We've heard it before from every new sci-fi series that's tried to ground the superhero concept: ordinary people with extraordinary yadda yadda blah blah snooze snore. Syfy's Alphas is the latest show to take this route, pulling together a group of regular folk who are completely normal—except for the fact that they have
superpowers enhanced abilities. And who are, for the most part, extremely attractive.
But more often than not, these types of shows do what Alphas' enigmatic sharpshooter Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) can not: miss the target completely. Since the success (and free-fall into stupidity) of Heroes, there's been an influx of shows that feature normal dudes turning into superheroes, instantly pandering to anyone who's ever dreamed of pulling on a colorful leotard and saving the city from becoming a crater on the globe.
You probably know this already, but Alphas is about a group of crime-fighters led by the non-superpowered Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn). The members of this group all boast enhanced... whatevers—the show describes their abilities as "stretching the capabilities of the human mind. We've seen these supertricks before: super-strength, enhanced senses, the ability to intercept digital signals, mind control. But these characters also have something we haven't really encountered in groups of this type: the ability to have personality.
For me, the best moments of the pilot weren't the chase scenes or the special effects (oh look, Gary is pulling stuff from iCloud again); what it really had going for it was the group's team dynamic and effortless banter. The show's characters are already fully formed, as made evident by the way they interact with each other and the people in their separate lives. They misplace their keys, they worry about others eating their clearly marked sack lunches, they call each other jerks behind each other's backs. (Superheroes, they're just like us!) These little details do big things for the validity of the show. I especially liked seeing autistic Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright) and angry black man Bill Harken's (Malik Yoba) together. There's a natural sense of family and friendship here; these characters are fun to hang out with and will leave viewers looking forward to more.
But what I like most about Alphas so far is that it not only showcases the ordinariness of these now-extraordinary people, but it doesn't gloss over their flaws. Hey, I have flaws, too! Now I can relate even more. And whether those flaws are part of their powers (Rachel can heighten one sense at the cost of others, Bill is limited to about five minutes of Hulking before he looks like he's having a heart attack—HNNNNGGGHHHHHHH!) or their personalities (Gary's distractedness, Nina's indifference), the Alphas are sometimes humanized to the point where we forget they have powers, and that's a good thing.
I'm not so sure how the series is going to work moving forward. Will each episode feature a self-contained case, a la Law & Order, or will there be season-long serialized stories, as there were on Heroes? One thing the show will need is a formidable villain or three, and I thought it had one in that first bad guy who was a creepy combination of a mind-controlling super freak and Adrian Monk. He would have been good to keep around, but alas—he's dead.
Production-wise, I watched the premiere early with temporary visual effects and music, but the eye candy seemed fine even in the early stages—event if it may have been overused at times (see my earlier comment about the visual representation of Gary's power). I never once cringed at any acting, so it must have been good. David Strathairn is always good.
The only major problem Alphas faces is our familiarity with the shows that were amalgamated to create it—including Leverage, Heroes, and various crime-scene procedurals, to name a few. Though Alphas mixes those shows with other elements in a well-done way, the idea of combining existing concepts isn't exactly fresh and new. Not really. I don't think Alphas will be a breakout hit, but thanks to strong characters it should be a Syfy staple for a few seasons at least.