Syfy Delivers Superhero Drama with Alphas
· Nick Copus
· David Strathairn
· Warren Christie
· Azita Ghanizada
· Laura Mennell
· Malik Yorba
· Ryan Cartwright
· Callum Keith Rennie
· See more at the official "Alphas" website!
Television Review: Alphas
by Jeff Ritter
Published: July 10, 2011
There has been many attempts at superhero television shows over the years. From Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman to Michael Chiklis' No Ordinary Family, the networks have tried again and again to strike gold. NBC's Heroes had a ton of potential but their cast was too large for cohesive storytelling and the writer's strike did them no favors. The Cape (also from NBC) was pretty much unwatchable, in my opinion, and led me to formulate the theory that it's not Firefly's Nathan Fillion who was cursed to be on failed shows constantly (as proved by his hit series Castle on ABC) but Summer Glau, who hasn't lasted more than two seasons on any series. So at the very least, SyFy's Alphas program, a spiritual cone of Marvel's "X-Men: First Class" has that going for it.
I'm not sure a pilot episode is always enough to judge a new show by. Actors haven't developed any rapport with each other, unless they're old friends from past collaborations. Alphas features former Cylon skin-job Callum Keith Rennie, as a government overseer of a team lead by Dr. Lee Rosen (one of my favorite actors, David Strathairn, in the nominal Professor Xavier leader role). The team he leads is comprised of people with special abilities beyond those of normal people, similar to Marvel's X-Men in style, though I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually tell a tale that's a bit more unique than the "born different" mutations of the comic books. Their powers often come with a cost. Marksman Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), has uncanny accuracy. Young Rachel Pirzad (the lovely Azita Ghanizada) has super-senses, but only one at a time, and at the expense of all others. When she's using super-sight, she loses her normal hearing. Somewhat devious Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell) can plant mental suggestions with varying degrees of success like an unscrupulous Prof. X, and Bill Harken (Malik Yorba) has super strength for a limited time. One of the more visually interesting powers comes from mildly autistic Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright) who can "see" the electro-magnetic spectrum, including television and telephone signals.
The similarities to the X-Men, particularly the presentation of the team as tied to the government in "X-Men: First Class" are pretty obvious, and the plot of the pilot episode is rather standard fare. Dr. Rosen, who doesn't appear to have any powers himself, sends his team in to rescue/recruit Hicks, who is acting as an assassin under super-hypnotic suggestion by the episode's villain. Government intrigue looms in the background. I'd give any show featuring David Strathairn at least two stars, and I do feel that it's worth a look, but it's not breaking any new ground. The thing about superhero shows is that with the exceptions of Wonder Woman and the classic Adam West Batman, you almost never get anyone in costumes. All of those characters in Heroes wore normal clothes. In recent times the only superhero show that tried to incorporate superhero costumes was The Cape, which unfortunately had so little else going for it that it was quickly cancelled. SyFy has a couple of really fun programs on their summer slate in Warehouse 13 and Haven, so I'm hopeful that Alphas can join them. But I won't be surprised if it fails to click, because there's not a lot here that hasn't been done before, and if bigger networks than SyFy have failed to capitalize on the superhero movie craze, why should they be any different? I'll give them a few weeks to change my mind.
Alphas debuts July 11, 2011, on syFy. Consult your local listings for times.