Thursday, 20 October 2011

Alphas 1.1 'Pilot'

“Like a Peyton Manning, with a gun…?” – Bill


Given the subject matter, fairly or unfairly, Alphas was always going to draw comparisons to Heroes.

With Tim Kring’s show losing its way so spectacularly in later seasons, it doesn’t feel like we’ve been over-saturated by a ‘people with abilities’ show, so there is still a lot to be explored in this genre, hence why I had high hopes for Alphas.

Alphas feels more like a TV X-Men though than Heroes, with an older scientist (Dr. Rosen) helping a young group of people with abilities to harness their power in the best way and also discover themselves along the way. Of course being a TV show there is the obvious air of Heroes about Alphas, but it’s X-Men that I would really draw the most comparisons too.

The problem with being so derivative of other high profile series’ is that Alphas comes across as a cheap knock-off, if Heroes was a blockbuster then Alphas feels like the B-movie rip-off.

The cynic in me can’t get past the fact that the heroes on Alphas all have abilities that don’t really look that visually impressive, as opposed to say flying or shape-shifting, which means they can be filmed cheaply.

Coming from a smaller network like Sy-Fy it’s hard to shake the feeling that had this show been made by a Fox or an NBC that maybe the Alphas would have had far more impressive-looking abilities than the power of suggestion and enhanced senses.

In case it hadn’t become clear by now I was left feeling quite disappointed after watching the show and I had been really excited for it, even going as far as to flag it up last week right here on TV or not TV.

You know I don’t like to be negative for the sake of being negative though so what worked in this extended pilot?

Well I particularly enjoyed the opening as Hicks was influenced to kill the prisoner with everyone on the street seemingly telling him to “kill” and “pull the trigger”.

The reveal of how he managed to kill the prisoner and the visual of the shot hitting him from inside a sealed room was also pretty cool, even if that section did feel a little like CSI: Superhero.

The file graphics that accompanied the introduction of each Alpha were also a really nice expositional tool, as it quickly and clearly established not only who each character is, but also what they can do and why. Too often on Heroes I thought it was unclear what abilities certain people had and why, and they seemed to just change their minds about characters and their abilities on a seasonal basis, I’m hoping Alphas will have a more rigid structure on that front.

David Strathairn as expected is fantastic in the Professor X role and is by far the best thing on the show, pretty much acting everyone around him off the screen, though I do feel the Oscar-nominee deserves a bit better than this really.

I also liked the end of the episode as ‘the ghost’ seemed to blur the lines between good and evil with his dying words by telling Hicks he’s “on the wrong side of this”. It’d pretty much been taken as a given, at least by me, during the episode that the Alphas were helping the good guys by siding with the Feds but, as both X-Men and Heroes have done in the past, there seemed to be the indication that maybe Red Flag aren’t all bad. This may again be a derivative angle to explore – the war between ‘specials’ and humans – but it at least gives the show an added depth that for the large majority of what preceded that tease was sorely missing.

Sadly though there was a lot that didn’t work and by the time a ‘standard’ episode would have concluded I was actually willing the show to wrap things up.

In addition to the bigger problems facing the show such as the cheap knock-off feel and the plodding nature of the pilot (hopefully fixable once the show reverts to standard running time) there were also a number of smaller individual problems that conspired to leave me feeling somewhat apathetic to Alphas.

It must’ve been clear during production that inevitable comparisons were going to be drawn between the show and other productions within this genre, Heroes being the most prominent, so in that case you would think the writers would go to great lengths to differentiate the show from its peers.

Yet a lot of the abilities displayed in the Alphas pilot are lifted straight from Heroes – super-strength, the ability to influence other’s thoughts and the ability to control others to name but a few. I appreciate there are only so many abilities a show can work with and at its worst Heroes had some pretty shoddy abilities but I’d have expected Alphas to have been a little more creative on that front.

Then we have the characters themselves, of course everything David Strathairn does as Rosen is great and carries a degree of gravitas, but his underlings left a lot to be desired which is surprising given that the extended length of the pilot felt like it was being justified by through some early character development.

Gary the young autistic lad is supremely annoying and brought practically nothing to the table and actually felt like the most clichéd character – hasn’t the autistic child prodigy been done to death in TV and film by now?

I really wanted to like Malik Yoba as Bill going in and early on it looked like he’d be the character you gravitate to most, he’s the group’s de facto leader as he’s former FBI and the others don’t have his discipline and sense of danger which is quite an interesting way to approach things, with him teaching the inexperienced members of the team how to perform in the ‘field’.

Yet as the episode progressed for some reason he was made to look cartoonishly piggish, intentionally winding up the autistic Gary and then being overly rude to Rachel; it seemed like a bizarre tangent to take him down and just didn’t work for me.

Overall Alphas certainly has a lot of promise and there’s so much room for the show to grow but vast improvement is definitely needed to keep the show around for any sort of extended period and if I’m honest to also keep me tuning in for the remainder of this season.

A Hail of Bullets:

- One other positive in the pilot was the great music on show. First T-Rex’s 20th Century Boy and then David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, it also looked like they were giving Rosen a ‘cool’ edge with his taste in music, hopefully that will be a running theme throughout the show.

- Callum Keith Rennie was great as always as the group’s FBI patron Don Wilson. Obviously as the guy’s biggest fan I’m a little biased, but the show would certainly benefit from his charisma on a regular basis. The verbal jousting between Rennie and Strathairn was also one of the best things on show in this pilot episode.

- This pilot was directed by veteran Lost director Jack Bender (snigger) and there were certainly some nice shots and moments in there that you could tell had come from a TV director of his stature.

Alphas continues Tuesday @ 10pm on 5* in the UK.


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