Tag Archives: Andre Braugher

‘Almost Human’ feels familiar despite futuristic trappings

Karl Urban and Michael Ealy star in J.J. Abrams' futuristic cop drama 'Almost Human' on Fox.

Karl Urban and Michael Ealy (from left) star in ‘Almost Human’ tonight and Monday on Fox.


Almost Human, J.J. Abrams’ new police drama premiering tonight on Fox before moving to its regular Monday timeslot tomorrow, takes place in a very bleak near-future where violent crime is running so rampant that the police force has become heavily augmented by androids, one for each human officer. As the series opens in 2048, we see Los Angeles police detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) and his team in the middle of a deadly firefight with one of the criminal syndicates that have taken over their city. Kennex emerges as the lone police survivor, but his wounds are grievous enough to send him into a 17-month coma, from which he awakens with an artificial leg.
Now, nearly two years later, Kennex’s captain (Lili Taylor) orders him back to work, although he bristles at her directive that he must be partnered with the latest android model, a soulless officer completely lacking compassion or any other emotion. After Kennex “accidentally” disables his synthetic partner, tech guru Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) reactivates the only other ‘droid currently ready for service: the DRN, an older model that had been designed to be as human-like as possible but was subsequently discontinued.
Dorian (Michael Ealy), as this revived life form is dubbed, takes an almost childlike joy in being reactivated after a four-year nap, but his excitement at being back on the force is dampened by realizing that he has been teamed with a partner who hates “synthetics” so much that his body is trying to reject his artificial limb. Kennex treats Dorian curtly and dismissively, but during the first hour, as this seemingly mismatched duo tries to solve a nightmarish new threat, Dorian repeatedly demonstrates to Kennex that when it comes to droids, newer isn’t always better.
Some viewers with long memories may pick up on similarities between Almost Human and another Fox series from 25 years ago, Alien Nation, which followed a Los Angeles cop reluctantly teamed with an extraterrestrial partner. The visuals for the world of Almost Human also don’t seem very different from a number of other sci-fi TV shows and movies.
It’s the chemistry between the two lead actors that makes this new series look fairly promising. The show’s title is deliberately ambiguous. Dorian, of course, is literally “almost human” since he is a creation of artificial intelligence, yet his buoyant generosity of spirit in many respects makes him more truly lifelike than Kennex, who for all intents and purposes is dead inside. Urban’s edgy performance (think early Bruce Willis) is good enough to make Kennex more than just a generic Damaged Maverick, but it’s Ealy that viewers are likely to fall in love with. His is just a wonderful, absolutely endearing performance.
Almost Human marks the third time this season that Fox – with apparent success – has tried to reboot and/or reinvent a stale TV genre, the cop show. Like this new series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine relies on the odd-couple chemistry between Andre Braugher and Andy Samberg for much of its delightful comedy juice, while the spooky Sleepy Hollow has attracted hordes of loyal fans chiefly through the mercurial relationship between fish-out-of-water Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and his plucky “leftenant,” Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie).
It’s too soon to tell whether Almost Human has real staying power, but for now, I’m more than ready to ride along with Urban and Ealy.
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Top cops, dud ‘Dads’

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Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher (from left)
One of the fall’s better sitcoms bows tonight on Fox with the premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a fast-paced new police comedy with Emmy winners Andre Braugher and former Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg heading a strong ensemble cast.
Created by former Parks and Recreation writers-producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, the single-camera comedy is set in the titular New York precinct, where high-spirited Detective Jake Peralta (Samberg) has been given a long leash for his madcap antics until the arrival of a new captain, Ray Holt (Braugher).
Jake has worn several of his superiors raw with his stunts and clowning (“I’ve talked a lot about Jake in my department-mandated counseling sessions,” confesses one sergeant), but the fact is, he’s the best detective in the precinct. Ray, however, insists that Jake maintain his sterling success rate while being more professional, which includes – oh, the horror! – wearing a necktie.
At this point, we think we’re seeing yet another cop comedy about a rule-breaking rookie and a by-the-book veteran, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a few tricks up its sleeve, and these characters don’t always behave the way you’d expect them to.
Given that Braugher is best known for his intense dramatic work in shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street, I was pleasantly surprised to see the relaxed confidence he brings to the very likable Ray. After years of playing some broad comedy on SNL, Samberg shows some authentic acting chops here as well, although his Jake is a character who is often a hair’s breadth from going over the top. Here’s hoping Samberg never crosses that line.
The ensemble also includes One Life to Live alumna Melissa Fumero as Jake’s partner, Detective Amy Santiago, whose fiercely competitive spirit is fueled by a childhood vying with seven brothers; Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as Sgt. Terry Jeffords, who has been on administrative leave since the birth of his beloved twins, Cagney and Lacey; Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) as sad-sack klutz Detective Charles Boyle; and Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation) as meddling office manager Gina Linetti, all delivering their snappy dialogue with real style.
Ironically, this superior sitcom is preceded tonight by the worst network comedy I’ve seen since ABC’s excruciating 2012 men-in-drag office comedy Work It. I’m talking about Dads, a painfully unfunny multi-camera show from Seth MacFarlane and two other members of his Family Guy and Ted creative teams.
Dads isn’t the only new fall network sitcom to squander a good cast on lame material, but it’s arguably the worst. Seth Green and Giovani Ribisi star as, respectively, Eli and Warner, longtime friends and co-founders of a successful video game company. Warner’s life is routinely complicated by the half-baked get-rich-quick schemes of his father, Crawford (Martin Mull), who lives with Warner. By the end of the pilot, events have transpired that force Eli’s dad, David (Peter Riegert), to move in with his son as well. Intergenerational tensions ensue, to put it mildly.
You may already have heard about the controversy over a scene in the pilot where Eli and Warner coerce their assistant, Veronica (Brenda Song), into dressing up as a “sexy Asian schoolgirl” to charm some visiting potential Chinese investors. In terms of political correctness, the scene is both racist and sexist on some levels, but since Veronica is written and played as the smartest person in the room, the men actually are the butt of the joke.
No, the far more serious problem with Dads is that it just feels lazy, ill-conceived and witless. An appalling number of the jokes are stale – one of them, involving a character mispronouncing the word “Shiite,” I remember hearing for the first time a quarter-century ago on Murphy Brown – and the writers seem to be just throwing everything they can think of against the wall to see what sticks. Very little does.
In tonight’s premiere, three bits are allowed to go on far too long. In the first, Eli and Warner swap thuddingly unfunny one-liners about how irritating their fathers are. In the second, Crawford and David both go to tedious lengths to avoid being stuck with the lunch check at a diner. Finally, and most painful to watch, a frustrated Eli sneaks up behind his dad while he’s watching TV and mimes a variety of ways he’d like to murder his old man. It drags on. For. Ever.
Let me just add here, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m generally a MacFarlane fan. His appearances on talk shows such as Real Time With Bill Maher have shown him to be a really smart, articulate guy, and Ted turned out to be a box-office blockbuster with genuine heart. I even enjoyed his much-criticized hosting of the last Academy Awards telecast.
Dads, however, isn’t going to do much to dress up his resume. Here’s hoping the network puts this dud to a merciful death quickly.
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Martin Mull, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green and Peter Riegert (from left)