Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NBC's "The Cape"

So, yeah, I had nearly forgotten about this new show until someone reminded me. An unabashedly superhero live-action show? And featuring an all-new character? That intrigued me enough to check it out.

And the verdict.....

It's not *quite* there... yet.

A little basic plot information for those of you who haven't heard about this series....

Vincent Faraday is a good cop among corruption in Palm City. Most notably, Palm City has a new criminal in town -- a flamboyant, masked mastermind called Chess. Wealthy businessman Peter Fleming, however, thinks he can save Palm City by having his own company, ARK, provide police services -- making it the first city to have a private police force.

Vince, however, stumbles onto Chess's secret and for that Chess punishes him by framing Vince as Chess. Believed dead and his name ruined, Vince is driven underground where he finds allies willing to help him survive. But are they willing to help him get justice? Vince has a crazy idea -- to show his young son that heroes still exist and to stand up to Chess and clear his name by taking on the superhero identity of his son's favorite comic book hero -- the Cape.

Palm City is about to find a new kind of defender....

And if all the above sounds cheesy, well.... it is. But you know what? It's cheesy in a good way -- in a surprisingly charming way. But it still has a lot of problems.

Let's get the the good first.

The show is unashamedly superhero. Unlike shows like Heroes or Smallville who wanted to explore superhero dynamics in the "real world" without "silly" costumes (or at least Smallville felt that way up until several years ago when everyone started breaking out the costumes) "The Cape" comes right out and puts it's main villain and it's hero in costumes. Good for them; it reminds me of the live-action superhero shows that were on TV when I was a kid.

The series also decided to create it's own hero and mythology from scratch. There are a ton of superhero comic books out there. Not just the ones you've heard of from movies and TV like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and Iron Man but also the likes of Invincible, Darkhawk, the Black Coat, Toy Boy, Captain Spectre and many, many more. The show creator's however, decided that instead of licensing something they would create something new using bits and pieces of the past. Excellent! And, well, not so excellent. But we'll get to that later. For now, I applaud these guys for stepping out on a limb and creating something original when they could have saved time and effort by licensing something already created.

The cast. Okay, so there's nothing too stellar here per se but David Lyons as Vince/the Cape is easy on the eyes and in the first two episodes (which were apparently mashed together to form a "two hour pilot"...yeah, more on that later) spent a lot of time wearing tank shirts. Yeah, I'm a chick, I'm entitled to oggle the beefcake once in a while -- sue me! The other nice thing about the cast is Keith David as Maxamillian. David's name is probably not so familiar to you but you're probably more familiar than you know with his voice...

Yeah, it's THAT guy.

Anyway, David is clearly having a ball here and his charm, good humor, and great voice allow the character of Maximillian to steal every scene he's in.

And now for the bad.

The show *is* pretty cheesy. It goes over the top in some places and stretches suspension of disbelief to the point where the cables snap. Not good. For shows like this cheesy is okay but you have to shoot for what writer/producer Carlton Cuse once called "Just under over the top". The writers here have not yet learned how to do that. If they don't it will turn the show into a joke before it even finishes it's first season.

The "original mythology" they're going for is not really all that original. We've got a former Special Forces operative turned cop turned superhero who trains to learn stagecraft magic, misdirection, slight of hand, hypnotism, and more to become a hero. That's Batman right there -- ordinary guy who learns things and trains his body to become a superhero and then fights crime with nothing more than some props, his wits and his fists. We've got a hero who decides to base his superhero ID on a superhero from the comic books he used to read with his son. So, yeah, in the fictional world of The Cape the Cape is a comic book superhero whom Vince decides to bring to life in himself. No matter how metatextual that may seem Gardner Fox got there first in 1956 -- the Silver Age version of the Flash -- Barry Allen -- was inspired to become a hero and took his superhero name from the character of the Flash who appeared in the comic books he read. Then we've got a guy who is presumed dead and, in order to protect his family, decides that he has to remain presumed dead. That's the Lone Ranger. So, you see, a lot of the character beats are cobbled together from a lot of sources and then strung together. Some of them work, some of them don't but the whole thing feels more like a patchwork than a coherent whole.

Now we get to the extras... the family. It's a point of the series that Vince had a wife and son whom he loved. Both remain a part of the show as we see them grieving for their loss, trying to adjust to life without Vince and also trying to deal with the stigma and problems created by the fact that the world believes that Vince was the villainous Chess. Now, on the one hand, having the family is a nice departure from the comic book world. Comic book writers often shy away from having married heroes for various reasons -- although the top two are that many writers feel that they can't inject the right amount of drama unless the characters are free to date around and they just don't know what to do with the spouses. There are a few comic book couples who have managed to get married and stay married (Reed Richards and Sue Storm-Richards of the Fantastic Four being one and Lois Lane and Clark Kent being another) but by and large if a superhero gets married nine times out of ten they will sooner or later end up in divorce court or else the significant other (usually female) will end up dead by the hands of the hero's arch enemy thus causing the hero to go out seeking vengeance. And that kind of storyline tends to suck rocks. Personal opinion of course. And kids! Don't even get me started on superheroes having kids in comic books. It's pretty much a nightmare. The big problem is that comic books kind of like to pretend that time doesn't pass for their characters. Batman, for instance, by and large, has remained perpetually around 35-37 years old. Kids, however, cannot remain kids forever. Sooner or later writers succumb to pressures to start having the kids grow up. But this means that their heroes are growing old as well and if the heroes are growing old then that means they could, theoretically, reach a point where it isn't believable for them to be doing what they're doing. Thus, timelines become a problem. The solution for most writers is to either not introduce children or else get rid of said children when their presence starts becoming problematic. While there are some benign ways of getting rid of the kids (sending them into the future where they grow up and then time travel back to the present as adults, splitting up the parents and having the non-superhero half get custody of the kid, etc.) but there are also some not-so-benign ways of getting rid of kids... like killing them. Yes, I'm looking at YOU DC and Marvel. You know what you've done and shame on you!

Anyway, back to The Cape. So, on the one hand, it's nice to see a show willing to play with a family dynamic when it comes to superheroes. It won't really have to suffer too much from the "aging" problem because we're dealing with real people here and they'll age over time where fictional characters will not. The potential problems are with forward momentum. It isn't necessarily logical to assume that Vince's beautiful wife, Dana will remain single forever when she believes herself to be a widow. And what about Vince? He loves his wife but he cannot be a part of his life and sooner or later will he meet someone who he can be with and can share his life with? Fans won't be happy with getting hung out on a wire if the writers stretch this out too long. It's a variation on the old sexual tension, will-they-won't-they ploy and that gets old after a while and sooner or later something has to be done about it.

Then there is Chess. Flamboyant style, has supervillain written all over him. And that's part of the problem. Back in the Silver Age of comic books it was okay to have a villain who wanted to rule the city or take over the world or whatever "just because" but today we expect more out of our villains. We want motivation, we want to dislike them, to boo and hiss whenever we see them. Or else we want to feel like they're a real threat -- like they can screw up the hero's life so bad that you want to see his get thrown in a dark hole and the door locked and the key thrown away. Or else we want to be conflicted -- feeling a certain amount of sympathy or understanding but at the same time hating them for how they are going about things. No matter what, though, we have to feel something! And right now the writers haven't really given us much reason to hate/fear Chess. Sure, he's doing evil, diabolical things but to what end? Why does he want to control the city? What does he really get out of this? Throw us a bone here!

There are also Chess's henchmen. So far we've seen two -- one, a Budget Rent-A-Car version of the Batman second string villain Killer Croc (and if you don't know who he is Google him -- I've already gone off on too many comic book tangents here) and the other a... well... honestly, I can't pin him to a single comic book villain but he seems a bit of a mash-up of several. Either way, we get some hints of a 'henchmen of the week' villain format potentially for the show and that may prove problematic over time as well if people grow tired of a constant parade of henchmen. And also if the henchmen continue to be both one-note and derivative as these first two have been it will not endear the show to viewers.

And then there was the pacing. The idea of sticking the first two episodes together makes no sense. Since I caught the show late I watched them online and could not imagine them fitting together cleanly. They are what they are -- two separate episodes. If you watch them that way they make a lot more sense.

Even with that, though, the pilot episode has problems. The pacing is off -- the ending comes up too quickly and there are things mentioned which the audience never sees at all and things shown which are never given adequate explanation. This would seem to indicate that the original pilot was probably much longer and then cut down. But then that doesn't make any sense with sticking the second episode with the first to make a two hour opener. If they had a two hour pilot they should have just aired the two hour pilot.

So after rambling on far too long about this the final verdict is: It was fun. It appealed to me as a comic book geek girl, there were enough good performances and enough charm to carry the story over the weaker points, it reminded me of the shows I watched as a kid only with better production values and better written scripts, and most of all it was FUN! The writers still have some bugs to iron out but if they can do so I wouldn't be surprised if this show found it's audience. Of course, I could be wrong and the whole thing could end up falling flat on it's face and being cancelled in six weeks. In the meantime if you're a fan of superheros give this a looksee you can get caught up online through either the network site at or on the free video site Hulu.

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