Sometimes - just sometimes - a person whose work I dislike can turn around and create a movie, a series, or a piece that demonstrates not only strong improvement, but also some positive growth.
Such an example is screenwriter Zak Penn - in a previous column, I referred to one of his scripts as "acrushing, unsatisfying disappointment... a very flawed screenplay thats everely underestimates the audience's intelligence." So when I had heard he had co-created the new SyFy original series Alphas, I didn't really make an effort to watch it, let alone follow it. It seemed like a direct rip-off of X-Men, and quite frankly, I had better things to do with my time. However, upon the recommendation of several online pals, I gave the pilot a shot...and then the next episode...and the next one....
....and I can say that Alphas has become one of my favorite series, and one which I have no reservations in recommending to others.
On the surface, the premise is similar to X-Men: a kindly, intellectual leader (in this case, Dr. Lee Rosen, played by David Strathairn) works with a group of people of various backgrounds who possess abilities beyond those of normal people. Although he hopes to insure a peaceful relationship between "Alphas" and normal human beings, a group called "Red Flag", who want to insure Alpha dominance, has been on the rise. In addition, Dr. Rosen finds himself up against government officials who want to send Alphas to a facility in Binghamton, NewYork - a facility that has been spoken of in ominous tones (and not because of Binghamton's most famous son, either).
You might be suspicious about the above paragraph and wonder how Alphas is not overly derivative of its comic book roots. However, one of the key strengths of the show is how grounded it is in the real world. Each of the lead Alpha's abilities consists not of force bolts emitted from the eyes, or telekinesis, but in some slightly greater aspect of human functioning. One Alpha has the ability to instantaneously compute trajectory, timing, etc (tripping up a high school student with a well-thrown textbook). Another has hyper-active senses; still another receives heightened strength when under stress, but when in the fight-or-flight response for too long, risks cardiac arrest. Having more "realistic" abilities - and allowing the leads to explore the implications of those abilities - makes the show seem much more "real" than your average science fiction show.
Much of that is due to some of the people behind the scenes, who bring a really strong background to arc-driven episodic television. Looking at some of the showrunners, you will find names like Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ira Steven Behr - both of whom worked on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The 4400. Another executive producer is Gail Berman, who worked on Buffy and Angel. It may not seem like a big deal, but it shows that Penn is actually thinking through how the series should work - having some long standing veterans working as show runners helps give the show a strong sense of pacing - things happen when they should happen, and the audience is engaged from the beginning. There isn't a buildup of several episodes before the "major" plot begins (like Dollhouse), nor is there the manic-buildup-of-plot-towards-the-dramatic- revelation-before-the-commercial-break (like later seasons of Lost). Each episode of Alphas is relatively self-contained, and the subplots aren't as obvious. Thankfully, this means that it is an easy show to watch, and there isn't a massive amount of catching up.
Some other sites/online commentary have complained that Alphas is too low-key; that it doesn't have a lot of dazzle to it, and that the show lacks high end action. In all honesty, that is an absolute asset - much of what passes for genre television seems obviously geared towards a "geek" crowd. It's refreshing to have a television drama that places the emphasis first on drama, working as a series first and genre/sci-fi piece second. I have said elsewhere that Alphas is a rather pulpish take on superheroes, focusing on a more low-key, realistic approach....and that's what makes the show works. It's not about huge pyrotechnics, but about the realization that there are others who are just slightly more human...and that there will be deeper implications.
Some have expressed concern about the future of Alphas - notably, in possibly making the mistakes other shows have made in the past. Although the future is never certain, Alphas seems to be doing everything right.
It's on Mondays on SyFy. Check your local listings.
But please, don't let me be the last word - drop a line in the Comic Related Forums. Check out other things I do via my personal blog or Twitter. Head to the Zone 4 Facebook page and post a note.
And as always, keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
blog comments powered by Disqus