Review: Alphas (2011)

SciFi has a new show on called Alphas.  It’s a part of their Monday night lineup and joins returning shows Warehouse 13 and Eureka.  In general, it’s a story about people with special powers called Alphas.  Dr. Lee Rosen has put together a team of Alphas as a research project, underwritten by the government, and now the government wants to start using these Alphas to look into crimes, especially those involving other Alphas, much to the dismay of Rosen and his team.  There’s an undercurrent of a coming Alpha “war”, there seems to be the earliest suggestions that an organized group of bad Alphas is out there and hanging in the air is the question, who is on the right side?

To be honest, it’s not exactly ground-breaking.  Like many of the shows that have come before it, from Heroes to Mutant X, it all seems far too familiar.  Having super-powered individuals, vaguely super-powered in this case, out fighting super-villains is a staple of these shows.  The only difference, and time will tell if it remains significant, is that this is more of a detective show with mutant detectives.  None of the powers are especially impressive.  You have the strong guy, who can only be strong for a few minutes.  You have the persuasive girl.  You have the tech geek.  Individually, none of them are all that impressive but together they make a pretty good team, each adding their strengths to the overall whole, but you could probably do the same show, with just a few adjustments, and have another series of CSI.  These people don’t have to be super-powered to do what they do.

The show stars David Strathairn as Dr. Lee Rosen, essentially the Professor X of the show, he has no powers but gathers the Alphas together into a research facility/psychological hospital.  Then there’s Warren Christie who plays Cameron Hicks, the ex-army sniper with perfect aim; Malik Yoba, who plays former-FBI agent Bill Harken, strong guy; Azita Ghanizada, playing Rachel Pirzad, the synesthete with heightened senses; Ryan Cartwright, who plays Gary Bell, the autistic tech guy and Laura Mennell as Nina Theroux, who can control minds with her Jedi mind trick.

Now I will say that I really, really, really hate the character of Gary, the autistic tech wizard who can “see” radio and television waves.  Yes, I know he’s autistic, but he’s an annoying git.  That’s not what I want to watch on TV.  In reality, he’s portrayed with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning he has no social skills, which, as I said, makes him an annoying git.  That’s too bad because he has one of the most interesting abilities in the show.  Hopefully in the future, they either tone down his annoying aspects or have him hit by a bus.  Not sure which I’d prefer at this point.  The problem is, I really like the actor, he did a great job as Dr. Nigel-Murray in Bones, but here… can’t stand him.

One of the things I do like about the show is the idea that simply having extraordinary abilities is going to cause psychological problems for the Alphas.  In most shows, everyone is at ease with their powers, they never give them a second thought, or if they do, it’s a quick bit of angst before going back to being awesome.  The concept of “I’m different, what’s wrong with me?” is never introduced.  Here, however, you see the weight that having special powers, even if they’re used for good, on the Alphas and you see them struggle with the ramifications.  Moreover, the existence of the powers shapes the characters.  Nina uses people regularly, she can make them do whatever she wants, therefore she “borrows” their cars, has lots of money that people just “give” to her, etc.  She comes off as terribly shallow which is what I’d expect from someone who can do what they wish.  Bill, ostensibly the leader in the field, struggles to hold the team together.  He’s strong but he can’t protect the team and that makes him somewhat paranoid.  I like that aspect.

There’s enough here to keep me watching, at least for the moment, but just barely.  I think the upcoming “Alpha war” might be interesting, although considering the relative low power of the combatants, maybe not.  I have a feeling this has to escalate somewhat, introducing more powerful Alphas on both sides so that it’s not a snore-fest, but I’m not sure, especially if creator Zak Penn is to be believed.  “No flying, no laser beams, no capes. That’s kind of the rule.”  Okay, but how much of a war can you have when the special combatants don’t do anything very interesting?  None of these abilities really lend themselves to a “war” setting.  Heck, Rachel Pirzad is little more than a mobile crime lab, what can she do?

It’s got me for a few more episodes but I need to see that this is really going to be more than CSI with uninteresting quirks.  I’m not sure that I can trust Sci-Fi to do that, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  Who knows, I might be surprised.

4 thoughts on “Review: Alphas (2011)

    1. I actually really love Gary. He and Nina are probably my favorite characters. His ability is awesome and I think he's really funny and sweet.

      1. The ability would be great if he wasn't such an annoying character. Attached to anyone else, I'd like it. If they'd tone down his annoying behavior, I'd like it. However, after watching the first four episodes of the second season, we opted to drop the show from our viewing schedule entirely. It's just not worthwhile.

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