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J.J Abrams & J.H Wyman Preview FOX Sci-Fi Series "Almost Human"

If you’re having a serious conversation about the modern science fiction genre, chances are the name J.J Abrams will come up. As he prepares to launch the new drama “Almost Human” on FOX, for which he serves as executive producer, Abrams spoke to media today alongside series creator J.H Wyman about what sets the futuristic cop / robot saga apart from the recent wave of sci-fi fare and what audiences can look forward to when the show debuts later this month.

After working on several film scripts, Abrams’ first foray into TV came when he created “Felicity” for The WB in 1998 and soon after that he was crafting the wildly expansive ‘spy-fi’ world of “Alias”. Starring Victor Garber and Jennifer Garner as a father / daughter duo of CIA officers, “Alias” broke J.J into the mainstream and along with its follow-up “Lost” (both of which aired on ABC) the series turned Abrams into one of the first ‘celebrity’ TV writers known to fans by name and celebrated - or criticized - at a level equal to the shows stars (see also: Joss Whedon, Matthew Weiner, Shonda Rhimes, Vince Gilligan). His production company Bad Robot has been responsible for more recent network hits like “Person of Interest” and “Revolution”, and his professional relationship began with Wyman when they collaborated on the parallel-universe drama “Fringe” for FOX. Unless you live under a rock, you probably also know that Abrams is responsible for rebooting the “Star Trek” film franchise and will soon be directing “Star Wars” as it returns to the big screen. So how the hell does this guy find the time to keep churning out TV fantasies? A great team, J.J insists, is key. “The lucky situation, I think, for Bad Robot has been working with really wonderful people who are great show-runners and storytellers,” he told us today, noting that when Wyman approached with the concept for their new series he knew that he had to make the time. “When he pitched me the idea for “Almost Human” I felt like that little kid that I used to be watching “The Six Million Dollar Man”, you know?”

The series is set in the year 2048 and stars Karl Urban as John Kennex, a cop who is forced to partner with an android (named Dorian) played by Michael Ealy after an increase in crime leads to all human law officers being accompanied by robots. J.J says that “The idea when Joel pitched it was that Dorian, who is a synthetic, was in some ways more human than his partner.” Wyman told reporters that Ealy heightened what was already on the page with “an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion. He’s playing a character who is by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and as strategic as you’d want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop, but he’s also as sympathetic as you’d want. What Michael brings is that kind of depth and humanity.” His dubious partner, in turn, is “forced to kind of deal with the idea that his well-being now relies on this technology which he sort of holds in contempt.”

So what sets this latest series apart from the increasingly present action and sci-fi shows on networks today, let alone from the duo’s previous work in the genre? First of all, Wyman began, he wasn’t interested in presenting another dystopian vision of Earth’s future. “I hope that we’re not really in that territory and that we’re successful in that.” Often in the genre, the writer says, the outlook seems to be “‘Look what you humans have done!’ whereas what we’re talking about, I think, is a little more hopeful. There’s a sense of going forward. We’re resilient, we’re going to succeed.”

Abrams mentioned that unlike many of his past efforts this series has much less of an emphasis on mythology and will instead focus on a procedural case-of-the-week type format that will allow us to explore the characters as well as the unique complexities of navigating in an increasingly technology-reliant world. He also promised “a level of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done before” which backs up his partners talk of the series leaning towards a more 'popcorn' movie vibe than their previous collaboration. That’s not to say the show is all-action-all-the-time, as Wyman went on to explain his hopes to create a conversation about what these human-computers are at their core and how we should interact with them. “They’re thinking beings, so what are their rights? And where are those lines drawn? A lot of those things are sort of examined in our later stories: What is a robot? What is an android? What is a being?” Wyman, to be sure, did his homework. “J.J had set us up with some very brilliant people from MIT and one was a woman who studied robot ethics, which is pretty amazing, that they’re actually... real.”

Rounding out the loaded cast of “Almost Human” are Lili Taylor, whose character Captain Maldonado was first imagined as a man, Mackenzie Crook as Rudy Lom, Michael Irby as Richard Paul and Minka Kelly of “Friday Night Lights” as Valerie Stahl. Wyman often raved about the performances delivered and seemed to be genuinely excited for audiences to see their collaborative work. “You start with something and based on your casting it always transcends it and makes it better. The casting process was so interesting, when we were finding these guys each one had something that was so perfect for the characters” Wyman said.

Abrams matches that enthusiasm and is equally as excited to re-team with his “Fringe” cohort, telling us, “The fun is working with someone who loves the ‘what if?’ and is able to imagine situations and characters that, you know, make you laugh as much as it makes you squirm.” When the series debuts this month Abrams says he hopes audiences will welcome “conflicts and cases that don’t feel like things you’ve seen a million times before.”

“Almost Human” premieres with a special 2-night event on FOX beginning Sunday November 17th and continuing in its regular timeslot on Monday the 18th at 8 EST. The full transcript from the press call with J.J Abrams & J.H Wyman will be available here soon. Feel free to check out my Twitter for all my SpoilerTV activity & more.

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