Back in the 1960s, “Star Trek” was a generally positive view of humanity, and the time-traveling alien of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” has always had a soft spot in his hearts for the people of Earth.
But a large percentage of sci-fi visions of the future are dark ones, apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, positing a world destroyed by pollution, overpopulation, asteroid strike, plague, rampant technology, zombie invasion or “Sharknado” — take your pick.
That’s not what series creator J.H. Wyman (aka Joel) wants you to see in his new sci-fi drama “Almost Human,” airing Mondays on FOX. He shares executive-producer credit with J.J. Abrams (with whom Wyman worked on “Fringe”) and Bryan Burk (“Lost”).
“I’m always writing about the same thing,” he says, leaning forward towards Zap2it in his chair at a Beverly Hills hotel bar, “which is, life is valued by the connections that you make. I believe in humanity; I’m more of a hopeful person.
“That’s why I created this program. All these guys who wrote these [other] things, they had a very valid thing to say. It’s a morality tale. They’re saying, ‘Watch out, be careful,’ and I applaud it.
“That’s not what my message is, as a writer. My message is, ‘No, humans are smarter than that, and we’re going to deal with the things that are thrown at us.’ I like humans. I do. I think we’re remarkable.
“So this is my thing, that I ground my shows in all the time. You can find those things in ‘Fringe,’ for sure, because that’s where it’s coming from. I always believe that humanity can change. There’s the ever-present possibility of change, and that possibility is always with us.
“I was seeing in these science-fiction things that are really dark, this finger wagging, ‘Look, you messed up; there’s no more sun.’ I’m like, ‘No, forget it. It’s cheesy, man.’ I believe we’re better than that, that I’m better than that, that we all can make a difference.”
In “Almost Human,” it’s the year 2048, and police officers are partnered with human-appearing androids. Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban, “Red”) survived one of the most vicious attacks ever made against the police department. He’s just awakened from a 17-month coma with memory gaps, PTSD and depression, among other things, having lost his partner and one of his legs.
A sophisticated synthetic appendage has replaced his leg – and he and his new limb are not getting along — and replacing his partner is a battle-ready MX-43 android. But after an, ahem, unfortunate incident with that partner, he instead is given Dorian (Michael Ealy), a discontinued model of android with a friendly face and programmed emotional responses.
Also starring are Lili Taylor as Capt. Sandra Maldonado, John’s long-term ally; Mackenzie Crook as technician Rudy Lom; Minka Kelly as Detective Valerie Stahl; and Michael Irby as Detective Richard Paul.
In another section of the same bar, Urban and Ealy sit down to talk.
Urban begins, saying, “It’s not a dystopia; it’s not a utopia. It’s a very realistic vision of the future, because it’s so close to our own. It’s not idealized; it’s accessible. It’s a future we can recognize with a slight technological twist to it.
“At the heart of the show, it’s really about these characters. It’s about the relationship between these characters, this partnership, and how we have a human that’s almost more robot than human.
“I wake up from being in a coma for almost two years. I discover that the relationship that I had for a year, with my fiancee, is a fraud, that she was a criminal plant. That closes me off.
“Here’s the thing: I’m distrustful. I’m self-loathing. Through meeting and working with Dorian — he’s more human than me. He opens me up a bit.”
Ealy says, “Let’s define humanity. Let’s say, does John possess a strong level of humanity? After all he’s been through, does he still have an ounce of humanity left? Dorian, who thrives, seeks out, embraces, relishes in the human experience, does he really get it? Can he be human? What is humanity? What is human?
“In many ways, Dorian has more humanity than John right now, so does that make Dorian human and John more cold, more robotic, if you will? That’s what he’s going to play with.”
Wyman believes in building up, not tearing down.
“It’s an era of criticism, not creation,” he says. “I don’t want to tell stories like that, and I’m quite sure I don’t want to watch stories like that either. I feel like it’s my job as a filmmaker to say, ‘OK, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be all right. You can do it.’
“I’m here to give people that kind of hope, not tell us how we messed up.”