This review contains mild spoilers.
Having covered the abysmal No Ordinary Family last year, and passed on the even more awful The Cape, I’m still looking for a half-decent superhero show. I didn’t exactly hold out much hope in Alphas, although, surprisingly, it turned out better than I was expecting.
It starts well enough, with an opening that’s straight out of Fringe and a dozen other suspense dramas. A man gets a tone on his phone, leaves work and goes to kill someone. It’s a cliché, and prepares us for all the others we’ll get, because Alphas is not for the thinking viewer. It’s like it comes with subtitles for the hard of thinking.
There’s no surprise to what each ‘Alpha’ team member can do, because we’re told explicitly what their special ability is in the first five minutes, and the only reveals are what their weaknesses are, which in some cases are their inability to act.
I had held out some hope that David Strathairn (Sneakers) would bring along a degree of creditability with him. But given how pigeonholed his character is, he’s fighting an uphill struggle, and losing like the rest of his team. He’s the professor/psychologist leader of the Alphas, although, so far, he doesn’t appear to have a power other than a skill for poor personnel management.
Malik Yoba plays adrenalin-boosted Bill Harken, whose character is styled on the Thing from the Fantastic Four, as, apparently, you can’t be super strong without it making you grumpy.
Ryan Cartwright is presented as the geek with Rain Man-like disorder, Gary Bell. It’s mostly his scenes that eat the effects budget, as he can see all electronic transmissions, like radio waves travelling in straight lines that go past your home!
More of that budget gets zapped by the Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada), who can heighten one of her senses, while inconveniently turning off all the others, including hearing.
The cheaper production values go to Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell), who can induce people to do what she wants, and the new character the story introduces to the team, Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), who can pull off impossible shots and sporting achievements. I assume his character was named by someone who loved the movie Aliens.
Of these, Bill and Gary are quite annoying, Laura Mennell is the best actress, and they all look like they’ve been borrowed from a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. Yet, the winner of the worst character isn’t even in the Alphas. He’s the CIA boss for whom the team works, played gratingly by Callum Keith Rennie. He comes across very two dimensionally, and does little to lift the show.
But a pilot of this type wouldn’t be complete without a laugh out loud part, where those making it didn’t really grasp the silliness of what they’d created, and Alphas had a solid gold one of those.
As the story, for what it’s worth, develops, we’re soon confronted by the bad Alphas, in the form of ‘the Ghost’, a person who can program others to do his bidding. The actor they got to play him looks like a clone of Tony Shalhoub, so much so that, when I first saw him, I immediately wondered what Mr Monk was doing in show. That they then revealed that he was an obsessive, made this even more hilarious. I can only presume that the proper title for the pilot was ‘The Alphas versus The Evil Mr Monk’, because that’s what we ended up getting.
Is this a total bust? No, it isn’t. Despite the characters being as fully formed as stick figures, this could develop into something more than we’ve been shown so far. What we need is those in charge to have the steel to kill a couple of the most irritating Alphas, providing more threat to the narrative. They also need to let David Strathairn do his stuff, because he can be wonderful, if given the room to work with his character.
Aphas isn’t as bad as No Ordinary Family, but it needs to not spoon-feed the audience so mechanically, and find some things about its characters that aren’t so clichéd.