Saturday, December 29, 2012

Alphas, Season 1 (live action TV series), via Netflix

Alphas is a science fiction series. The first season is 11 episodes long.

Synopsis:

Psychologist Lee Rosen leads a small team composed of what he refers to as "Alphas." Alphas are people with enhanced abilities. Gary, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, can read electromagnetic wavelengths with the power of his mind - this means he can access security cameras, cell phones, and more without even touching them. Bill is a suspended FBI agent whose "fight or flight" response triggers enhanced strength. Rachel can enhance or shut down any of her senses, basically making her the team's walking crime lab. Nina can, via eye contact, override others' willpower and make them do whatever she wants. Cameron, who becomes the group's newest member, has enhanced hand-eye coordination, balance, and motor skills.

The group works to find and stop dangerous Alphas before the public can become aware of them and their abilities. As the season progresses, they begin to wonder if they're doing the right thing. The government they work for seems to be willing to do whatever they please to Alphas, even the Alphas in Rosen's group. However, Red Flag, a group of Alphas resistant to being shut down and labeled by regular people, doesn't seem to be much better.

Review:

Alphas gets a “meh” from me. It wasn't bad, but I kept being reminded of other, better works. Also, those who get twitchy about lots of science-y hand-waving being used to explain superpowers should probably stay away from this show. I think I flinched when I realized that Rachel's ability to enhance her senses allowed her to see at a microscopic level. And I flinched again when it seemed as if the show's writers forgot that, in the first episode at least, enhancing one of her senses meant her other senses no longer worked – that drawback quietly disappeared in later episodes.

When I first started thinking about how I'd describe the show, I realized it was basically The X-Men, only with government funding and a “Professor X” who was a normal human being. Elements of The X-Files were mixed in to keep things mysterious. Rosen's group of Alphas would go into a strange situation, not even knowing if they were dealing with an Alpha or not, and try to figure out what the Alpha, if there was one, could do. If he or she turned out to be hurting people unintentionally, Rosen's goal was to teach that person to control their abilities and then either allow them to go on their way or recruit them for his group. In most cases, however, the Alphas Rosen and his team went after ended up either dead or sent to Binghamton, a shadowy treatment/detainment center for Alphas.

I enjoyed getting to see what the various Alphas could do, although sometimes the episode setups were simple enough that I figured out what was going on well before Rosen and his team did. With the main characters, viewers not only got a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of their Alpha abilities, but also at least a peek into their personal lives.

The main character who interested me the most was probably Rachel. For much of the show, Rachel lacked assertiveness and had no idea how to deal with her parents, who worried that she was too freakish for anyone to ever want to marry. At one point, she badly damaged her relationship with them, and I'm not entirely sure she ever got them to the point where they didn't see her as a freak. Gary and his friendship with Anna interested me a lot, too. Unfortunately, Bill kind of bored me, and Nina and Cameron's issues seemed to mostly be eclipsed by their developing interest in each other. The first season only scratched the surface of Dr. Rosen's personal life. He confused me - at first, he seemed more than capable of dealing with his government handlers, but he became less and less capable of speaking for and protecting his team as the season progressed.

Part of me wishes the show had been more character-oriented – I'd have liked it if there had been more depth given to the main characters, their relationships with others in their lives, and the ways their Alpha abilities complicated their lives. The show's occasional and somewhat shallow look at characters' private lives sometimes meant that certain developments seemed to be dropped or not followed through on very well, which made it hard for me to connect with the characters as fully as I would have liked. For instance, in one episode, Rachel's relationship with her mother was so bad that her mother wasn't even returning her phone calls. In the next episode, their relationship was still rocky, but they were at least speaking to each other. I was disappointed that the show skipped over the initial stages of Rachel reconnecting with her parents, and I also wanted to see how things worked out after her family upgraded her to the position of illness detector. I wasn't convinced that was much of an improvement upon not being spoken to at all.

At one point, Bill lost his Alpha abilities, which made him easier to deal with at work. I couldn't help but wonder, did his home life improve during that period? Did he have anger management issues at home the way he did at work, and did this ever put a strain on his marriage? His wife seemed remarkably relaxed and understanding. I had unanswered questions about the lives of most of the main characters, which I'm assuming/hoping will be explored further in the second season, but all of that will probably still take a back seat to discovering more Alphas, dealing with the government and Red Flag, and dealing with the results of Rosen's action in the final episode.

If I continue my Netflix subscription and they pick up the second season of Alphas, I'll probably watch it, but it wasn't as good as I had hoped. The relatively shallow exploration of characters' personal lives was a little frustrating, and the other aspects of the show felt like something I'd already seen before, only not as good this time around. The series has some interesting complications on the horizon, but so far this is still just an okay show.

Watch-alikes:
  • X-Men (live action movie) - Comics purists would probably pelt me with rotten vegetables for recommending the movie instead of one of the graphic novel collection, but 1) figuring out what to recommend would take too much effort on my part and 2) the movie really isn't a bad way to introduce newbies to the basic ideas behind the X-Men universe. Those who liked the whole "Rosen's group vs. Red Flag" setup might want to give this a try.
  • Heroes (live action TV series) - A bunch of ordinary people suddenly develop super powers - lots and lots of characters, lots of super powers to see in action.
  • Witch Hunter Robin (anime TV series) - If you liked the idea of watching Alphas go after other dangerous Alphas, you might want to give this series a try. Robin is a witch who has recently joined a group of humans (mostly humans? I can't remember) charged with finding and capturing witches with lethal abilities.
  • The X-Files (live action TV series) - Two FBI agents, one who's open-minded and wants to believe every weird story he comes across, and the other who's a skeptic, investigate strange incidents. Those who enjoyed watching Rosen's group look into unexplained deaths might want to give this a try.
  • The 4400 (live action TV series) - 4,400 missing persons all suddenly reappear, confounding everyone. Things become more complicated as it becomes apparent that, wherever they were and whatever happened to them, the 4400 have changed. Those who'd like another "people with super powers" show might want to give this a try.

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