Human

J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman: Why Almost Human IS NOT like Blade Runner

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Nov 15, 2013, 4:07 PM EST (Updated)

J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman are headed into new territory. Yes, Abrams, the über-producer of Fringe, Lost, Star Trek and Alias, and Wyman, the showrunner of Fringe, are trying to tell us that there's actually something they haven't done so far on TV, and it involves their new series, Almost Human, which debuts with a special two-night premiere on Sunday, Nov. 17, and Monday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

“The story is very different than anything we’ve done before,” said Abrams, during a press call with Wyman. “It is very much a cop procedural show, which is a very familiar show. We’ve seen a million buddy/cop shows, and the fun of that was twisting it in a way that Joel [Wyman] came up with, which is having it set in a place and with specific characters that allow for conflict and cases every week that don’t feel like everything you’ve seen a million times before. I think that this show has a level of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done. I think that part of it is just the relationship between Karl and Michael’s characters.”

Almost Human takes place in the year 2048 and follows John Kennex (Karl Urban), a cop who barely survives a devastating attack on police officers and ends up in a coma for 17 months. When he's ready to go back to work, things have changed and police officers must partner with humanlike androids. John, who has a synthetic leg of his own, is none too happy about the mandate. He's eventually partnered with a discontinued android named Dorian (Ealy), who has a tendency toward unexpected emotional responses. With John being part machine and Dorian being just a little human in a way, the two fight crime while John delves into the mystery behind the initial attack and the larger mythology of their world. The series also stars Six Feet Under's Lili Taylor as their captain, Minka Kelly, and Michael Irby.

According the Wyman, who created Almost Human, “the difference between Almost Human and say, Fringe... is that Fringe had a mythology every week, that was the main thrust of it. Underneath it all, at least to me, it was a quintessential kidnapping story, and a show about a family that really is trying to hold it all together in a time where holding families together is really hard. People immediately gravitated toward that mythology. That was that.

“These are cops. Every week they’re going to show up at work and they’re going to have a case at work. That case is going to be really compelling and really fun, and it’s going to take them on a journey. Through those cases we’re going to learn more about our characters and the relationships are going to diversify and grow,” he said.

But just because Almost Human is a procedural doesn’t mean that the show will be devoid of recurring storylines. “There is definitely going to be some mythology. Inherently, this show is a week-to-week great action show with cases that you’ve never really seen before, or concepts that you have seen, but just told in very different ways, because of the nature of our program,” continued Wyman.

“I’m always interested in hiding certain things and planting some things that will come around later, maybe in different ways than you first thought. That’s it. But when you sit down to the show, what we’re hoping is that you’ll really be engaged by the compelling stories and these great characters, and go forward with them as they understand their place in the world,” he said.

Almost Human
Almost Human, Karl Urban, Michael Ealy

Wyman admits he embraced the idea for Almost Human because it big and fun and “popcorn-y.”

But for the executive producers, what really has brought the series to life and given them new directions to take the series is the casting of Karl Urban as John Kennex and Michael Ealy as Dorian.

“It was so interesting, because when we were finding these guys, each one of them had something that was just so perfect for the character. We knew that fundamentally they were right for the roles, but just who they are, and what they bring to it, and what they’ve examined now having these roles as actors, and what they dug into, has just made the show that much more rich and provided us with a lot of opportunities and avenues that we didn’t even dream of,” said Wyman.

“What Michael Ealy brings to this role is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion, and he is playing a character who is, by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop,” said Abrams.

“But he’s also as altruistic and as considerate and empathetic as you would want. I think what Michael brings is that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The title Almost Human, of course, applies to both Karl and Michael’s characters. I think that the idea when Joel pitched it was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was in many ways more human than his partner.”

As for Urban, his character is “a little bit worried about the advancement of technology and where that’s led humanity and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new developments and unchecked growth with technology,” said Wyman.

“He feels, while he appreciates technology, such as things like the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for the police, he still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics, or synthetics. He looks at that and is forced to kind of deal with the idea that his well-being now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with a sense of contempt. That’s the journey for him, is that he’s starting to realize it’s not the technology that’s bad. It’s how you use it,” he said.

Coming from Fringe, “I’ve always loved to talk about 'what ifs' and scenarios of 'look where we’re going'. This is a perfect platform for these cautionary tales and 'what if' scenarios,” said Wyman.

According to Abrams, “I think that the fun of working with someone who loves the ‘what if’ and is able to imagine situations and characters that make you laugh as much as it makes you squirm, because the ideas are so close to what’s possible. On Fringe, as crazy as things were, and it got pretty crazy, they were so often things that felt like, 'God, that just seems like something that might be happening right now.' Then almost invariably you’d read about something within weeks or months that proved that out. It’s always been fun working with Joel, and Almost Human is no different."

Almost Human
Almost Human, Karl Urban, Michael Ealy

Abrams, the man who relaunched Star Trek and who's working on a new incarnation of Star Wars, beyond the movie franchise of it all, is a pretty busy guy with three TV series on the air. He has Eric Kripke's Revolution on NBC, Jonathan Nolan's Person of Interest on CBS and now Wyman's Almost Human on Fox.

“I think that the lucky situation for Bad Robot has been working with really wonderful people who are great showrunners and storytellers. With Joel, with whom we worked on Fringe for five years, when he pitched me the idea for Almost Human, ... I felt like that little kid that I used to be watching Six Million Dollar Man and getting all excited about the idea of what the show could be,” said Abrams.

While the executive producers are happy to note inspiration from Fringe and even The Six Million Dollar Man, don't expect Almost Human to go too deeply into the territory blazed by films such as Blade Runner, despite the futuristic look and feel of the show.

“In my mind, you can’t touch something in this wheelhouse or in science fiction without owing a huge debt to Blade Runner. It’s definitely one of my favorite films. It has so much to look at. It was just so amazing and instructive as a young person watching that movie on how not just what’s happening in the scene, but what’s happening 10 layers behind the scene, what’s going on in the street behind it, and then what’s going on in the building behind that?” said Wyman.

“But there is something about those types [of] features that I definitely did not want to go for. I hope that we’re not really in that territory and that we were successful, because what occurred to me is in watching all these incredible science fiction [films], or reading all these incredible science fiction books, the future is largely 'Oh, look what you humans have done. You’ve really messed up, and now what are you going to do?' Whereas I think what we were talking about is something a little bit more hopeful, that we will have some hardships as a human race and it will be difficult at times, but ultimately we will persevere, because that’s truly what I believe,” he added.

“I am a hopeful person. I really believe that the world is going to get it right somehow. I wanted to make it a brighter environment where it’s not raining all the time, the atmosphere is not completely ruined, that people still have children and are very excited about their daughter’s 7-year-old birthday party. That they’ll want to do what they can to get her that present that she wants. That there is a sense of going forward and a sense of 'Okay, this is the future in 40 years,'” Wyman continued.

“It’s still going to have a lot of the same stuff that we deal with now. It will have some things that are much better. It will have some things that are more dangerous, sure. But we’re resilient and we’re going to succeed. That was the difference.”

Here's a look at Almost Human:

Are you ready for an optimistic look at tomorrow?