Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Almost Human - Simon Says, "Please Watch."


Here's the thumbnail sketch for the Almost Human episode, "Simon Says" from Entertainment Weekly dated January 10.

"Kennex and Dorian investigate a guy who straps bombs to his victims necks and puts their final moments on the internet.  I'm officially scared of this show's writers room."

I wonder what that is supposed to mean, specifically that last comment?  Is the reviewer, Jessica Shaw, unfamiliar with the real life collar bomb victim, Brian Douglas Wells from 2007's sad episode, or is she expressing her distaste for the writers subject material?

What if there is a third reason, that Shaw thinks the writers have become stale already and they are cherry picking real life tragedies because they can't formulate their own plots?


I fear it may be the last reason but I'm also aware I might be projecting my own concerns.

Almost Human has a unique story to tell.  They have a huge slate to explore specifically what it is to be human and what it is to be constructed by humans.  Existential crises, angst, guilt, prejudice and little things like whether you have a soul or not provide a great wealth of material but oddly enough we get a rehash of it's sci-fi predecessors and the re-spinning of real life events like the story above.

I have been guilty of attaching great importance to the themes explored on Almost Human and I can only hope the writers are keen on investigating the same themes I've dissected.  If not, then we are in for more re-hash and re-spin and that would lead to a short shelf life for this show.


Let's take a look at "Simon Says" and hope the writers are following the same vein as I and not just turning out the schlock.

If we are to look at this episode as a study of the human condition then we are looking at it's dark side.  Simon Lynch has taken to seeking revenge against those who have wronged him by attaching bombs to them because he feels rejected or unloved.  His gambit appeals to our lesser angels where we are fascinate by watching train wrecks and cheering for a grisly outcome because we can hide behind the anonymity of the internet.  To say this doesn't happen in real life would be naive.  Unfortunately, the internet in our real world is a haven for those who wish to hate and espouse selfish rancor.

Almost Human taps into this hatred by picking to real world targets such as the banking sector and the police force.  (So maybe the writers are in line with my own thinking.)  Love and rejection are two very human emotions and to see the character of Lynch play them out with a criminal twist is chilling.  If we are to explore this plot further (which I admit I do to at some extreme) then we also see a god complex at play here.

Simon Lynch becomes the master puppeteer and he pulls at peoples strings by making them dance for him (in Jeanie's case literally).  Only, this is a dance of death because he holds the power of life or death over them and can end it all at a whim with the rest of (the internet viewing) humanity watching him.  This goes back to my previous discussions of the "Angry" or "Indifferent" God.  We get a slightly different angle at this morality play but it is ground well trodden as we have already seen it play out in the annals of Fringe and Almost Human previously.

Careful of the re-hash and re-spin writers room!


Almost Human's greatest asset into the exploration into humanity remains Michael Ealy's Dorian.

In this particular episode we get a new spin on his fractured humanity.  Dorian is left with a partial charge.  We get a hint there is a prejudice against because him because the MX's get priority treatment.  Fellow policeman "Paulie" gives preferential treatment to the others because of his disdain for Dorian and Kennex. 

Dorian's character takes a hit here because his low energy mood swings are played for comic effect.  Instead of exploring a serious condition such as Bi-polarism, Dorian smacks Paulie across the jaw and then giggles like a school child wishing to make it all good again.  Dorian deserves better.  As a being wishing to become more human we've seen him struggle with depression and loneliness.  To see him portrayed as a broken toy does his character a disservice.

I also resented Kennex referring to Dorian as a "Happy Toaster" which would normally hurt Dorian deeply but perhaps the writers were trying to weave in another Battlestar Galactica reference because they had Alessandro Juliani of BSG fame on the show.  Either way, it was weak.

You'd think Kennex and the writers would be more sensitive to Dorian's plight because he essentially killed himself by exhausting his charge to save Kennex's life.  Do the writers not realize this or are they deliberately taking a step back from Dorian's exploration of humanity by making him just a rechargeable toy?  If it's the latter then shame on them.


Maybe the writers are really "anti-robot' if you look at the patrol car above it is clearly stenciled, "To Protect & Serve Man."  This obviously excludes all other "life" forms and the message is obvious that anyone else, like Dorian and his ilk, are not worthy of the same consideration. 

It could be the writers are winking at us.  "To Serve Man" was the title to one of the great Twilight Zone episodes from 1962 in which the exalted Mankind was not a race to be catered to but to be catered as.  To Serve Man was not a tome to hospitality between races but a cookbook for a superior race instead!  Hopefully, the writers are aware of this and are portraying the future of humans as an arrogant prejudiced bunch that has deep problems with inclusion.

By now you probably aware of my confusion over the writers intentions.  Here's part of the voice over we get as the show begins each episode, "Now all cops, human and man made, together take on the battle to watch over us all."  I hate to burst their bubble but humans are literally "man made" also.

See what I mean about this show?  Are they taking their subject material seriously or is it beyond the ken of this particular crew and it is time to clean house.  JJ Abrams and Joel Wyman have a long history into the exploration of humanity.  Maybe they should step down from their clock tower (as seen in this episode and mirrored from another real life tragedy) and make sure their writing team is on board with the real reason for this show.

At least I hope exploring humanity is the real reason for this show.




8 comments:

  1. (I should be doing this tomorrow, shame on me, but I watched last night and it's still fresh in my mind)

    This episode was especially horrific to me, for several reasons, one of which being that in many ways I actually liked it.

    The bomb-collar thing was awful. It truly brought up feelings of claustrophobia and powerlessness, even just watching. I wasn't aware of the real-life event, but I'm somehow not surprised... And Dave, for better or worse, fiction in every form has been borrowing from real-life events since it began, and I doubt it will end any time soon (as well as real-life borrowing from fiction).

    The internet thing was also awful, mostly because the majority of us actually do spend time on the internet and it makes me wonder... am I one of those horrid "followers"? Of course I've never followed a happening event like that, but how many times have we heard on the news that such-and-such event had a bajillion tweets, or people were whipping out their phones to post youtubes of an event - all that instead of helping? Encouraging instead of preventing? Indeed, after looking at the link, the episode is a rehash, but it is very relevant. What people will do for attention...

    I don't know if it is intentional, but I find Dorian brings the racism issues front and forward very often, and personally I think it is a good thing. In the "developed" world, racism has improved immensely (I think), as has sexism, but both still exist. I wish a show would bring forth some of the sexism issues that still exist - they are hidden in plain sight as well.

    Dorian's "low battery" mood swings confused me a bit - I was just grateful they didn't refer to Dorian as being on his period or something, which in real-life (in my neck of the woods) almost certainly would have happened.

    I still like Lab Dude, and adore his accent. I still don't like Kennex's love interest, not at all.

    As for the Writer's Room comments... lol! I would be very afraid too! Good grief can you imagine? Every week they go through ghastly historical events - "ok guys, how do we blow somebody up THIS week?"

    Well I should be working so I'm off. Oh and concerning the Angry/Indifferent God... that is a theme that will be returned to MANY times I think. It is - in my humble opinion - a subject on many people's minds these days and no one want to talk out loud about it because it's like ripping out the exposed and bloody nerve endings from under a rotten, putrid tooth. You just mustn't do it. It's an untouchable topic for so many.

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  2. Ingrid, it's hard to imagine anyone more aware that TV borrows from real life and works of fiction than me. That's how I made my bones with the TV series Fringe. l love searching out clues, homages and snippets of inspiration. It's just that Almost Human has taken to doling out huge doses of the aforementioned by the shovel full. I don't mind a reference here and there, but please, I wish they would forge their own direction. Take a few chances and come up with their own ideas.

    Person of Interest did that so well in their last episode. I would blog on it if I could find the time.

    I find Dorian confronts the issues of racism quite well. I'm just wondering if the writers intend on it or not. Sometimes I think they play it too safe. But, Dorian/Michael Ealy as an African American makes it a little hard to ignore.

    I was criticized on Facebook for not being patient and not watching the show live. Pfft! I watch the show live! The critic's point was that they are trying to establish a universe first and then evolve. Maybe so. Fringe did the same. I think since this isn't Wyman's and Abrams first show that the training wheels should come off.

    As for Dorian's "period" one reviewer did just that. He called it Dorian's PMS moment or something. Cheap.

    Do you watch Person of Interest? The topic of the angry/indifferent/benevolent god also came up this past week in the form of the AI machine. Loved it and they have some great ideas on the subject.

    Thanks Ingrid!

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  3. Appreciate the frankness of your response, Dave! First, I agree wholeheartedly about taking snippets of real life to tell the overall story, instead of using the entire chunk as the story itself. What the writers intentions were/are, I have no idea at all and shouldn't need to care because THEIR job is to create the story, and OUR job is to understand it whatever way we do. Not everyone would agree with me on that, but as an illustrator my job is to create an image, and the viewer's job is to interpret it as THEY see fit. That is how I see it. So if we see the story as a rehash, it is the writers who have failed. Unfortunately.

    As for you being criticized on Facebook... lol... Doesn't everyone get criticized? Sorry, I don't mean to trivialize it. I find it silly to be criticized for not watching it live... What difference does that make, as a viewer? Personally I prefer it, I can skip the commercials. :-D

    Second, I haven't watched Person of Interest, not because I don't want to, but I have a limit of how many tv shows I watch. That said, I've heard a lot of good things about that show, I may give it a watch down the road. Maybe when I've finished the X-Files.

    Almost Human is one of the most perplexing shows I've ever watched: it has heart, but can be weak. It is thought-provoking, but can be stupid. The stories are complex, but very unfortunately can become unraveled over something that seems thoughtless. The show takes huge chances, and then pulls its punches. I can't think of another show that is so bumpy! :-)

    Dorian's character is one that could really be incredible, as a statement, on so many levels. I wonder what will happen with this show...

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  4. So far into Almost Human's run I have been hopeful that the series will delve into some of the meaty issues that it raises. Humanity, mortality, racism, identity, etc. Sometimes these themes are explored, but more often they are left hanging. I find myself disappointed that the show is not willing to dive deeper, not to mention return to the mythology hinted at in the pilot. Is there going to be a progression toward something richer or are we watching the zaney futuristic caper of the week show? Frankly this episode just had me downright mad. I don't think I need to enumerate all the reasons that Dorian's behavioral left turn was ridiculous both in terms of explaination or inappropriateness given the conflicting goal of creating tension/jeopardy in the episode. What is the point of creating a futuristic world if you're going to tell the same old mad bomber story with all its' tropes? The bomb shield and printed roses were cute, but not enough to bring anything new to this tired procedural one off tale. I'm going to stop my rant here. New episode tonight, hopefully something more interesting.

    Grouchy in Boston, Lynne

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    1. Rant acknowledged!

      Well done rant-meister. I feel your pain. The "left hanging part" is killing me. So much potential, so little results. And if you follow that line of logic you could construe they are wasting the exceptional performances of Michael Ealy not to mention Karl Urban. Come to think of it, Mackenzie Crook's, Rudy Lom is such a sad and pathetic figure. I feel he is being wasted also. I loved it when he lit when he became roomies with Dorian.

      So are the writers/producers cowards? Are they afraid of going too deep in fear of disenfranchising the audience. C'mon, we're Fringe veterans! You can throw anything at us now. Look at what Sleepy Hollow is doing. (Shudder.)

      Maybe my expectations were too high. maybe they are happy being that "zany" cop caper of the week show. Ugh, I can't accept that. I'll write them an episode! Call me JJ!

      Getting pregame jitter for the Pats, Me.

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  5. Almost forgot, nice shout-out to your blog in The Almost Human Podcast this week :)

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    1. Did I get a mention? Thanks to the "nose woes" I haven't been able to tune in. Which episode?

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  6. Podcast episode 10 for Simon Says at about the 12:30 mark.

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