Joel “J.H.” Wyman has had his fill of dystopian visions of the future.
Why, he wonders, do so many sci-fi stories have to be so bleak and depressing?
“What occurred to me in watching all these incredible science-fiction movies and reading all these incredible science-fiction books,” the writer-producer says, “is that the future depicted in them is largely, ‘Oh, look what you humans have done. You’ve really messed up. Now what are you going to do?’”
That observation was part of Wyman’s inspiration for Fox’s Almost Human, a buddy-cop series set in the year 2048 that teams a human detective (played by Karl Urban) with an android (Michael Ealy).
The show premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, to be followed by a second episode at 7 p.m. Monday (its usual time slot).
Granted, the world that Wyman created doesn’t go so far to the other extreme that it could be called utopian. The crime rate 35 years from now, for example, will soar a staggering 400 percent.
But at least Wyman’s version of the future holds out hope for mankind.
“We will have some hardships as a human race and it will be difficult at times,” he concedes. “But ultimately we will persevere. Because that’s truly what I believe. I am a hopeful person. I really believe that the world is going to get it right somehow.”
Pulling back from the ‘Fringe’
Almost Human will have a somewhat different vibe from movies like, say, Blade Runner.
“I wanted to make it a brighter environment where it’s not raining all the time, or where the atmosphere is not completely ruined, a world where people still have children and are very excited about their 7-year-old daughter’s birthday party and they’ll want to do what they can to get her that present she wants,” he says. “I wanted to make a world where there is a sense of going forward, where we’re resilient and we’re going to succeed. That’s the difference.”
Mind you, Wyman has been as guilty as everyone else when it comes to conjuring up a future that’s harsh and uninviting.
He is best known for his work as a writer, co-executive producer and co-showrunner on Fringe (2008-13), a cult hit for Fox that took a decidedly dark turn in its latter seasons.
Maybe Almost Human is his way of atoning.
Co-executive producer J.J. Abrams (whose credits include Lost, Fringe, Person of Interest, Revolution and the new franchise of “Star Trek” movies) says this show certainly puts him in the mind of giddier, more innocent times.
“When Joel pitched me his idea for Almost Human,” Abrams says, “I felt like that little kid that used to be watching The Six Million Dollar Man and I got excited about what the show could be.”
Urban plays John Kennex, an irascible detective who lost his partner and a leg two years ago when a police raid went bad.
Now back on duty, he is first teamed with an MX-43 robot partner. When that partnership doesn’t work out, Kennex draws Dorian (Ealy), a model from a line of android officers that was discontinued because of unexpected emotional responses. In short, Dorian often is more human than his human partner.
Kennex and Dorian get off to a rocky start, mostly because of Kennex’s distrust of androids, but ultimately they’ll become a good team.
This is very much a police procedural with mismatched partners, a very familiar premise to anyone who has seen even a tiny morsel of TV. But it has been turned upside-down and inside-out just enough that the cases and conflict don’t seem like things we’ve seen in cop shows a million times already.
That’s the concept that appealed to Urban, who is best known for playing cranky Dr. McCoy in Abrams’ “Star Trek” films. He liked that it feels familiar yet fresh at the same time.
“Our focus is to have fun and to make sure the audience has fun,” Urban says, “to make sure we develop that fine balance between a really intriguing case of the week and something you’re not going to see on another cop show.”