SyFy's new genetic misfit crimestoppers show Alphas will inevitably bring to mind the X-Men and Heroes, but the program has some quirks that could differentiate itself from the superhuman pack. Namely, a Machiavellian granola leader who loves glam rock.
Also, on an unrelated note, some poor schmuck henchman was mind-controlled into pounding bleach. Spoilers on!
Yesterday's pilot episode (which was co-penned by Zak Penn, the scriptwriter of X-Men: The Last Stand) was mostly a bare-bones introduction — we met the Alphas, learned what their powers were, received a smattering of potential character conflicts/relationships and overarching conspiracy (surprise: there are bad Alphas out there!), and got to see their fantastic (yet not flamboyant) abilities in motion. Let's start with the good and work our way down.
Their Hippy-dippy Leader: David Strathairn plays Dr. Lee Rosen, a neurophysiologist/psychologist who has brought this team of extraordinary individuals together. Rosen's team operates with loose oversight under the auspices of the Department of Defense. The Alphas' roster is as follows:
- Bill Harken (Malik Yoba): A former FBI agent who can gain massive strength thanks to adrenal bursts. Unfortunately, he starts tweaking if he uses his powers too long. Think angel-dust muscles. Kind of a dick.
- Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie): A former Army sniper whose advanced reflexes give him impeccable aim and the power to do parkour. Downside: suffers from performance anxiety. Also, shadowy bad guys brainwash him into killing a federal witness in the show's first 5 minutes.
- Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell): Can use her voice for hypnotic suggestion. Not sure what her problem is yet, other than being sassy and vaguely unethical.
- Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright): A young man whose ability is to see and translate electronic signals. Also, he's autistic and can't see Nokia phone signals for some reason (what an oddly brand specific super-weakness).
- Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada): Can hyper-focus one sense at time at the expense of shutting down the other four. Disapproving tailor father is dubious of her chances of finding a nice boy.
It's the first episode of the series, so it feels a little premature to call some of these characters stock (I mean, of course the ill-mannered jock has super-strength). I appreciated that all of the Alphas had limited powers that were at least marginally grounded in reality.
Nobody's turning into piles of sentient salsa or reversing Earth's orbit to turn back time. Their abilities have more in common with that ol' Deathstroke the Terminator routine of using more than 10% of your brain. But what I enjoyed most about the pilot was Straitharn, who portrays Rosen as avuncular with a smidge of sinister.
One minute Rosen's digging through the crates for old T-Rex LPs; then he's prattling on about Marc Bolan and wheat grass juice; next he's asking a paranoid government spook (Callum Keith Rennie a.k.a. Leoben from Battlestar!) about whether he was breast-fed as a child; and finally he's basically blackmailing Cameron into joining his gang of plucky weirdos:
You did murder a federal prisoner [...] There are other parties who might not be so understanding.
Whereas the rest of Alphas could regress into clichés, Straitharn's got plenty of leeway to be unpredictable.
The Bleach-Drinking Henchman: I'll be honest, this scene stopped the show for me. Long story short, a bad guy with tactile mind-control powers (who's dead by the end of the episode) persuades his pawn to cover his tracks by guzzling bleach. Not jumping off a building, not slide-tackling a city bus. Drinking bleach. To make matters stupider, THE DOOMED GOON PAYS FOR THE BLEACH FIRST.
I absolutely lost my shit here — this was better than Summer of Sam. What sort of bodega has bleach in the front aisle? Why was the clerk so blasé about a customer quaffing bleach? I bet he'd have the same tone of voice if a bunch of 14-years-olds were ogling issues of Juggs off the magazine rack. Like, "Aw c'mon! Youse kids ripped the polybag! Awww nuts, that guys over there's taking nips from tha bleach! I gotta find a better neighborhoods." I hope we see "Languid Convenience Store Manager" making a reappearance tout de suite. He's got potential.