3 Reasons Fox’s ‘Almost Human’ Is Almost Canceled

Sci-fans had high hopes for Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX  ) Almost Human when it premiered last November.

The show was created by J.H. Wyman, the co-producer of Fringe, and produced by Wyman, acclaimed director J.J. Abrams, and frequent Abrams collaborator Bryan Burk. The show's main protagonist, Detective John Kennex, is played by Karl Urban, best known as the new Dr. McCoy in Abrams' new Star Trek films.

The premise of the show -- a world where real cops are partnered with androids -- also seemed like a fresh new take on the well-worn genre of cop dramas.

Unfortunately, the show hit a series low with its tenth episode, "Perception", which fell to 5.37 million viewers with a rating of 1.5 among 18 to 49 year olds. Total viewers continued declining with the following episode, "Disrupt," which drew in 5.35 million viewers, although its rating among 18 to 49 year olds inched up to 1.7.

While some of that decline can be attributed to the ongoing Winter Olympics, which airs in the same Monday night slot as Almost Human, the show is also failing to gain traction among sci-fi fans. Fox still hasn't ordered new episodes for the show, which has led to rumors that it could soon be canceled. Personally, I think if Almost Human gets renewed, it will still have plenty of trouble making it past the second season.

Let's take a look at the three main reasons that Almost Human is almost canceled.

1. Airing the episodes out of order
Fox has an odd habit of intentionally rearranging episodes of sci-fi shows, presumably so they flow more smoothly on a week-to-week basis. It did this with the cult hit Firefly as well as Fringe.

Fox's logic, apparently, was to spread out the procedural "monster of the week" shows so that the main storyline was revealed at a slower pace.

Dorian the Android, who has a "synthetic soul." (Source: Fox)

The second to eighth episodes are all completely out of order, as is the tenth episode. The changes are all over the place -- the second aired episode was originally intended to be the fifth one, while the original second episode aired as the eighth.

Unfortunately, this crazy shuffling of the deck undermines the showrunners' original intentions. In Almost Human, it causes the main story arcs of Kennex's traitorous ex-girlfriend and Dorian's memories to seem painfully inconsistent.

2. Almost ambitious...
Another area where Almost Human falls short is its lack of ambition. When we look back at the greatest sci-fi shows -- The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, The X-Files, and even Fringe -- they offer audiences ambitious storylines that are packed with scientific and philosophical ideas.

Most episodes of Almost Human, on the other hand, are assembled in a simple, formulaic manner -- evolve a few of the latest headline-making technologies from our time (3D printers, cloud computing, genetic engineering, smart homes), use them to commit a crime, and play the rest of the episode out like a standard CSI/NCIS procedural with the sci-fi world serving as a backdrop.

Future cop dramas are every bit as procedural as present-day cop dramas. (Source: Fox)

This simply isn't how great sci-fi is done. Great sci-fi shows start with an intriguing idea and challenges the viewer to think about broader philosophical and ethical issues that are applicable to our present-day world. For example, the parallel worlds in Fringe caused viewers to ponder if different versions of themselves would have lived out their lives in a similar manner.

Almost Human lacks any of those deep questions -- sci-fi is simply employed to kill people and solve their murders. It's bland and fails to scratch the surface of the more intriguing questions of the evolution of AI technology that should have been the centerpiece of the show.

3. Resistance against reality shows and aging comedies is futile...
Besides shuffled episodes and a flat procedural format, the show's biggest problem is that it regular goes head-to-head against two popular shows in the 8 p.m. timeslot on Mondays -- Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) /ABC's The Bachelor and CBS' (NYSE: CBS  ) How I Met Your Mother.

On Feb. 17, 7.7 million viewers watched The Bachelor, which had a 2.2 rating among 18-49 year olds, and 5.04 million viewers watched How I Met Your Mother, which scored a 1.4. The Winter Olympics on Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) NBC easily topped all three with 23.6 million viewers and a whopping rating of 5.6.

How I Met Your Mother has been slipping lately, but its ratings will likely pick up after the Winter Olympics and as it approaches its series finale on March 31. Almost Human's last episode of the season airs on March 3.

All of these prime time shows will gain ground after the Winter Olympics conclude this weekend, but whether or not Almost Human can finish the season on a high note remains to be seen.

What does Almost Human mean for Fox?
Ever since the final season of The X-Files concluded in 2002, Fox has been searching for a new flagship sci-fi franchise to carry the torch. Unfortunately, none of its subsequent shows stayed on the air for as long as The X-Files, which ran for nine seasons and into two feature films.

Here are some of the more prominent sci-fi shows that aired on Fox after 2000, three of which were created by prominent directors James Cameron and Joss Whedon.

Show

Creator(s)

Seasons

Viewers in final season

Dark Angel (2000)

James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee

2

6.00 million

Firefly (2002)

Joss Whedon

1

4.48 million

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)

Josh Friedman, based on characters created by James Cameron

2

5.37 million

Fringe (2008)

J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

5

4.27 million

Dollhouse (2009)

Joss Whedon

2

2.17 million

Terra Nova (2011)

Kelly Marcel, Craig Silverstein

1

10.08 million

Alcatraz (2012)

Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt

1

9.56 million

Source: Wikipedia.

With the exception of Fringe, none of Fox's new sci-fi shows lasted very long. It's as if Fox quickly grew impatient with its inability to match the first season of The X-Files, which regularly drew in 12 million to 14 million viewers. If that's the case, then Almost Human might not have much hope of reaching a second season.

Almost Human also won't help boost Fox's broadcast television segment very much, which mainly attributed its 5% rise in revenue last quarter to robust viewership of its NFL and MLB games.

My final take
In conclusion, Almost Human was almost worth watching.

Unfortunately, it was wrecked by pointless episode shuffling, by-the-numbers procedural writing, and strong competing programs on rival networks. Combine those three problems with Fox's impatience with the sci-fi shows that it greenlights, and I think we can safely say that Dorian might be decommissioned again very soon.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 11:07 PM, OldJim51 wrote:

    I watch about 3 hours a week on Fox, they messed up royally by cancelling Married With Children. I never watch their Sunday carton show due tot he lousy art work poor scripts. When The Finder was cancelled, I had a hard time watching Bones again. I never gave American Idol and Dance a second of viewing due to complete apathy. There's a secret for Dance being held in Las Vegas, it has the most dancers employed in its major casinos than any other city, and the casinos get the first pick of the litter (yes, the female contestants know about the nudity requirements).

    As for Almost Human, I had a hard time following the plots that didn't seem connected or lead into the next episode (now I know it wasn't me). It has promise of being the show with 2 seasons of an android cop with human partner (ABC's Future Cop and NBC's Mann And Machine come to mind, plus others that failed after just lasted one or two shows)

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 11:24 AM, terrin18 wrote:

    I watch almost human and to not refer to one of the biggest named and most recognized stars by his true name Micheal Ealy is an insult . To only give him credit as "Dorian the android." and make no reference to the fact he is starring in the no 1 romantic comedy in the country right now has starred in multiple blockbuster movies like Underworld saids a lot about the journalistic integrity of the writer of this article . Yet you refer to "John's" character,actual name his body of work - which is quite old at this point (years) and few people recognize who this guy is.The show as a whole is good but maybe viewership is down because some people don't patronize fox .

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 11:35 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    That's an interesting point, but I only mentioned Karl Urban by name, because sci-fi audiences generally recognize him first -- it wasn't meant as an insult towards Michael Ealy at all.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 1:19 PM, JDerek40 wrote:

    Fox has dropped the ball with everyone of their "X-Files Replacement" shows. Their biggest problem is they stuff these things on nights where every other network has their power houses. It also seems to me like the network is trying to control the timeline with their out of sequence showing instead of the show doing it.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 9:22 PM, nalini wrote:

    Hi I totally agree with terrin18! This entire article is completely insulting towards Ealy and could be so much better written. Dude, are we even watching the same show?? Like have you ACTUALLY watched an episode or did you just Google that the shows were out of order and that it features a main technology every week and then follows the same protocol and crime procedurals? The main protagonist is Urban, but Ealy is actually the other main protagonist. This show's title references Ealy's character. Truthfully, you can't just relegate Dorian to "android" in the same sentence as you say the show has a "fresh take" on cop dramas because you're not giving full reverence to what makes this show so great. The relationship between the two drives the ethos *and* comedy of the show. If anything, the show going against juggernauts like HIMYM and TB and still going strong is pretty good. Have you compared the decline of those shows in light of the Olympics? I feel as though you're completely missing the point and are just writing ridiculousness to garner views, which I can understand even though I cannot appreciate. I would rather you garner views by making the truth provocative not skewing your content just to be reactionary.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 10:46 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Yes, nalini, I've watched all the episodes. The problem is that the writers were supposed to focus on Ealy's character, but honestly don't. If you watch the screen time that Urban gets compared to Ealy, it's easy to see why Ealy becomes a supporting character instead. I'd like it if Ealy can have more screen time, though.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 9:20 PM, Pisces67 wrote:

    I have no idea what Fox is or is not doing. I hope they give this show a chance, it's alot better than this poor article gives it credit for! Not only is Karl Urban a bonafide star, so is Michael Ealey AND Lili Taylor! You give the last 2 no credit at all for a long list of great work, very substantial careers. As for Karl Urban being best known for Star Trek...PLEASE? You can NOT be a SciFi Aficionado if you DON'T KNOW he was a main character in the 2nd Riddick, the STAR of the newest Judge Dredd, which was an under-rated excellent movie, btw, plus he starred in Doom. Here's a thought MAYBE u should have GOOGLED the actors on the show before you posted this biased mishmash! How I met your mother died for me after waiting countless HOURS and years and STILL not meeting this MOTHER?? The Bachelor? No comment.....ANYWAY, the sequences, personally haven't noticed it,,,,I LIKE the show and the storylines ARE engaging and interesting and I feel the reality and techno meld fine....Almost Human HAS FANS, those of us that enjoy the show,,,ur not one...cool.....u can go wait for some bimbo to get a rose...or for Ted to FINALLY GET TO THE POINT of the story he has been BORING them poor kids with for HOWMANYYEARSNOW????? THAT should be the name of that show...ANYWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:37 AM, DonkeyJunk wrote:

    Good article, Leo. I'm not a fan of "cop shows", but the chemistry between Urban and Ealy was the most compelling part of the program. It's too bad Fox has put the show on a path where it cannot succeed.

    I'll miss it when it's gone, but there's always hope another station will pick it up. SyFy would make sense, but then they'd have to make room between all their bogus Ghost Hunter and other ridiculous reality programs.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 12:07 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @Pisces67 -- While I appreciate that you're a fan of the show, Urban is not as well know for the two roles you mentioned -- I mean, he had a MASK on in Dredd for the entire time... so obviously most people know him as Doc McCoy. I'm not going to list the filmographies of every actor on the show, although I've enjoyed Taylor and Ealy's acting elsewhere.

    @DonkeyJunk -- Thanks! I'm getting a bit too tired of the procedural cop show -- a lot of Almost Human plays out just like Castle, CSI, NCIS, and the list goes on. I agree, it would make sense for SyFy to pick it up.

  • Report this Comment On February 26, 2014, at 2:11 AM, RiddleofSteel wrote:

    It's always amazing to me how quick the networks are to pull the plug on Sci-Fi shows, but they'll hold on for dear life for other genre's. The network executives will never learn how the Sci-Fi genre operates. A good Sci-Fi world can take some time before it hits mainstream, and usually a single season won't do it. The big-wigs want to reap all of the benefits of a hit Sci-Fi series, but they don't want to do any of the leg work.

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