What will the Los Angeles Police Department look like in 35 years? According to Fox's Almost Human, yet another hourlong sci-fi drama overseen by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Fringe), crime will increase 400 percent and police officers will partner with humanoid robots to defend the city.
Michael Ealy as an android cop
The special effects envisioning Los Angeles in 2048 are breathtaking and delightfully detailed, especially for television. But showrunner J.H. Wyman (Fringe) insists that Almost Human is more police procedural than foreboding dystopia, citing NYPD Blue as an inspiration.
"I felt that I could understand the sacrifices that [the characters on NYPD Blue were making," Wyman says. "Looking after my best interest, my family, my friends, the innocent people of the world, and that's taking a toll on [them], and I'm interested in seeing that kind of mettle."
To get an insider's perspective, New Times screened the pilot for Officer James Ferrell, 48, who has served with LAPD for the past 16 years.
While watching the show, he often cuts in to predict what a character might say or do next. He is often correct. "It's just too cliché for me," he says, arms folded over his chest in concentration. Ferrell looks exactly how you'd want a cop to look — if you tried to knock him down, he wouldn't budge. On screen, Karl Urban, playing protagonist John Kennex, looks less James Ferrell and more James Franco.
Ferrell scoffs when a suspect whose hands are cuffed in front is allowed to go to the bathroom by himself. He says there are only two types of cop shows: those that get it right, like Southland, The Shield or The Wire, and those that rely on cheesy, unrealistic tropes every audience has seen before, like Almost Human. "It's entertaining," he says as soon as we finish, "but you compare this to Southland? It's nothing."
At one point during the pilot, Dorian (Michael Ealy), the android partner assigned to Kennex, injects the blood of a dead man into his own neck, saying, "I just downloaded the information." Ferrell admits having a mobile lab like that would be cool, but he wonders aloud how police departments would be able to afford it.
"I mean, come on. If they don't have GPS systems in our cars [now], how could you even think that they would have this in the next 35 years?" he says. Ferrell says some officers have purchased GPS units with their own money, but many still use Thomas Guides.
"It might be one of those, 'Hey, let's watch this program because I don't want to think,' " he says of the show. "But I can pretty much probably guarantee that if you showed 10 more officers this, they'd say OK, it's Robocop, it's Blade Runner, it's Minority Report, it's Demolition Man with Sylvester Stallone, all kind of rolled up into one."
Wyman acknowledged the influence of Blade Runner, which is set in a futuristic L.A. Executive producer Naren Shankar adds, "You can't talk about androids and robots without talking about Philip K. Dick," who wrote the film's source material.
Ultimately, Ferrell says he might have tuned in to the premiere of the show on November 4 even if New Times hadn't invited him over for a preview, but he isn't interested in seeing what happens next. "I'll put it this way," he says, "it's not going to last as long as Lost."