“Sometimes I forget that I’m surrounded by assholes.” Truer words were never spoken when it comes to the latest season of Sony Entertainment’s online television series, Powers. Powers, for those who didn’t watch the awful first season, revolves around officers Walker (Sharlto Copley) and Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) as they solve cases involving superheroes, villains, and any poor schmuck who happens to have some powers under their belt. I was extremely critical of the first season, as it was the very definition of a hot mess with terrible acting, some of the worst special effects you could find on modern television, and story points that darted past faster than any speedster you’d find on this side of the CW. Creators and producers of the series have mentioned that Season 2 would work on improving itself, taking a different path than the one traveled in its initial offering. Is this the case? Most certainly, but that still doesn’t make it good.
The ultimate fatal flaw isn’t that the effects are shoddy or the premise is at fault, rather, it’s in the central characters within the Powers division. As a fan of the original comic book series, Sharlto Copley’s Walker is such a far and away departure from what the character should be, it would make your head spin. While this doesn’t necessarily break the ability to connect with Copley, the way he plays Walker here is so prickly and unlikable that as a viewer I simply want to tense up every time he’s on screen. I don’t necessarily blame Copley as an actor for this — if you’ve seen his past performances like his recent foray in the film, Hardcore Henry, he can ooze charisma when he wants to.
There are numerous instances where Walker’s cruel and crass attitude is laughable in how over the top it is, and not in the enjoyable way. At one point, Walker strolls into the office of the PARAgency and simply knocks over a lamp without saying a word, breaks a few other things, and accosts the man who he’s about to interrogate. In another instance, Walker just starts beating a reporter with his own microphone, apparently nothing ever comes of it. No lawsuits, no chiding from his higher ups — he even gets a fist bump for it! This happens a lot, and it gets downright bizarre when apparently he’s never written up or receives any warning for doing so. Walker does get suspended at one point, but only because he’s, extremely briefly, considered a suspect in the overall case, which is another plot point that is dropped without any build-up whatsoever. This goes back to the another problem with the series in that plots are introduced and subsequently forgotten. In the very next episode, Walker is placed into charge of the exact case he had been suspended from for no reason!
Officer Pilgrim, as Walker’s partner (for a time), offers a sarcastic edge to counteract his never-ending ball of screaming rage. Pilgrim is a serviceable character, but she still falls into the same trap as the rest of the Powers division in that there’s nothing there to root for. Some of Pilgrim’s hilarity simply falls flat in a sea of cursing. Listen, I don’t mind an F bomb here and there, but when the series decides that nearly every other sentence needs to be peppered with them, it stops being effective. To that point, the dialogue starts feeling like it’s written by an adolescent who has just heard the words for the first time and wants to share that knowledge with his friends and any audience member who will hear him. It becomes impossible to ignore. If this were a drinking game, you’d die from alcohol poisoning a hundred times over.
Outside of the potty-mouthed Powers division, Oleysa Rulin’s Calista now finds herself with a very similar set of skills to the now deceased Retrogirl. Calista was always an interesting character, trying everything into her power to become a “Power,” and when she’s granted her wish, it’s granted ten fold as she can now claim the title of the biggest and noblest of them all. Her journey to becoming this world’s “Superman” is interesting, and it shines a light on her troubled past along with her inability to truly take the role due to her inexperience. However, we’re once again hampered by some pretty lousy special effects, as Calista’s training montage has some downright awful scenes of her lifting a truck and haphazardly floating through the sky. Later, a scene with her and Walker talking about the process of using her powers manages to do the impossible and actually give Walker something of a heart, but it is again too short-lived to be memorable.
This isn’t to say that the show is entirely bad — it is better than the first season, and it has great ideas that can reel in the audience to make them think about how certain things would affect the characters, and society as a whole, moving forward. Retrogirl’s death, for example, is such a big hit because this is a society that has never known what it is like to not have a “Superman.” Throughout the past several decades, a god-like being has been working in benefit of mankind and helping humanity through some of its darkest hours, making civilization all the better for it. When Retrogirl dies, there’s a mix of fear, confusion, and abject terror as citizens wonder what will happen now that their savior has died. How do you honor the death of both a celebrity and a savior?
Another interesting plot point that Powers tackles that other shows of its kind don’t is the idea of celebrity when it comes to the super powered. Zora, who had a hand in defeating the villain from last season and is a young Power, struggles with her newfound fame turning her into a joke. Her efforts to save lives has turned into a Youtube meme, and her image is being used to literally sell toilet paper. Zora’s powerset is also one of the best looking effects the series has to offer, with her illuminated shapes assisting her in flying through the air, but there isn’t enough time dedicated to her and her predicament.
Powers might work if they simply redirected from the main protagonists we have now to the other more engaging characters who are given only a little screen time Michael Madsen’s “Super Shock” only makes a brief appearance, but if you know his history from the comics, he should be prominently featured a bit more. The Gang War is another interesting bit that isn’t given enough time. Having a super powered fight between two rival gangs — one with robotic abilities and the other with home grown powers — is good stuff.
Or perhaps the show would work better as a fictional documentary series that simply explored the after effects of a world teeming with super-powered individuals. There are all these interesting moving pieces, but the writers and showrunners have us viewing them through what may be the most unlikable set of protagonists I’ve seen on television for a good long while.
Powers needs focus, and it needs to understand what works and what doesn’t for their characters. The series has done a better job of juggling its characters and themes this season, but it still can’t come close to what we’ve been seeing with Marvel’s Netflix foray or CW’s The Flash. If you’re a fan of the property and were disappointed with the first season, give the second a shot and see if you can overcome the flaws and look past the protagonists. But it may be difficult.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
Powers Season 2 debuts on Sony’s PlayStation Network Tuesday, May 31st.