There is no question that “Star Trek” is a cultural phenomenon of almost mythic proportion. From the original series, which first premiered in 1966, countless spinoffs have been spawned , from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and all the offshoots of that re-boot (“Voyager”, “Deep Space Nine”, “Enterprise”) to the current J.J. Abrams helmed cinema behemoths that feature an all new, younger and hotter pre-cursor cast. Before there was Comic Con, which has become its own massive cultural juggernaut, there were the Star Trek conventions, which, technically speaking, began at the 25th World Science Fiction Convention, held from August 31st to September 4, 1967, at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York City. It was at that Con that the science fiction editor Arthur W. Saha, upon seeing a few fans of the first season of “Star Trek” wearing pointy ears, coined the term “trekkies”.
The stars of the original series, which ran for three years on NBC, before going on to achieve the Mt. Olympus of cult status in syndication, are national treasures in a way. William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, has enjoyed an almost ironic post “Star Trek” career in film and television, starring in the first slate of “Star Trek” films, as a lawyer on the huge hit “Boston Legal” and now as the hilarious Priceline pitchman, in addition to releasing albums and live concerts. Leonard Nimoy, who as First/Science Officer Spock, gave the lack of emotion a charismatic appeal, is an accomplished art photographer. Nichelle Nichols, who, as Lt. Uhura made history with co-star Shatner by demonstrating the first ever televised interracial kiss (“Plato’s Stepchildren”, Season 2 Episode 10, November 22, 1968), became a paradigm of African/American female empowerment, and George Takei, Lt. Sulu, is practically the king of social media, with 7, 728, 528 followers on his original Facebook page.
As impossible as it may be to believe, considering its massive footprint on the cultural zeitgeist, “Star Trek” was originally slated for cancellation during its second season due to its low Nielson ratings. A mammoth and unprecedented letter-writing campaign, led by super fan Bjo Trimble and her husband, John Griffin Trimble, to keep the show on the air, caused NBC to renew “Star Trek” for its third and final season. The rest, as they say, is TV history. “Star Trek” went on to become the science fiction series by which all others are measured.
History, as is often said, has a habit of repeating itself, and that is exactly the case at the moment with another science fiction themed television show, “Almost Human”, which premiered November 17, 2013, on the Fox network. The J.H. Wyman, Bryan Burke, J.J. Abrams produced show, which was created by J.H. Wyman (co-executive producer/writer, “Fringe”) was cancelled by Fox after its final episode, “Straw Man”, aired on March 3rd, 2014. The collective cry of disappointment and anger that reverberated across the internet inspired another “letter-writing” campaign, albeit in the form of an online petition on Change.org. The petition, currently administered by Andrew Grady, and originally established by Megan Riffey, has garnered 34, 512 signatures to date and is looking for 488 more before presenting to networks in the hope of seeing the show renewed or picked up.
“Almost Human” takes place in the year 2048, a future with a 400% crime rate caused by the uncontrollable evolution of science and technology. To combat this, the overwhelmed police force has implemented a new policy: every human police officer is paired with a lifelike combat model android, called an MX. Karl Urban, who played Eomer in Peter Jackson’s “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is Detective John Kennex, who was wounded in a stand off with the malevolent Insyndicate that resulted in the loss of his leg. With an artificial limb reminiscent of Lee Major’s “Six Million Dollar Man”, Steve Austin, Kennex, due to his deep distrust of the MX androids, is paired with Dorian, a DRN model created with a synthetic soul, played by Michael Ealy. They make the perfect buddy cop pair, with Dorian dryly sarcastic and compassionate and Kennex cynical and troubled by memories he thought lost after his injuries. The relationship between the two is the bedrock of the show, a combination of humor and sensitivity that is one of the reasons for its loyal fan base. The cast is rounded out by Lili Taylor as Captain Maldonado, in a low key, understated, yet quietly powerful performance, Minka Kelly as Detective Valerie Stahl (and possible love-interest for Kennex), Mackenzie Crook (brilliant as Gareth Keenan in the original British production of “The Office”) as the socially awkward yet accomplished technician Rudy Lom and Michael Irby as Detective Richard Paul.
The style of the show pays homage to icons of science fiction cinema like “Blade Runner” and “AI”. The influence of “Blade Runner” is all over the production, from the music, with its synth-heavy Vangelis inspired quality, to the rain-soaked dystopia much of the action takes place in. Kennex even dines at an Asian noodle bar almost identical to the one Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, is seen eating at in the beginning of “Blade Runner”. In epsiode 9, “Unbound”, Dorian comes face to face with the scientist who created him, similar to the way Rutger Hauer’s “replicant”, Roy Batty, confronts his creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell in Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic. Batty says to Tyrell, played by Joe Turkel, “It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker”. At the end of “Unbound”, Kennex remarks to Maldonado, “Must be a hell of a thing to meet your maker”.
What makes “Almost Human” worth salvaging over other shows that were dropped last season, like CBS’s “Intelligence”, another science fiction themed show that explored the future of merging artificial intelligence with the human brain? New York magazine said of that show, which starred Marg Helgenberger and “Lost’s” Josh Holloway, “Why is CBS’s “Intelligence” so dumb?” or something along those lines. The difference between the two shows may be that “Almost Human’s” creators wrote for an intelligent audience. The stories have a high level of plausibility, featuring a society of the near future controlled by highly advanced technology that could so easily turn against its members. Episode 11, “Disrupt”, imagines the horrific results of an automated home turning on its owners to deadly effect. With its shades of “2001: A Space Odyssey’s” malfunctioning computer HAL, it is not such a stretch to consider the possibility of an out of control artificial intelligence. “You Are Here” features assassins who use sophisticated bullets with auto-guided tracking systems that can track, target and kill a specific person at any time. With our military’s drones taking out terrorists in remote mountains in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is not such a far fetched possibility either. The popular episode, “Skin”, explores the not too far off market of sexbots, made with the skin of murdered women in an attempt to create the most life-like simulation. The production quality, writing and acting of all 13 episodes is first rate and of the caliber that one has come to expect from a feature film. The show’s pilot episode was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Special and Visual Effects category.
That Fox dropped such a high quality television show confounds its fans, as well as the administrator of the petition, Andrew Grady. Grady says “I love the well blended themes of “Almost Human” in almost every episode.” “Whether science fiction, thriller, drama, suspense, I always kept coming back for more.” “The thing that really brought the show together was the relationship and struggle between Dorian and Kennex, played by Michael Ealy and Karl Urban.” Asked why he is so involved with the petition and Operation Almost Human, a website devoted to seeing the show back on the air, Grady responded “The goal of Operation Almost Human is to unite the fans from the many different factions, such as Save Almost Human and Almost Humaniac, and brainstorm ideas to bring “Almost Human” back. Grady believes Netflix or Yahoo would be a good fit for the show, because, as he says “I believe they can shoulder the series and might be willing to work with it despite it’s being written off by Fox.””To sum it up”, Grady says “Almost Human” was a great show, and it didn’t get the love it deserved, except from the fans, of course. Any network that picks up the show will have support from around the world.”