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J.J. Abrams Almost Human: “The story is very different than anything we’ve done before.”

Almost Human

Emmy Award-winning executive producer J.J. Abrams (“Fringe,” “Lost,” “Revolution,” “Person of Interest,” the “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises) has created Almost Human, a new action-packed police procedural set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids. In an exclusive interview, Abrams discusses how the project was created. 

Q: With several really fast-paced shows on air right, like Person of Interest, Revolution, and now Almost Human, how do you keep things straight? Do ideas for one ever contribute to the others?

Abrams: Well, one is in the future. I think that the lucky situation for bad robot has been working with really wonderful people who are great show runners and storytellers. With Joel, with whom we worked on Fringe for five years, when he pitched me the idea for Almost Human, it was, I felt like that little kid that I used to be watching Six Million Dollar Man and all excited about the idea of what the show could be. When Eric Kripke pitched Revolution, I thought, that would be a really amazing, epic story to tell. It was very ambitious.

When Jonah pitched Person of Interest, we were having a meeting about a feature. He said, I have this idea for a TV show and he pitched Person of Interest. The great thing is it’s like having friends who are great storytellers who are also running these shows. While we read the 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’re all separate endeavors by people who are incredibly talented, that we feel very lucky to be working with.

Q: J.J., one question that’s on everyone’s mind is can you give us some sense of what happened and why there were the changes in the script writing team on the upcoming Star Wars film?

Abrams: I don’t think there was any changing of the screenwriters on Almost Human. … Almost Human, Fox, hour-long drama. Working with Michael Arndt was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his or adore him more. He’s a wonderful guy. He was incredibly helpful in the process and working with Larry Kasdan, especially on a Star Wars movie, is sort of unbeatable.

It became clear that given the timeframe 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 we needed to be and when we needed to be. That doesn’t preclude working with Michael again in the future at all. I couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s really, just obviously, one of the smartest guys and one of the best writers around.

Q: When you look at Fringe, and when you look at Almost Human, you guys have collaborated on some pretty amazing television. What would you guys say makes it such a fruitful relationship and such a fruitful partnership between the two of you?

Abrams: I think that the fun of working with someone who loves the ‘what if’ and is able to imagine situations and characters that make you laugh as much as it makes you squirm because the ideas are so close to what’s possible. On Fringe, as crazy as things were, and it got pretty crazy, they were so often things that felt like, God, that just seems like something that might be happening right now. Then almost invariably you’d read about something within weeks or months that proved that out. It’s always been fun working with Joel and Almost Human is no different.

Q: What do you see is the key to Michael Ealy’s performance and what did you make of Maureen Dowd comparing the character to President Obama?

Abrams: It was an honor to have Ms. Dowd reference Almost Human in her column. 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.

Q: Kennex’s human partner at the beginning of the pilot was left to die by the robots on the raid because he was too badly injured. Then Kennex goes in to try and save him, but winds up getting his whole unit killed and himself injured. Thinking about that, which is worse in your opinion – doing the right thing for the wrong reasons or doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?

Abrams: I think that, obviously, every situation is unique, but I think that in terms of the opening scene of the pilot, it was meant to demonstrate his approach and how he is a caring enough person that he would try and save his partner. I don’t necessarily think that, and this is an argument in the show itself, that John, because of that, is responsible for everyone dying. There are certainly a lot of MX synthetic cops around who are dealing with the raid as well.

Q: There are so many shows that have come and fallen under the bad robot umbrella, but aside being set in the future, what do you really feel sets Almost Human apart from anything that bad robot has ever produced, J.J.?

Abrams: We just tried to do it from the inside out and figure out what makes us care. I think that the specifics of this one, obviously, the story is very different than anything we’ve done before…I think that this show has a level of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done. I think that part of it is just the relationship between Karl and Michael’s characters.

Watch Almost Human on 

Photo courtesy of Justin Stephens/FOX

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Monica Gleberman began writing in 2000. She has been published on CNN and in the Suffolk Times, Examiner, The Daily Collegian, Demand Studios, Patch, and The Tattoo.

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