News Column

Producer J.J. Abrams discusses leads on 'Almost Human'

November 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 17--Mention J.J. Abrams or Bad Robot Productions and movie, and TV fans instantly know something wickedly good is headed this way.

Be it a time-traveling island or a world 35 years in the future when human cops are forced to partner with androids to fight ever-increasing crime.

The latter scenario is what Abrams was talking about recently in preparation for the premiere of "Almost Human" on Fox. J.H. Wyman is the creator, and he and Abrams are executive producers of the series debuting over two nights -- 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday on channel 23, cable 5. They spoke about the series and working together in a recent teleconference.

"I think that the lucky situation for Bad Robot has been working with really wonderful people and showrunners," said Abrams, who is also teaming up with Larry Kasdan on the script for the new "Star Wars: Episode VIII" film debuting Dec. 18, 2015.

"With Joel (J.H. Wyman), with whom we worked on 'Fringe' for five years, when he pitched me the idea of 'Almost Human,' I felt like that little kid I used to be -- watching 'Six Million Dollar Man' and all excited about the idea of what the show could be," he said.

A native New Yorker, Abrams has served as the writer, director and/or producer of such series and films as "Felicity," "Cloverfield," the "Star Trek" franchise, "Morning Glory," "Super 8," "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol," "Alias," "Lost," "Fringe," "Person of Interest" and "Revolution." He also has the new NBC series "Believe" in the works for next fall.

As in many of his shows, both leads in "Almost Human" are damaged in their own way. Detective John Kennex has a bionic leg, and his robot partner Dorian (played by Michael Ealy) is a model discontinued because of unexpected emotional outbursts. Both live in a world where crime is overrunning the nation but there's still hope of reclaiming a normal world.

When New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently compared the character of Kennex (played by Karl Urban) to President Barack Obama, it was an "honor," said Abrams, the Emmy Award-winning director, Emmy-nominated writer and composer who grew up in Los Angeles.

"While the comparison is hers to make, I do think that what Michael Ealy brings to this role is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion and he is playing a character who is, by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop," Abrams said.

The character is also "as altruistic and as considerate and as empathetic as you would want," he said.

"I think what Michael brings is that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The title 'Almost Human' refers to both Karl and Michael's characters. I think that the idea when Joel pitched it was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was in many ways more human than his partner."

In the pilot episode, Kennex is just returning to work after the police ambush. He's finally awakened from a 17-month coma, without his partner, his girlfriend and one of his legs. Capt. Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) is his ally, but she's the only one who wants him back on the force.

He not only doesn't want to be paired with robot MX5 but he's also not accepting of his own technologically advanced leg.

"He's a little bit worried about the advancement of technology and where that's left humanity and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new developments and unchecked growth of technology," Wyman said.

"He feels, while he appreciates the technology, such things like the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for police, he still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics or synthetics. He looks at that and is forced to kind of deal with the idea this his well-being now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with a sense of contempt.

"The journey for him is that he's starting to realize it's not the technology that's bad. It's how you use it."

That's a topic that has been explored by the production company. Abrams put the writers together with experts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one was a woman studying robot ethics, Wyman said.

"Some of the amazing things with these robots that are now what we see in the future are definitely robots, not human," he said. "They're not becoming human, but they're definitely becoming beings.

"That's a moment where you're thinking they're real. They are thinking beings. What are their rights? Then, where are those lines drawn?

"A lot of those things are examined in some of our later stories."

Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360

rita.sherrow@tulsaworld.com

'ALMOST HUMAN'

When: 7 p.m. Sunday & Monday

Where: Fox, channel 23, cable 5

For a sneak peek of "Almost Human," go online to fox.com/almosthuman

J.J. Abrams timeline

The TV and film wunkerkind known as J.J. (Jeffrey Jacob) Abrams' career has covered the gamut from composing music and writing songs to producing, writing and directing some of the most popular films and TV series. Not bad for a boy from New York City who started his career as a 16-year-old writing the music for the film "Nightbeast" in 1982. From there, history has been made.

Take a look:

1. Film: "Regarding Henry" (1991): co-producer

2. Film: "Forever Young" (1992) : executive producer

3. Film: "The Pallbearer" (1996): producer

4. Film: "The Suburbans" (1999): producer

5. TV: "Felicity" (1998-2002): co-creator, executive producer and composed the theme music and co-wrote the theme song

6. Film: "Joy Ride" (2001): producer

7. TV & Film: He and producing partner Bryan Burk co-founded Bad Robot productions

8. TV: "Alias" (2001-2006): executive producer and composed the theme music

9. TV: "Lost" (2004-2010): executive producer and composed the theme music

10. Film: "Mission Impossible III" (2006): director

11. TV: "What About Brian" (2006-2007): executive producer

12. TV: "Six Degrees" (2006-2007): producer

13. TV: "Fringe" (2008-2013): co-creator, executive producer and composed the theme music

14. Film: "Cloverfield" (2008): producer

15. Film: "Star Trek" (2009): director and producer

16. TV: "Undercovers" (2010-2011): executive producer

17. Film: "Morning Glory" (2010) producer

18. Film: "Super 8" (2011): director and producer

19. Film: "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (2011): producer

20. TV: "Person of Interest" (2011-present): executive producer and composed the theme music

21. TV: "Alcatraz" (2012): executive producer

22. TV: "Revolution" (2012 to present): executive producer and composed the theme music

23. Film: "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013): director and producer

24. TV: "Almost Human": executive producer (2013)

UPCOMING:

1. Film: "Infinitely Polar Bear" (2014): executive producer

2. TV: "Believe" (2014 on NBC): producer

3. Film: "Star Wars: Episode VII" (Dec. 18, 2015): producer and director

4. Film: Untitled "Cloverfield" sequel: (announced): producer

5. Film: "Star Trek 3" (announced): producer

6. Film: "Portal" (announced): producer

7. Film: "Half-life" (announced): producer

8. Film: "Mission Impossible 5" (announced): producer

Abrams on new 'Star Wars' script, showrunners

This TV season, he is producing three series: "Person of Interest," "Revolution" and "Almost Human," which debuts Sunday and Monday on Fox.

The film world (and fans) are all abuzz about the sudden announcement Oct. 24 that Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have taken over writing duties from Michael Arndt for the much-anticipated Disney production "Star Wars Episode VII." Filming is scheduled to begin early next year in England with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams and his Bad Robot partner Bryan Burk producing.

"It became clear that given the time frame and given the process, the way the thing was going, it became clear that working with Larry in this way was going to get us where when needed to be when we needed to be," Abrams said of the writer change.

"That doesn't preclude working with Michael again in the future at all. I couldn't say enough good things about him."

No matter how many projects Abrams is juggling, he is involved in some form, he said in a recent teleconference. The key is relying on talented showrunners, he explained.

"The great thing is it's like having friends who are these great storytellers who are also running these shows. While we read scripts and we give notes and, of course, look at edits and all that kind of stuff, it's not like any one of us is running any or all of these shows. They are all separate endeavors by people who are incredibly talented that we feel lucky to be working with."

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