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Alphas S1E1 review

REVIEWS - TV

A respectable start for a realistic but entertaining take on superpowers...

'Alphas' S1E1 review

Alphas, from Michael Karnow and comic book movie veteran Zak Penn (X-Men 2, Elektra, The Incredible Hulk), is a relatively realistic show about people with superpowers, though given this description, it’s less gritty (at least initially) than you might expect. It’s not like Jason Bourne with superpowers (or Battlestar Galactica, despite the presence of Callum Keith Rennie). And the realism doesn’t stop the show from having some cool special effects.

It’s broadly similar to Warehouse 13 (another SyFy show also scored by Edward Rogers) in tone and visual style, though Alphas’ pilot is better. Since Warehouse 13 was relatively slow to start, but got really good in the second half of Season 1, then hopefully Alphas could be even better, if it shows the same level of improvement. The characters aren’t as good as in Warehouse 13, though it’s early days yet, though most of them are quite good, and there’s lots of potential for interesting character development.

Fellow realistic superhero show Heroes was brilliant, but it’s refreshing that Alphas skips the origin stories and also has a much less heavy and serious tone.

It’s interesting that the pilot establishes each character, and then their abilities, and then shows us that they already work as a team using these abilities. It shows us their ordinary lives, and then them going to work, which happens to be as part of a team of Alphas. This is a grounded approach, but it doesn’t preclude a little humour, which is a part of the character dynamics. The characters talk over each other, like in a Robert Altman film, which is a different, realistic approach. They’re a bit like a slightly dysfunctional found family, and it’ll be interesting to see how this develops over future episodes. There’s definitely the potential for us to really care about this group of people.

The super-efficient assassin The Ghost is played by Jeff Seymour, i.e. Thomas Friedken from Being Erica! The actor is more effective here, since he’s playing a great villainous character (and obsessed with time-keeping!), rather than just an absolute jerk as in Being Erica (which is a great show, though his character is (probably deliberately) very annoying).

As one of the protagonists, Bill (played by Malik Yoba, or Ted from Defying Gravity—so he’s both Bill and Ted!) is portrayed as too flawed too early in the show. Presumably he’s irritable because he’s addicted to adrenaline due to constant use of his ability (and maybe his lack of boundaries with other people is linked to his lack of boundaries on adrenaline—but in both cases, this is bound to cause problems, because there are boundaries even if he doesn’t recognise them), but this probably would have worked more effectively if played out over the course of a season, and this would have allowed for them to establish his character as more sympathetic to start with. It’s difficult to know where his character can go from here. Though I did like his self-deprecating humour in the scene with his wife.

It’s interesting that Dr. Lee Rosen (played by David Straithairn), the head of the team, is a psychiatrist, and tries to help his team emotionally and talk through things with them. (And sometimes they gently make fun of him about it.)

Rachel is perhaps the most sympathetic character, and seems to be afraid of confrontation. Perhaps this will play into the character dynamics further, especially since Dr. Rosen told her to confront Bill about his lack of boundaries.

Dr. Rosen and Don Wilson (Callum Keith Rennie) have a typical combatative working relationship, though there is arguably some potential there. And will Callum Keith Rennie’s character turn out to be (typically) evil, or just grumpy?

Don Wilson says: “I’m capable of having two conflicting emotions at once. I’m complicated like that.” This is a good line in its own right, and also intriguing. Are his loyalties complicated as well? Also, is he "complicated" like Dorian Gray from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

Nina’s totally gonna turn evil again. (“What, are you just a really nice person?”; (laughs) “I’m not a really nice person.”) And with a power like that (mind control) there must be a lot of temptation to misuse it. (Is she going to be the show’s Dark Willow?) And she seems to be in love with Bill, who’s married to another woman. Which is bad.

New guy Cameron Hicks is probably going to turn evil at some point too, or at least be manipulated (perhaps more subtly this time) by Red Flag, as the Ghost told him “You’re on the wrong side”.

Is mind control like vampires glamouring/compelling people? So it deteriorates their mind?

It’s interesting that some people are immune to mind control, because it apparently depends on plasticity of the brain. This is a bit like, in Star Wars, Jedi mind tricks only working on the weak-minded, except here it probably doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on whoever’s susceptible to it.

Who are Red Flag, and why did they choose such an ominous name? There’s a lot of potential here for the ongoing conflict between the office and Red Flag.

Ira Steven Behr (Dark Angel) is the showrunner for the first season (to be replaced by Eureka's Bruce Miller for the second), and there are parallels between the two shows in terms of characters with extraordinary abilities trying to navigate the implications of this in a real world context, though Alphas seems somewhat lighter than Dark Angel, at least at this stage.

This probably wouldn’t happen, but it would be cool if each season were to be named after successive letters of the Greek alphabet: 'Alphas', 'Betas', 'Gammas', etc. And then the 26th and final season could be called 'Omegas'. Or maybe they could keep the title of the show as Alphas, but give each season or arc a subtitle (so Season 2 would be 'Betas', say), like Heroes did.

A solid pilot for what should be a fairly entertaining grounded sci-fi adventure series.

3 stars

See also:

Alphas S1E2 review


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