"So this is real?" Summer Glau asked the hooded, caped man standing in her office at one point during last night's premiere of The Cape. That was the same question running through my mind for pretty much the entire two hours.
Filling the television voids left by Heroes and, I'm guessing, Night Man, NBC's newest action show is absolutely ridiculous. It's like someone combined the production values of the Knight Rider reboot with the cleverness of Batman & Robin. As a TV show ostensibly inspired by comic books, The Cape manages to fundamentally misunderstand both television and comic books. It's a garbage show, basically. However! And this is a big compliment: It's not boring!
The Cape is about a guy who thinks his beloved family is better off believing he's dead. That's pretty much all you need to know about his decision-making abilities. However, he has his reasons: Framed and defamed for being Palm City's archvillain Chess and then publicly "killed" on live television, Detective Vince Faraday goes underground—literally—and falls in with a troupe of bank-robbing sideshow performers, then decides to impersonate his son's favorite superhero in order to bring down the REAL Chess. Fair enough. As a superhero origin story, it's tremendously trite (no modern comic book would dare be so unimaginative), but there's a pervasive weirdness to this show that prevents you from changing the channel. It's delightfully random—a bank-robbing raccoon! A knife-throwing machine!—and its refreshing shamelessness makes it a superhero drama for the True Blood age. (Y'know, if True Blood were unsexy and not clever.)
Perhaps hoping for quality by association, The Cape gives us True Blood's James Frain as Peter Fleming, a billionaire weapons dealer seeking to privatize local law enforcement who also moonlights as Chess, the dastardly villain who'll frighten the masses into acquiescence. As far as villains go, Chess is no Joker. Frain is fine in the part, I guess, but for a villainous mastermind who says things like "bring the submarine around," he doesn't seem to be having much fun.
Luckily The Cape seems to acknowledge Chess' shortcomings by pairing him with secondary villains, like Vinnie Jones' reptilian henchman Scales and knife-throwing poison enthusiast Cain. And in introducing the concept of The Tarot, a secret society of outlandish killers hired by Chess to do his dirty work, there promises to be a Rogues Gallery of sorts—which, since superhero franchises live and die by the strength of their villains, better contain some pretty fantastic characters in order to overcome the essential vanilla lameness of the title hero. And oh man, that terrible CGI cape/whip! Plus the character is just boring. At least Batman had a screwed up psychology and an alter ego. But being emotionally compelling is NOT The Cape's main priority.
And then there's the pacing of the show. Holy jeez. It's not just that the plot moved fast—the cold open alone contained several hours' worth of story—it's that it seems to have skipped over most of it. While I appreciate The Cape's willingness to cut to the chase, it actually felt like they took the script and ripped out every other page. Really important plot points were glossed over or ignored, and every opportunity to give these characters dimension or an emotional hook were avoided. The Cape thinks we don't need to know how our hero infiltrates a billionaire's penthouse even though, yeah, actually that could be really suspenseful to see. Thanks for avoiding that potentially entertaining moment, guys.
A comic book can tell a story rapidly because it trusts the reader to really pore over the panel at his or her own pace, not to mention the fact that popular comics have years—decades!—of backstory and characterization to make you care about what's at stake. The Cape wants to skip over that whole "making you care" phase and just get into the action. Which, fine. The action is fine. But nothing ruins an action scene like not caring, and last night I just didn't care.
I'm no huge comic book fan, but didn't we as a society finally agree that comic books can be a sophisticated form of storytelling way back in the 90s? Why are TV shows (*cough* Heroes) still trying to emulate only the biggest cliches and stereotypes that aren't even in vogue anymore? Basically, if The Cape were a graphic novel, it would be the Mama's Family of graphic novels.
Anyway, back to the review. Well, Summer Glau plays Orwell, a very confusing character who's basically a hot lady version of Matt Drudge—assuming Matt Drudge dons disguises to personally go out and get the scoop. (He does that, right?) She ends up exhibiting far more prowess as a superhero than The Cape does, but she's just the sidekick. I mean, I'm guessing she's his sidekick. They skipped over that scene. And apparently also the scene where The Cape's family leaves the suburbs and moves into the projects?
Also, Palm City is played by Chicago but has its own Library Tower, and at night it looked like a deleted scene from The Spirit?
Oh, and the sideshow act! Did I dream that part? They were barely even in the second episode, so I hope they aren't being phased out. Those weirdos were interesting enough, but what a fever dream! Really liked the dwarf strongman. And Keith David, whose resumé includes everything ever filmed, is excellent as ringleader Max Malini. It was a bummer when The Cape moved out of their underground circus tent (?) and into an insanely unguarded, very dusty lair with a dial-up modem. It's definitely no Bat Cave. (Sorry for all the Batman references, but this show is so up-Batman's-butt that I really have no choice).
I'll tune in next week, but warily. Much like first few episodes of The Event, I KNOW I'm watching a pile of failure, but I'm still intrigued by the general idea. Plus, like most people, I could use a little fun in my life. That's all I want, just a little fun. Fortunately, "just a little fun" is EXACTLY what The Cape is!
What did you think of last night's premiere? Stupidly fun or just plain stupid?