I don’t often tune in to the Syfy Channel. Its schlocky Z-grade monster movies and nearly-constant rotation of ‘WWE SmackDown’ reruns just aren’t my thing. Of its current original programming, I didn’t think much of the pilot episode of ‘Eureka’ and didn’t bother to watch again. I’ve never seen ‘Warehouse 13’, ‘Haven’ or ‘Sanctuary’, though I understand that at least the first two are supposed to be reasonably watchable. Yet for some reason, I felt compelled to give the network’s new superhero adventure drama ‘Alphas’ a shot. Honestly, the first episode isn’t half bad.
‘Alphas’ is quite obviously trying to fill the void left by ‘Heroes’. It’s a team superhero drama set in some semblance of the “real world” (as opposed to a cartoony comic book universe). The ‘Pilot’ episode dispenses with most of the expected origin story nonsense that’s practically a requirement of the genre. Instead, it succinctly introduces us to the characters, tells us what they can do, and gets on with the first story. I kind of like that.
David Strathairn (and how the hell did a respected indie character actor get roped into starring in a Syfy series, anyway?) plays Dr. Rosen. He’s sort of a hippie-dippy scientist version of Professor X from ‘X-Men’. He runs a program that studies “Alphas” (people with superhuman abilities), though Rosen does not appear to have superpowers of his own. The program is funded by the Department of Defense, and is tasked with investigating crimes by other Alphas.
The four members of the team are: Nina, a ditzy socialite who can do Jedi mind tricks and manipulate people to do her bidding; Bill, a former FBI agent who hulks out with super-strength when he gets agitated; Rachel, an uptight bookworm with super-senses; and Gary, an autistic young man who can read electromagnetic signals right out of the air. Gary’s is the coolest power. He watches TV, surveillance cam footage, and cell phone signals (except Nokia, he says) as if his brain is a computer that can decrypt any transmissions in his vicinity. We don’t get any sort of explanation of where these powers come from. There’s no nuclear radiation accident or strange comet passing by the Earth. It’s just accepted that a small percentage of the population is gifted with talents like these.
In the pilot, the team investigates an assassination that happened inside the locked interrogation room of a police station. It turns out that the killer was a sniper named Cameron Hicks, who has super-enhanced precision and coordination, and was able to fire a shot from another building through an air vent right into the room. The thing is that Cameron has no idea that he’s done this. He’s just a patsy who’s been brainwashed by a villain named Ghost, who is in turn part of a group of rogue Alpha extremists called “Red Flag” that has been spying on Rosen’s team and set up this whole assassination as a ploy to lure them out into the open.
Long story short, Cameron joins the good guys and helps them track down Ghost. When Ghost brainwashes Bill into nearly killing Dr. Rosen, and then kidnaps Rachel, Cameron has to take him out with a trick shot that bounces off a wall. As he’s dying, Ghost tells Cameron that, “You’re on the wrong side of this.” We know that Red Flag intends to recruit Rosen’s team, but this adds an extra implication that the D.O.D.’s motives for running the program may not be so pure.
The show is executive produced by Zak Penn, screenwriter of ‘X2: X-Men United’, who also wrote this episode. The pilot was helmed by Jack Bender, the director of countless episodes of ‘Lost’. The episode has slick production values, pretty good visual effects, nice pacing, and solid writing. Whether future episodes will hold up to this, I don’t know. However, based on this episode, I’m kind of digging it, and plan to tune in for more.