Friday, July 22, 2011

X-Men in Real Life

AlphasAt some point, I think, we have all dreamed about what we would want our superpower to be.  I always ruled out mind reading because I figured it would cause more problems than anything (who really wants to know what everyone thinks of them?), and perhaps I'm too much of a goody-two-shoes to be drawn to invisibility.  But flying (with big wings, please) always held a very strong appeal, and after spending much of the last year driving all over creation, I think I'd probably have to go with teleportation.  Sitting in traffic in Chicago is something that I would really love to be able to avoid.

But these are the types of superpowers that people in capes or skin-tight suits have.  People like Magneto, Rogue, Cyclops, and Storm.  People who are played in movies by actors who are extraordinarily attractive and make more in one movie than I will make in my entire life.  People who are--let's face it--not you or me.

But what if someone made a show about people like you and me who did have superpowers?

Alphas is that show.

Created by Michael Karnow and Zach Penn, Alphas premiered on the Syfy network on July 11.  It tells the story of Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn) and his team--a bunch of misfits who all have extraordinary abilities of some kind and who seem to be part of an off-the-books branch of a government crime-fighting organization.  Gary Bell, for example, is able to read the electromagnetic waves that pass through the air.  Nina Theroux can influence people to do what she wants--sort of a sexy Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Bill Harken has extraordinary strength, and Rachel Pirzad can heighten her senses, one at a time.  The show's pilot introduces another "Alpha" who is eventually recruited to Rosen's team--Cameron Hicks, a man who has extraordinary athletic ability.

Described like this, Alphas could be any other superhero show.  But two things make it different.  First, the characters' superpowers are described in scientific terms (well, probably pseudo-scientific, but it creates a similar effect).  Rachel's power is described as "synesthesia--ability to enhance senses."  Cameron is "hyperkinetic."  And Gary's ability is labeled "transduction."  Such labels make it seem like these powers are more similar to potentially real medical conditions, rather than superpowers.  They emphasize the "human" in "superhuman."

Adding to this is the fact that all the Alphas seem to have a major challenge or flaw to balance out their superpower.  Rachel doesn't like confrontations with others, Gary is on the autism spectrum, and Cameron has post-traumatic stress disorder.  This part felt a bit forced at times--"Hey, we're showing that all these characters are human by giving them all flaws!  Look at how clever we are!"--but when these flaws were allowed to emerge organically, rather than being spoonfed to us, they did achieve the desired effect.  I thought of the characters in Alphas more as people than as heroes defined by a single power.  Some of the best scenes in the pilot were their interactions in "normal" mode--poking fun at each other, thinking through strategy, and even getting on each others' nerves.

Interestingly enough, at this point, Dr. Rosen--the character who doesn't have a superpower--is the one who feels most one-dimensional, since we have only really seen him in "leader" mode.  (The scene with him wearing a Speedo in his kitchen doesn't count.)  It would be nice to see him developed further, and it would also be interesting to find out what Nina's flaw is.  It's suggested that in spite of her looks and her ability to influence others, she still can't get a date, so it must be a doozy.  The plot is fun, the acting is relatively good, and I like the visual portrayal of Gary's ability--and so with these possible points for development, I'll keep on watching.  And thinking of scientific-sounding names for an ability that would enable me to skip traffic in the Loop.