Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Great Superhero Read - Alphas

Alphas is the first superhero show in the last couple years that I've managed to get into. The Cape was … eh. No Ordinary Family had too many poor reviews and I didn't like what I saw in the trailers. But the concept of Alphas intrigued me, and the characters and writing kept me, and the new season cannot start fast enough.

Alphas is a blend of superhero and crime dramas. There's a team of people, each with an 'alpha' ability, who are assembled by a psychologist and work for the Department of Defense, tracking down other alphas who are (usually) a threat to society. The show's wonderfully morally grey—there are secret and terrible prisons, nobody really knows what the DoD's long term plan for alphas is, and not every alpha-of-the-week is actually a bad guy in the end. The main ensemble knows they're getting progressively more in over their heads and being asked to do things that they're not trained for, especially when it comes to the Big Bad, alpha terrorist group Red Flag.

Alphas is as much about the characters as the crime-of-the-week, though. Everyone's believably flawed and played straight and realistic, not for laughs or as archetypes. They screw up. They have emotional baggage. They get on each others' nerves for the smallest things, and sometimes they lose trust in each other, but at the end of day they're friends. Occasionally the "end of the day" is a couple episodes later, though. This is not a show that wraps up everyone's problems neatly at the end of the hour.

As for the superhero aspects of the show: everyone in the ensemble has powers except for Dr. Rosen, the psychologist and alpha expert. There's a bit of stereotyping going on with who gets what power—the black guy's really strong, the beautiful woman has mind control, the nerd can hack anything with his mind—and the "synethesia" one woman has is not actually synethesia. The powers don't feel over-the-top, just a little beyond what's normal, and there's yet to be a big hero-vs-villain sort of fight that doesn't involve a) teamwork or b) conventional weapons. We're also jumping into these people's lives after they've figured out what they can do, so we see acceptance, not angst. Family members know, characters use powers for everyday things like getting a can of coke out of a machine or avoiding a speeding ticket, and nobody, not even the alphas-of-the-week are defined by their powers.

As you can probably guess, the believability and understated everything is a large part what attracts me to the show. It's a cop show, not a soap opera like Heroes or an homage to comics like The Cape was looking to be, before I stopped watching. (I also like cop shows about as much as I like superheroes. That probably helps.) I'm also caught by the writing, which seems a cut above regular TV fare, and like that the writers aren't afraid to explore the morally grey thing. I've been looking forward to Season Two since it was announced, and no, that cliffhanger in the finale really didn't help.


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