Apr 21, 2011

[TV] The Cape: Season 1

The Cape: Season 1Superhero shows rarely seem to do well on network television in the US for some reason. While one can argue that some shows managed to survive fairly long such as Smallville and Heroes, the quality of said shows is arguable at best with more hardcore comic book fans unable to stomach the often cliched approaches of their television counterparts. I suppose such challenges are unavoidable given how TV executives prefer more generic, "safe" storylines that appeal to a wider audience demographic rather than some of the more specialized angles often addressed in the comic book world.

And I can also appreciate the challenges with the genre. What works on the comic book page doesn't always work well when depicted in a live-action format. The best example of this is how a costume can look pretty amazing in print but will end up looking pretty silly or sad (or both) when you actually see a guy wearing the darn thing. You have to admit, comics feature mostly ideal representations of the human body and their costume hug them in highly flattering ways with reality-defying abilities factor into how they manage to position themselves in a manner that flatters the look of the hero.

But at the same time, the Hollywood folks can't help but feel that superhero stories are bound to be good money, and thus we see repeated attempts by various creators to bring a new story to the small screen in the hopes of it catching one. This was one of the weirder attempts that obviously did not do well.

The Cape is a superhero drama series created by Tom Wheeler for NBC. It was originally positioned as a mid-season replacement that debuted early this year but was cancelled by early March.

In a fictional city known as Palm City, we meet Police Detective Vince Faraday (David Lyons) who quits the force after he witnesses the murder of the Police Chief by an individual known only as Chess. He then takes on a job as a security guard for a private firm known as ARK that is aiming to privatize the city police force. Vince receives an email from a mysterious blogger named Orwell (Summer Glau) that leads Vince to discover that a train owned by Peter Fleming (James Frain), the billionaire owner of ARK, is actually smuggling implosive WMDs. However Vince's partner Marty Voyt (Dorian Missick) turns him over to Peter Fleming, who is also the criminal Chess. Fleming gets framed for the police chief's murder and the public then believes that Vince is Chess.

However Vince survives the police manhunt and subsequent because of a group known as the Carnival of Crime. With everyone believing he is dead, Vince swears to take revenge on Fleming. The group's leader, Max Malini (Keith David), offers to train Faraday to use a unique black cape as a way to defeat his enemies along with various escape artist tricks and limited abilities of hypnotism. In order to protect his family, he keeps his identity a secret while instead taking on the mantle of "The Cape", who is his son's comic book superhero.

The show clearly tried to bring back the classic pulp hero sort of feel to the story, which initially made most of the Cape's "abilities" to be largely realistic in terms of what highly trained professional might manage to do with a cape. Of course this grip on reality began to slip more and more as the show progressed, which I'm not sure if this could be considered to be bad for the show.

One of the bigger challenges of the show was the inconsistency of the tone of the whole piece. At first there was a clear attempt to keep things very serious and everyone played along with that. But as some of the circumstances just got more and more insane (especially given he kept company with a crime gang with a carnival theme), the show struggled to keep a straight face when it could have pushed the camp to a new level. Just look at the main villain, Chess, whose only real "ability" was to put on a pair of contact lenses and talk funny. And don't get me started on the thug with the snake skin.

Summer Glau at WOnderCon 2008Image via WikipediaThis was also a show that totally didn't know what to do with Summer Glau. I still think she's a great actress with immediate fan recognition in geek circles but the writers for the show pretty much just had her standing around doing nothing. Sure, she was presented as the show's answer to Batman's Oracle, but not quite as cool, not as intelligent and without personality. There's a lot of talk online about how the three episodes cut from the series were meant to further develop her character, which really should have been put up front instead of being in the latter half.

The motivations of Vince Faraday were also really difficult to understand. It's not clear how he really planned on taking revenge since he spends a lot of time chasing down phantoms and idiotic dead ends. And when he's not trying to be a superhero, he's being all creepy by constantly visiting his son and trying to spend time with him but NEVER REACHING OUT TO HIS WIFE. While keeping his identity a secret was important to keeping them safe, given the circumstances I don't see how bringing his wife into the secret would have been a bad thing. Instead we have a lot of creepy stalker daddy moments with him posing as his son's childhood hero, even though the kid only seems to have ONE ISSUE of the famous Cape comic book.

The stories really never got anywhere with The Cape either stopping random criminals or stalking his son instead of more deliberate attempts to discover Fleming's secrets and find evidence that he can present to the world in order to clear his name. Fleming was a really stupid villain whose main plan appeared to be creep enough to weird everyone out while somehow controlling the police force. And everyone else were just hollow stand-up representations of what people might be like in such a world without really giving us something to associate with or make emotional connections to. And no, not even the blatant attempts to sexualize Vince Farady given shirtless moments and tight wife beater episodes didn't help me all that much either. That was the Legend of the Seeker's trope - find your own, NBC!

It's no wonder The Cape was cancelled the way it was, with the final episode only appearing online instead of being broadcast. Thus the show can only get 1 instance of Chess being all creepily obsessed with chess with no real benefit to his criminal empire out of 5.

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