TV Review: THE CAPE, 1.1 & 1.2 - "Pilot" & "Tarot"

A risky idea, badly handled. The Cape is effectively NBC's replacement for Heroes, but it's an altogether more retro and cheesy approach to the superhero genre -- its inspirations drawn from '60s-era Batman and The Greatest American Hero. If you're looking for a TV show that pushes the envelope or embraces the post-Batman Begins predilection for post-modern realism in the comic-book genre, you'll be sorely disappointed. The Cape is wantonly preposterous and derivative, but that doesn't have to be a barrier to a great hour's entertainment. Unfortunately, The Cape's also blundering, stupid, and poorly written. Palm City is a gleaming metropolis currently terrorized by a masked supervillain known as "Chess" (James Frain), the alter-ego of famous billionaire Peter Fleming, CEO of a company called ARK Industries that are hoping to privatize the city's police force (see: RoboCop). Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is a straight-arrow cop, loving husband to wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin), and father to a boy called Trip (Ryan Wynott), who's captured by Chess/Fleming after chasing him for the murder of the Police Chief. Duly framed for the villain's crimes (by having a replica Chess mask bolted onto his head), Vince is apparently killed in an explosion after being forced to evade trigger-happy cops and helicopter gunships (yes, seriously.) However, Vince survived the blast by falling into a sewer tunnel, where he's discovered by "The Carnival Of Crime", a gang of msifit robbers led by Max Malini (Keith David). Ringmaster Max offers to turn Vince into a superhero modelled after his son's favourite superhero, "The Cape", in exchange for help robbing Fleming's banks. It's lucky Max actually owns a cape with magical, contorting properties. Thrown into the mix is a blogger/hacker/spy called Orwell (Summer Glau), a mysterious force for good on the internet determined to expose city corruption and eliminate Chess, who comes to see The Cape as a "symbol" she can use in her quest (see: Batman Begins) That all sounds like zany fun, as it's basically a patchwork of other TV shows and movies: a tincture of Darkman, a spoonful of Heroes, a trace of Batman, a dash of RoboCop, a twist of The Spirit, a dab of The Shadow. Knight Rider's motto "one man can make a difference" even gets uttered, so give it time and we'll hear Spider-Man's "with great power comes great responsibility" line. Unfortunately, you can't just mix ingredients that have proven to be successful elsewhere and expect the end-product to be even better because of its hybrid nature. The Cape lacks anything to call its own, beyond the titular garment -- which is kind of ludicrous but entertaining in how it morphs to snatch objects. There isn't a single situation or character that feels fresh, and the show certainly doesn't have anything interesting or worthwhile to say about society. It's just a piffling lark. The cast is a curious misfire. It's of vital importance that David Lyons leaves a good impression as the hero, because the show's weaknesses wouldn't feel so bad if Vince Faraday's personality and connection to his family really hits home, but Lyons is a limp and forgettable lead. Jennifer Ferrin does her best with cliched material (well, she can cry on cue), but there's no real chemistry with her screen husband, while the writing's too lightweight to sell the idea she's the widow of a man considered a notorious villain. Child actor Ryan Winott, fresh from stinking up FlashForward, has at least found a show where his ineptitude is masked by adults who don't have his excuse of inexperience. James Frain (memorably creepy and funny as a vampire in True Blood) fails to bring that same comic touch to a potentially delicious role as a hammy supervillain, just looking embarassed by his costume and novelty contact lenses. Summer Glau, likely cast because she's geek-bait to a legion of fans drawn to her like moths to a flame, gives a surprisingly poor performance, too. The only actor able to overcome the script's stupidity and strike the right tone is Keith David, who plays the mentor role with the right mix of weirdness, charm and humour. On the positive side, once it's struggled through the pilot's frustrattingly rushed "origin story", The Cape's second episode was a mild improvement, with Vince having to defeat a master poisoner called Cain who's working for Fleming and poised to kill a government official (Richard Schiff) trying to prevent ARK from privatizing the city's prisons. Right now, I quite like how The Cape's still finding his feet and isn't the finished article, which means it's never guaranteed he'll effortlessly defeat the bad guys -- which include "Scales" (Vinnie Jones), a cockney gangster with a unique skin condition. Instead, he tends to get his ass kicked, then has to retreat to his carnival hideout to learn some new skills, before returning for a climactic rematch in the final act. Overall, as inept and stupid as The Cape's opening episodes were, there's glimpses of a fun show trying to find shape. I'm not against a modern-version of Adam West's Batman; with a colourful mix of bizarre villains, cheesy dialogue, entertaining action, and a warm heart. The Cape feels like it wants to be that kind of show, but it's facing an uphill struggle. There are writers and actors who could make this stuff look easy and delightful, but The Cape makes it look dumb and laboured.
WRITER: Tom Wheeler DIRECTORS: Simon West (1.1) & Deran Sarafian (1.2) CAST: David Lyons, Jennifer Ferrin, Ryan Wynott, James Frain, Keith David, Martin Klebba, Summer Glau, Dorian Missick & Vinnie Jones TRANSMISSION: 9 January 2011, NBC, 8/7c
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