The Cape television series premiere
Director: Simon West
Writer: Tom Wheeler
Actors: David Lyons, Keith David, Summer Glau, James Frain, Jennifer Ferrin, Ryan Wynott, Martin Klebba, Dorian Missick & Vinnie Jones
When it comes to original TV shows that embrace the super-hero genre and its roots in the medium of comics, network TV doesn’t have the best of track records in my household. Heroes grabbed my attention with its first season but quickly disappointed with what followed. I was into ABC’s No Ordinary Family last fall, but the ham-fisted characterization of peripheral characters ultimately made me lose interest in the wholesome family that served as the main characters. My wife and I were relaxing in the front of the tube Sunday night when a commercial alerted us to the imminent airing of The Cape, the latest attempt by network TV to offer an original super-hero concept. We decided to give it a shot. I was mainly interested thanks to Keith David’s appearance; he’s got a deep haunting voice that always holds my attention.
Well, I was right… David was thoroughly watchable, but to my surprise, he wasn’t the only one. Yes, the show is quite cheesy at times. At others, it endeavors to be a dark crime drama. Show creator and his crew manage to combine the two tones successfully, arriving at something one might describe as “camp noir” (or “noir camp,” if one prefers one’s French adjectives to precede English nouns). No, the plot and script don’t always make sense, and no, audiences aren’t going to find much original in this “original” concept for TV. But the show boasts a real flair, a showy yet shadowy sense of style that proved to be quite entertaining.
A super-villain named Chess, posing as a security-company CEO, frames Palm City police detective Vince Farraday for his violent crimes as part of his plan to take control of the criminal justice system through privatization. Believed killed in an explosion, Farraday happens upon Max Malini and his underground Carnival of Crime. Max helps Farraday in his quest to stop Chess, to regain his good name, and to reunite with his grieving wife and son. Armed with a special prehensile cape, as well as Max’s illusions and escapist skills, Farraday finds another ally in his war against Chess and his underlings: Orwell, a rogue blogger/hacker who also wants to prevent Chess and his company’s takeover of police functions.
The effects and designs in this show really help to grab the viewer’s eye and build a four-color fantasy world without the bright, gaudy colors. The villains are like Max Malini’s circus squad — they’re all about the theatre, even though they purport to operate in the shadows. The show never looks cheap, but it’s not overdone either. The classic circus look of the Carnival of Crime is a lot of fun as well.
While this show isn’t based on any existing comic-book property, there’s no denying the inspiration the medium and its most popular, lasting genre have provided. I like that the hero takes his cue from a comic book (kind of like Barry Allen became the Flash in honor of the Golden Age Flash comics of his youth), and that the comic provides a powerful connection between a father and son. I kept trying to study the comic artwork that turns up frequently in the show, hoping to identify the artist(s) who provided those visuals (forgot to check the credits). Show creator Tom Wheeler clearly found a lot of inspiration in various super-hero properties in arriving at this new property. One could describe The Cape as derivative, but an argument could also be made that it pays tribute to the super-hero genre and the medium that established it decades ago.
Former TV Terminator Summer Glau plays Orwell, something of a cross between DC’s Oracle and Lois Lane, part crusading journalist, part tech god. Her role is somewhat superfluous, as the title hero already has allies in the form of Max Malini and company, and he ends up setting up his own high-tech headquarters. Still, she fulfills the damsel-in-distress role (which still managing to kick a little ass on her own) so as to keep Farraday’s family at a distance from his super-hero world.
Keith David’s a powerful personality in this show, and I was relieved to find that he’s a regular cast member (a key moment in the pilot made it seem as though his involvement might be fleeting). I must make special note of Martin Klebba, a little person perhaps best known for his appearances in Pirates of the Caribbean and the TLC reality show Little People, Big World. The director has transformed him into a kick-ass action star in this show. He even gets the better of British brute Vinnie Jones (who portrays a nasty baddie known as Scales, thanks for his skin condition). Their encounter is a quick one, but quite memorable and entertaining.
Probably the least interesting actor in the show is the lead, David Lyons. He’s not poor; he delivers the appropriate intensity, even when it’s over the top (this isn’t exactly a show that calls for subtlety). But I don’t know that I’d miss him if he were suddenly to be replaced by some other up-and-coming, manscaped, Hollywood pretty boy. Really, it’s the supporting actors, the costumers, set designers and special-effects technicians who make this show worth watching. That’s a potential downfall; if the audience isn’t fully invested in the main hero, it might make for waning interest as the series proceeds. But for now, I’m anticipating the next episode. 7/10
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