That Pri*ck, the Greek Geek!
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Syfy's "Alphas" Season 1 "review"
I've mentioned before I'm a big fan of scripted television. I like its history, I like its potential and it's a medium inherently superior to traditional film in several areas. But I've fallen out of favour with it the last few years, because most of the old shows that I like have grown stale and just kind of exist (hello, "How I Met Your Mother"!) and because most of the new ones I run into are utter shit.
Now and only days before the new television season starts in full force, I caught up with some shows, as I generally prefer to watch the episodes in bulk, back-to-back. One of the new shows I decided to check out is Syfy's "Alphas" (Season 1), mainly because I remember that a few months back Elias Toufexis wouldn't shut the fuck up about it on Twitter over a guest role he had in a few episodes and I genuinely like Elias Toufexis.
I kind of debate with myself whether I should warn over the upcoming spoilers in case you haven't seen the show, but you have seen the show. You saw it several times, when it was called "Heroes" or "Tru Calling" (kinda-sorta-vaguely). Or at the very least, you must had seen it when it was called "X-Men".
It's a show about a bunch of "mutants", evolved humans called Alphas, that belong to a secret government task force and are led by a very not-evolved human doctor. Stop the presses, we have an instant classic!
The entirely original series follows the traditional "monster of the week" formula, where the "monsters" are other Alphas lacking the guidance to use their powers properly, with a running storyline about a terrorist organization of Alphas that realize their true potential and know that they are the future of mankind.
Seriously guys, I live in the 21st century, I'm used to conformist, stale ideas. Tone down the creativity before my head explodes!
Alright, hyperbole notwithstanding, the show is a trainwreck for a hell of a lot more reasons than this. The problem is that when the show's essence, its "meat" is a concept that was played out over a decade ago, the whole damned thing seems superfluous; it's irrelevant to our world.
"Heroes" and the other shows from that era made sense when the superhero phenomenon was at its peak in terms of popularity. Superhero movies are still popular, but they've changed; they've moved past the novelty of flying men with capes and web-shooters (though these are still fun) and became relevant to their audience (largely thanks to The Dark Knight).
Yes, you can still do a TV show about a group of super-powered individuals, but it can't be your main course. It has to be the dressing. British television has, right now, a show like this called "Misfits" (which I think is rumoured to be ported over to America) and it's a great show; but it's a great show because the characters define the powers (quite literally for the first two seasons).
In Alphas, the powers define the characters. We meet these people well after they've discovered their special skills and we don't know anything about them beside those. This is what cripples the show in its core and throws it under the common "super-hero" genre, even though there are but a few stunts and physical special skills involved and for the most part the show functions as a detective/police procedural with a twist.
But the form is a moot point, when the gimmick overtakes everything else and hangs over the characters, stumping their growth.
There is this high-functioning autistic guy, arguably the most fun character in the show, who has the ability to see all types of waves around him. In the age of electronics and information, this means that he can hack into communications and information transferring without needing a computer or cell phone or any other device.
That's great, but how was he before he discovered this skill? How is he PAST that skill? Would he still be an autistic, or at least a high-functioning one, if that part of his brain that gives him this ability wasn't overgrown?
Same for the quiet, cautious woman with the enhanced senses. She is reserved because of her power and it makes sense, but it can't be ALL this woman is.
And these are the moderately interesting characters. The other three main "Alphas" are an unlikeable hulk of an FBI agent with super-strength, a mind-controlling vapid "pretty woman" and the "normal acting" dude with the ability to dodge bullets, who is just boring.
Their mentor, Dr. Rosen is probably the best-developed and most interesting character, but only by a small margin. There is a clear divide in him, between the team leader that genuinely cares about not just his team-members/patients, but also about the Alphas as individuals and the scientist that's truly curious and interested in these impossible people.
However, they downplay this aspect. I'd normally appreciate the subtlety, but in a show that nobody else has any personality to fill in the blanks, I'll take character drama in whoever I can find it.
As for the episodes themselves, I remember none of them. The storylines are bland, the guest, "evil" Alphas are as vacuous as the main characters and honestly the only episode I remember except the finale is the one that Summer Glau guest-starred and pulled a pretty average stunt, that did however prove the turning point for Rosen's inner dichotomy.
The writing also comes with monumental structural issues. For one, shit keeps happening off-screen. There are developments, especially concerning the characters' lives that get referenced to or dropped at the end of an episode, often-times in the form of mini-cliffhangers, then get resolved off-screen and we only get to hear about them afterwards.
I had to recheck to make sure I wasn't missing episodes or watching them out of order. It's really that big of a mess.
On the issue of "structure", the series pilot introduces us to the terrorist Alphas organization called "Red Flag". These guys are loyalists, fanatics and rebels, but they are never established as particularly menacing. They are name-dropped quite often and a few episodes are focused on the danger they supposedly pose, but the show just doesn't sell that danger very well.
They are fringe elements and they have done outright bad things, certainly, but nowhere near to the point of being considered a credible threat to what's essentially a government-sponsored super-hero team. Their crimes are always by proxy, even though they are all supposed to be super-powered dangers. Their kind of leader that we meet half-way through the season is a sweet, near-catatonic girl and when they show up themselves in the season finale, they get slaughtered by the "good" guys IMMEDIATELY.
Which brings me to my final point, because I've dragged this too long as it is. In the last three episodes of the season, shit starts actually happening and it make the show a lot more watchable. I'm the kind of audience for who good characterization can make or break a show, but if you give me fast developments and good twists, I can forgive the shitty characters (also see: "Prison Break", "The Vampire Diaries").
So, the show seems to finally be getting in gear and I'm genuinely interested in the story, reasonably eager to see what happens next and in the following season. But then the writers, almost purposefully I'd be willing to bet, put the final coffin in the show's barely-existent quality.
In the finale, the good guys finally locate a Red Flag meeting. At this point, we know that these are dangerous terrorists, if only because the show keeps telling us that they are. So, the heroes track them down to a warehouse, backed up by what I counted as at least three squads of fully-equipped SWAT teams.
Before they burst in, Rosen deduces that the Red Flag leader they were targeting, an immortal Alpha isn't actually there and he set his fellow Flaggers up to be ambushed by the good guys, because they wanted to "out" themselves to the world.
He makes this known to the team's liaison to the government, some Agent Sullivan and begs her to stay back and not order the attack. Sullivan proceeds to entirely ignore the good doctor and orders the attack anyway, with the justification that they have the chance to capture those dangerous terrorists that we have never seen do anything dangerous to anyone, ever.
Now, I don't know police protocol and I'm talking out of my ass here, but what Sullivan does is purposefully and knowingly walking into a set-up, arranged by the baddest of the bad guys, endangering her mens' lives by unnecessarily sending them against super-powered criminals, without a snowball's chance in hell of capturing their primary target (the leader of the organization), who they know isn't present and who essentially hands these people over to them (and thus extracting information from them about him or even the organization as a whole ranges from unlikely to impossible).
And as if that's not bad enough, once inside, one of the tear-gassed terrorists (we don't know who, we never see them) throws a knife through a cop's skull, to which Sullivan, safe and cosy outside the warehouse, responds with "return fire". No guns have been fired, there is minimum one-on-one resistance (against the protagonists, not the SWAT), no organised attack; there is ONE guy in the warehouse that threw that knife and they don't know who it is.
So, what do the "good guys" do? "Fire at will". FIRE AT WILL?!? Are you fucking kidding me? Look, I imagine after one of your own is down, you're done taking risks. I get that. But what follows is hard to get behind.
The good cops proceed to outright massacre everyone inside. Remember; most of those so-called "terrorists" aren't even armed (I think I saw ONE guy pull a gun and fire back, after SWAT opened fire) and they don't even make an effort to use their abilities. They are just gunned down like cattle, most of them shot in the back as they run for their lives. Fucking hell, the GOOD Alphas, the heroes of the show catch a few "good guy" bullets in the process.
Why? Because THEY WERE ALREADY INSIDE TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS BEFORE SWAT MOVED IN. Brilliant tactician Agent Sullivan knew that her team's greatest assets were going to get caught in the crossfire and still gave the order to "return fire at will".
Who the flying fuck operates like that?! I wouldn't mind it much if this was in line with the storyline's growing idea that maybe the government isn't really on the right of this whole "Alphas" phenomenon, but they never address it! In the aftermath of the operation, Sullivan passes this off as a victory and the story supports her!
In what kind of playground-level, kindergarten-production of Lethal Weapon is this a "victory"? You walked into a set-up, did the bad guy's cleaning up, slaughtered unarmed people on principle, endangered your operation's most important assets and failed to make any progress in actually dissolving the organization or gathering any type of information on the location of its head! You also lost one of your men, because you couldn't sit the fuck back and reassess the situation.
And all that because the writers wanted to raise the stakes, but they were clueless as to the how.
Fuck you and fuck this show. The second season is already well out and going and I believe the show has been renewed for a third season, which really means absolutely nothing to me, especially coming from the Syfy channel.
As far as I'm concerned, there is absolutely no reason to stick by a monumentally stupid, hopelessly derivative, structurally inept and, most importantly, mind-numbingly boring show like Alphas.
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