Syfy's Monday Night Lineup: Pretty Darn Solid

Syfy comes back strong this Monday, with a block of new programming designed to get your attention. There are new episodes of Syfy's two most successful shows, Eureka and Warehouse 13, plus a 90-minute pilot of Alphas, a new series.

We've seen screeners of all of Monday's programming, and it's pretty solid. This could be an excellent night to give Syfy your full attention. Minor spoilers ahead...

So in short: Monday's new Eureka is the best episode we've seen in ages. Warehouse 13 plays to its strengths, and the old chemistry is in full effect. And Alphas? Let's just say it shows a lot of promise, and the first episode is mostly fun.

For the longer version, with no real spoilers, read on.

Eureka is the show about the little town of scientific geniuses, who almost blow themselves up every week but are saved through the intervention of their endlessly patient sheriff, Jack. It's a show in which geekiness and scientific know-how are always unquestioningly good, and gentle good humor will solve almost any problem.

This time around, Eureka returns with an outstandingly fun episode, in which some of our favorite characters get to shine. Especially Fargo! There's a really nice fake-out in the opening minutes, and the longer-than-usual opening teaser pulls you right back into the little town of geniuses, until you feel like you've never left. We're still coping with the fallout from last year's changes to the timeline — especially the fact that Jo and Zane never dated.

Once the main plot of the episode gets going, it's your basic "geniuses make a wacky error that creates a perilous situation" story. But it's an exceptionally fun version, which keeps you guessing about what's going to happen next. There's an insoluble dilemma, which gets solved with a series of ingenious, seat-of-the-pants improvisations. With this one, Eureka serves up the perfect mix of escapist fun and scientific weirdness. Fargo gets to be heroic, level-headed and resourceful. (And sexy, of course.) If you haven't checked out Eureka in a couple years, this would be a good one to give a look to.

Warehouse 13 is the show about the place where all of the dangerous artifacts, either magical devices or scientific wonders, get stored and neutralized.

The show plays to its strengths in its third season premiere: there's a fun "artifact of the week" story that has enough twists and turns to stay intriguing throughout. For once, someone isn't just misusing an artifact by accident, or just using it for personal gain — instead, there's something much more sinister going on, which hints at a new big bad for this season. The episode's "B" plot, in which something zany is happening back at the warehouse, is wafer thin and mostly just gives Artie, Claudia and Leena something to do.

But the real focus, as usual, is on the characters. And here's where the episode really comes on strong — we deal with the fallout from last season's cliffhanger, where Myka quit the team. Pete gets a new partner, Steve Jinks (Aaron Ashmore), who manages to be instantly likable and has decent chemistry with Eddie McClintock. (Pete's still kind of a sexist dick, but he also gets some of the funniest lines in the episode.) As usual, Artie (Saul Rubinek) and Claudia (Alison Scagliotti) steal the show, with some silly banter and real warmth. The "family" feeling among the Warehouse team, anchored by Artie's lovable curmudgeon act, makes it really easy to fall back into watching this show. This show has become the model of how to do a successful show on Syfy: a mixture of cute ideas, basically likable characters who have real problems, and goofy humor. With moments of darkness here and there.

Alphas is the newcomer of the bunch, and it's very much a TV pilot. Which is to say, a lot of stuff isn't clicking yet, and first episode is very intent on showing us how thrilling this show can be, by basically serving up a mini-action movie or spy thriller.

So Alphas is about a secret government-sponsored team of mutants. (They're called "alphas," but they're mutants.) They're led by Dr. Rosen (David Straithairn) who's basically their psychologist as well as their team leader. They deal with problems that are too weird, or too serious, for regular agents to deal with — despite being mostly untrained civilians. And there are hints that there's an opposing group of mutants, who want mutant liberation, Magneto-style, out there.

Apart from the twist that they work for an unsavory government spook (Callum Keith Rennie, playing Callum Keith Rennie) this is very much a spin on the X-Men. And the pilot is written by Zak Penn, who wrote X-Men: The Last Stand and seems determined to prove that he can do the X-Men right.

So first the good news: Zak Penn may have written the pilot, but the showrunners of Alphas, on an ongoing basis, appear to be Ira Stephen Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, two veterans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Those two names pretty much guarantee the show will be worth watching in future, no matter what the pilot is like.

And the pilot isn't bad at all. It's a workmanlike action movie, on a larger-than-usual-for-Syfy budget. There are some clever twists, and some genuinely suspenseful moments, especially towards the end. Right away, you get a sense that these characters' mutant powers are unique and different from those of the X-Men, and the powers are used cleverly.

The bad news is, the show's main characters aren't all that likable in the pilot — which is often a problem with pilots, even for very good shows. David Straithairn does a pretty good making Dr. Rosen manipulative yet sensitive — a good combination therapist/team leader — but his actual team is mostly not that charismatic at all.

Everybody's personality issues dovetail with their superpowers, in a way-too-tidy way. There's the guy who gets super-strong when he gets angry (Malik Yoba), and he has an attitude problem. There's the standard-issue autistic kid who's supersmart, and sees electromagnetic frequencies. There's the beautiful woman who can talk anyone into doing whatever she wants. There's the woman who has OCD and super-senses. All of these characters will probably settle eventually into being engaging, but in the pilot they're a bit annoying.

But like I said, that's the thing about pilots — characters often don't fully click, a lot of the concepts are often a bit crude, and things haven't gelled yet. The thing a pilot absolutely needs to do is to show that this concept has potential, and tell a fun self-contained story that hints at ongoing plot developments. And Alphas' first episode absolutely does those things. It's a perfectly solid spy thriller with superpowers, which holds your attention for 90 minutes. And the show will no doubt improve by leaps and bounds.

All in all, Syfy's Monday night lineup is well deserving of your attention — both this Monday and every Monday for the weeks to come. Syfy is often at its best when it's serving up fun stories about smart people who work together to solve problems, with dignity and good humor. This Monday, Syfy gives us three and a half hours of that formula — and it works.