THE CAPE Series Premiere Review

     January 9, 2011

Heroes has already been flushed, Smallville is on its way out and no one wants Wonder Woman. I think it’s safe to say that network television needs a new superhero. Though ABC has impressed me with No Ordinary Family, the series is less about being a superhero, and more about a family who just happens to have to deal with super powers in addition to the usual family trials and tribulations. Enter The Cape, NBC’s newest attempt at bringing the insanely popular comic book genre to TV. Thankfully, the series has plenty of potential (even if it doesn’t have the greatest hero name). But as much as there is to like about The Cape, the two-hour premiere isn’t without flaws. Keep reading for my take on this new network superhero.

Even though Smallville is directly based on a comic book property, The Cape is the one superhero series that seems to have taken its style and story straight out of a comic book, even if that comic book doesn’t really exist. Complete with chapter names for returns from commercial breaks and at least one new villain for every episode, this series is basically a direct translation of a comic book origin story. While the series has moments that are truly exciting, unfortunately most of the story comes with a little too much camp and cliche.

Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is seemingly one of the only good cops in a police force of corrupt lawmen. Even at home he reads the heroic tales of The Cape, his son’s favorite superhero, for some quality father-son storytime. But the looming danger of a masked serial killer known as Chess creates fear in the city, and the police force is falling as many officers are moving to ARK, a private law enforcement company. Meanwhile, an online prowler is hip to ARK’s secret corruption and goal of a takeover of Palm City (it’s Los Angeles’ version of Gotham City) Of course, when Chess makes good on a threat to kill the new police chief, Faraday is left thinking that ARK is the best choice to become a real cop on a law enforcement team that seems to be doing real good. Once Faraday meets ARK president and CEO Peter Fleming (James Frain) it’s easy to link his dulcet British tones to the city’s infamous villain.

But before Faraday can even begin working for ARK, his misplaced trust puts him right in the clutches of Chess, who reveals himself to Faraday before framing him as the villain. It’s this scene that brings a level of camp and silliness that seems fine in the comic book world, but like Joel Schumacher’s installments of Batman, feels very artificial and almost laughable. Frain adds some weight to one-liners and monologues from Chess, but the script needs some polishing to sound less like a Saturday morning cartoon face-off between hero and villain. This becomes even more evident when Scales (Vinnie Jones) shows up as a secondary villain. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of these cheesy exchanges and some of this camp is reduced by some great production design, visual style and direction.

The story really picks up when Faraday, presumed dead after a chase by police officers leads to an explosion in a train yard, is forced to go into hiding and his son is left hurt and confused by the accusation of his father as a villain. Like a superhero, Faraday’s “adopted family” comes in the unlikely form of a band of circus performers who also rob banks. There’s undoubtedly an influence of Tim Burton’s Batman, but it’s far less prominent than the campy dialogue and poorly written humor. However, the coolness factor kicks in when Max Malini (Keith David) decides to help Faraday stop Chess in exchange for his help in robbing all of ARK’s money supply at various banks. After getting plenty of cash, Malini begins teaching Faraday the art of distraction, deception, and theatrical vanishing. And then there’s The Cape, an accessory that is both flexible and strong and inexplicably allows for long range combat akin to Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy limbs.

But when these ninja techniques are honed, the narrative suffers from cramming too much into too little amount of time. So much training and story is crammed into a matter of days, when it should take much longer. The same can be said for a lair that he creates in what seems like less than a week with some decent technology and equipment for just finding this stuff in a ghetto part of Pal City It doesn’t seem like Faraday earns much in his efforts to thwart Chess and get his family back.

Additionally, we’re introduced to a likely sidekick in the form of Orwell, who it turns out is none other than the sexy Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). And for an unknown reason, she has a whole disposal of gadgets, sports cars, and endless supply of crime fighting tools at her disposal. She is to The Cape what Lucius Fox is to Batman. Unfortunately, her character doesn’t show much development or hints at her potential character arc in the future until she introduces Tarot, a team of specialized killers from around the world. This will clearly serve as the source of episodic villains for The Cape to deal with as he continues his quest to get revenge on Chess and is the element of the show with the most promise. Tarot is involved with Chess, and eventually, that organizations will likely be revealed to be something bigger and before you know it, you’ve got a real comic book story here.

I feel like I’ve complained a lot about The Cape, when there’s really a lot to like, and so much potential for the series to really come into its own after a few more episodes. The Cape’s “powers” are pretty cool, and more grounded than most superheroes. It’s hard to have a superhero origin story without a clear ending (like in a film), and not bore your audience, but I hope the writers behind The Cape slow down and let themselves figure out what they want the show to be. This character needs time to develop and simmer before he becomes a full fledged hero. Much like The Cape as a hero, this show is going to have to earn my trust, and the elements that I saw working in this flawed, but enjoyable two-hour premiere give me hope. Plus, it’s way better than The Event.

THE FINAL WORD: The Cape starts off rather generically and with a dash to get a superhero on screen as quickly as possible, but with time, the show could simmer to be a really powerful and bold comic book drama that Heroes couldn’t live up to after a stellar first season. Stick around for a few episodes with me, and let’s see if The Cape can save the superhero genre on TV or if he should use his powers to just disappear forever.

The Cape premiered tonight at 9/8c and will air again Monday at the same time for its regular 9/8c timeslot.