TV Review

Almost Human

By Gwen Sellers

I took a class one time about cultural representation and the ways in which our literature, art, and entertainment reflect or promote certain cultural ideals. For instance, why a person of a specific gender or ethnicity is cast for a particular part in a commercial or how various genres of entertainment present an ideal. The experience was rather frustrating, and not just because of the classwork involved. I didn't want to give up my naivety about the world. I didn't want to believe that choosing a Caucasian doctor to promote antibacterial soap had anything to do with our country's history of racism. I didn't want to believe that my favorite shows or movies might be full of subtext promoting a culture in which people are belittled or judged based on appearance. But, it turns out the class made some great points. While I have mostly recovered and am able to enjoy entertainment for entertainment's sake, I do still think about what certain commercials or shows or even books are subtly telling us about our culture or suggesting we believe.

One show has particularly caught my attention—Almost Human on Fox. The show is described as "an action-packed police procedural set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids." The episodes I've seen have the typical crime-drama intrigue of interesting cases, thrilling action scenes, and partner camaraderie. As per usual, what I am most drawn by is the relationship between the partners. Detective John Kennex is a traumatized cop, recently awakened from a 17-month coma and learning to accept his synthetic leg. He has a particular distaste for the androids (also called "synthetics" or "bots"), largely because they were involved in the death of his previous partner. But every cop is required to have an android as a partner. After things not going so well with his first robot partner, John is assigned a previously de-commissioned robot named Dorian. The problem with these now discontinued robots was that they had unexpected emotional responses. But that's perfect for John. His partner is "almost human."

Aside from the fun of bantering partners, thinly veiled romantic interests, quirky supporting characters, and puzzling cases, the show is interesting in terms of how it deals with what it means to be human. John and Dorian seem to connect at a heart level. In one episode Dorian connects with another robot and attempts to comfort her before she is "terminated" telling her she is going "to a better place," phrasing he asked John about earlier. Dorian asks John about certain human actions and the reasoning behind them. Interestingly, while Dorian can do all the cool computer things and when he gets shot he needs technical assistance rather than medical, he teaches John how to be human. He gives John friendly advice about caring for his synthetic leg. He clues John in to a co-worker's romantic interest. He talks to John about being polite and not being self-centered. In some ways Dorian seems more soft-hearted than John. But in some ways Dorian is still artificial. It's as though, together, John and Dorian are figuring out this thing called life.

So what does it mean to be human? From a Hollywood perspective, it seems to be about having emotional connection. Making choices that defy logic based on love or loyalty. It's about relationships having an impact on what we do. Is that biblical?

In many ways, it is. The second greatest command is to love others. Jesus instructed, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

But in many ways, it falls short. We all long for and need human connection, which is about engaging the heart and not just the mind. But we also need connection with God. Other humans are never going to fill our void. We cannot be most fully human—live as God originally intended us—without acknowledging the breath of God in us. When God created Adam, He did something special. He breathed life into him (Genesis 2:7). Mankind is made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), containing God's very breath. That image was marred when sin entered the picture. But Jesus redeems it. What is so cool is that when we believe in Jesus, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. "Spirit," in both Hebrew and Greek, carries a connotation of breath. Every human is made in God's image and has a spirit. But believers have the Holy Spirit. It is as if the breath of God is newly breathed into us, redeeming and re-imaging what has been marred by sin.

Machines may be able to mimic emotions and connect at what feels like a heart level, but they won't contain a spirit. Humans apart from God contain a spirit that is dead. Unless God breathes His Holy Spirit into us, by salvation through Christ, we will only ever be "almost human." Our hearts may be alive, but our spirits are dead. We may be able to connect with others, but we will miss out on the most important connection of them all.

*Please understand that this blog is in no way an endorsement of Almost Human or an agreement with the morality or ideals expressed in the show.

TagsChristian-Life  |  Reviews-Critiques

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Published 12-02-13