Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alphas pilot good, not great

Alphas -- Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek [HD]     SyFy's Alphas premiered this week. In the pilot, Dr. Rosen's (David Strathaim, Temple Grandin) team track Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie, Happy Town, October Road), a man who can be superhumanly precise, for murdering a witness in custody. They discover that Cameron was brainwashed, and did not act on his own free will. Cameron agrees to help them catch the real villain, a man who make anyone do exactly what he wants with a touch for his horribly disfigured hand. The bad guy is eventually caught, and Rosen blackmails Cameron into joining the team full-time.

     The term 'alphas' in the series refers to anyone with abnormal powers. 'Mutant' or 'superhero' can be easily substituted, which is fine, because this is sort of an X-Men: The Series. Rosen is like Professor X, in that he is measured and cool, and also the team leader, helping his charges as much as the world. Besides Cameron, the team consists of: Gary (Ryan Cartwright, Bones, Mad Men), who appears to have Asperger's, and can visualize any signals moving through the air; Bill (Malik Yoba, Defying Gravity), who has super strength for a limited time when his adrenaline ratchets up; Nina (Laura Mennell, Watchmen), who can override people's will power, though she's not enough it seems unnecessary; and Rachel (Azita Ghanizada, General Hospital: Night Shift), who can enhance any one of her senses greatly, but the others don't work when she does so.

     Rachel and Bill, especially, have inherent weaknesses with their abilities. This is interesting, because generally heroes with powers have a weak spot, but the ability isn't the cause of it. The power itself is nearly unlimited. Yet, Rachel becomes very vulnerable when using hers, and Bill can't keep his up for long. There are also personality clashes between various members of the group, as each have their own issues that are barely touched on in the Alphas pilot, but the team functions well enough together to get the job done.

     Which is kind of why Alphas is a bit boring. When bringing together such complex, eccentric people, more clash is expected. The personal drama would better inform the series, instead of making the first episode sort of like a crime procedural, as the characters look for the bad guy behind the murder. Perhaps Rosen's crew has had time to work through any such disagreements, but by robbing viewers of that experience, it also robs the show of something, too. The actors are decent enough, but only Strathaim and Cartwright stand out in the first episode as doing something more than following the script.

     Special effects aren't a big issue on TV today, as it is relatively affordable to make the action look good, as Alphas does. It's hard to pin any other complaints, besides the one above, other than things are just a bit too predictable, and opportunity for greatness is squandered when using standard formulas. If Alphas wants to establish itself as a great series, which SyFy is capable of making (think Battlestar Galactica), there needs to be some retooling. Sure, there is a big, mysterious group that needs taken down. But with the focus on the weekly villain, that gets a little lost in the shuffle.

     Alphas airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on SyFy.

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     Click here to catch up on streaming episodes of Alphas.

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