ALMOST HUMAN 1.07 ‘Simon Says’
Episode Title: "Simon Says"
Writer: Alison Schapker
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
It’s somewhat disturbing that a show like “Almost Human” — which takes place in a relatively near future that is filled with high tech gadgetry — seems to have so little imagination when it comes to creating new stories or developing the supporting characters into something more than stock caricatures.
The third episode, “Are You Receiving?”” was essentially a riff on Die Hard. "Simon Says" is more like a cross between Die Hard 3 and 30 Minutes or Less. The mad bomber of the week has access to any number explosive devices and he had police training… and the best plan he could come up with was loosely based on something that infamously occurred in real life back in 2003? What’s next? A slightly updated take on the Van Damme movie, Hard Target?
It was also difficult to take Simon (David Dastmalchian) as a serious threat because he looked like an even more awkward version of every character that Jason Schwartzman has ever played.
Which isn’t to say that “Simon Says” didn’t have its moments. It actually had quite a few. The chemistry between Karl Urban and Michael Ealy continues to be amazing as John Kennex and Dorian reached an odd place in their relationship. The “Almost Human” partners almost become roommates. Almost, but not quite.
There are full spoilers ahead for “Simon Says,” so if you missed last night’s episode of “Almost Human” then you should probably skip this review or else I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a full charge.
One of the opening scenes quickly establishes that solar flares are causing some problems with the electrical grid and Dorian is behaving erratically because he’s operating on less than 50% of his power capacity. That explanation is pretty ridiculous and really, it’s just an excuse for Ealy to play a loose cannon version of Dorian for the entire episode. Fortunately, it’s something that Ealy does with ease, as he gets all of the big comedy scenes in the episode and a big hero moment near the end.
If this episode was just 45 minutes of Dorian punching out Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby) aka The Asshole, I’d be okay with that. But even in the world of this show, that should have gotten Dorian into a lot more trouble than it actually did. Keep in mind, Dorian’s model had a reputation for being emotionally unstable. Apparently it was a reputation that they earned.
But honestly, who hasn’t wanted to see The Asshole take a few punches? Detective Paul is such a huge jerk that he even treats his android partner like a slave. If the MX model was as emotional as Dorian, it would have thrown The Asshole out of his own police car much like John did in the pilot episode when his first android partner couldn’t stop ratting him out.
John may have wished for an easy solution like that when Dorian sprang his next demand on him. Dorian wants to move out of the police precinct and into John’s spare room. The idea of John and Dorian as roommates was really funny, but perhaps not as funny as the horror on John’s face when Dorian suggested it.
The thing is, John actually does like Dorian, but he doesn’t want to spend every waking moment with him. That would be a nightmare for anyone. Plus John prefers to keep his extra room for his high school football trophies. And John is painfully unaware of just how pathetic that is.
However, John’s solution is inspired. He sets up Dorian with tech guy, Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) as his new roommate. Earlier in the episode, Rudy laments the loneliness of living alone. Although the growing horror on Dorian’s face as Rudy excitedly plans out their evenings was a funny counterpoint to John’s initial reaction to Dorian’s request.
As for the story itself, this week’s threat was a deranged loser named Simon who targeted people who rejected him and placed bomb collars on their necks to force them to play his games. His first victim, Ramon (Alessandro Juliani) was actually a very emotionally affecting choice thanks to a strong guest performance by Juliani. John and Dorian aren’t able to disarm the bomb in time and they reluctantly place Ramon in a force field so the bomb can’t hurt anyone else when it goes off and kills him.
Simon’s second victim, Jeannie (Crystal Lowe) was also more interesting than the standard damsel in distress. It was a nice touch that Jeannie realized who Simon was and why he was targeting her. After losing Ramon to the first bomb, John refuses to let Dorian defuse the bomb alone and together they save Jeannie’s life. Dorian’s overly emotional reaction that was another great comedic touch.
Less effective was the way that the episode attempted to comment on the viciousness of anonymous internet users… who sounded a lot like the people who troll YouTube. The idea that Simon was performing for the adulation of his internet viewers just wasn’t that compelling. It was amusing when the trolls turned on him after Jeannie outed him as a creep and a lousy date, but even that wasn’t enough to save it.
On the other hand, “Simon Says” created some great tension as John was forced to disable a bomb around his neck by himself as Dorian climbed a building while attempting to subdue Simon before his charge went out. John’s survival may have been a foregone conclusion, but it was still an exciting sequence to watch.
One potentially interesting aspect that may come out of this episode is that Detective Paul may be afraid of Dorian… and jealous that John’s partner can do so much more than Paul’s android partner. That’s still not enough to make The Asshole into a real character, but it might give Michael Irby something fun to play in subsequent episodes. He needs it badly, because his character serves no purpose on this show other than the hatred that he inspires.
However, Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) and Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) inspire nothing at all. Both are present throughout the episode, but they get even less character development than Detective Paul. It’s mystifying to see that the writers seem to be unable to make anyone but John or Dorian pop out from the crowd. Whenever “Almost Human” focuses on John and Dorian, it demonstrates its unique flavor of action and comedy. But everyone else might as well be MX androids for all the emotional range that they can manage here.
I remain hopeful that “Almost Human” will eventually find itself and flesh out the rest of its characters. This show has the potential to be a great TV series, but it has to be a good TV series first.