I Watched Alphas

I watched the ninety minute pilot of SyFy’s new show, Alphas, which I’d heard about roughly thirteen seconds before it aired. The show is about a group of government agents who solve unusual crimes by using what could be defined as superpowers. Nobody can fly or shoot power beams out of their eyes or deflect bullets: these powers are more down to earth. Mostly.

We’ve got Bill, a gruff FBI agent who has the power to kick his natural fight-or-flight instinct up several notches, granting him enhanced strength for short periods of time. Presumably, along with the fight part, he could enhance the flight part as well, making him run away from danger really fast. Or maybe make himself really scared. I don’t know. He mainly kicks down doors and throws a couple desks around, and pushes a car out of his driveway, and is gruff. He also rudely eats food off people’s plates, which is supposed to give him some personality, I guess.

There’s Nina, who can override the willpower of most of the people she talks to, like a cop who tries to give her a parking ticket and a hotel clerk who doesn’t want to give her a list of guests. The other female team member is Rachel, who can heighten all her senses, so she’s good at eavesdropping, smelling things, and looking at blood cells with magnified vision. She can probably also taste stuff really well, too.

Gary can see radio signals, which lets him browse the internet without a computer and visualize cell phone transmissions. He’s also autistic, which means he is constantly asking to drive the car, which is something autistic people always want to do in pop-culture. Leigh, played by David Strathairn, is the Charles Xavier of the group, the kindly father figure who is teaching the team how to control their powers, settling disagreements, and trying to keep his mutants out of real danger, something his shadowy government boss doesn’t appear to have a real interest in.

Their case in the pilot involves a sniper who manages to shoot a federal witness who is in a windowless interrogation room, by firing the bullet with incredible precision through a small vent that leads into the chamber (the vent isn’t connected to a fan or anything, naturally: it’s just a vent, like the kind in video games that are just open shafts without any air-moving equipment inside them.)

Using their unique talents (at one point, Gary looks at YouTube videos without using an iPad!), the group tracks down the sniper (who has some powers of his own) and pick up the trail of yet another Alpha, one with the power to control people by planting instructions into their minds. There’s also some talk of “Red Flag”, which is another group of super-beings, only evil, who organized the hit on the federal witness and have had some run-ins with the good Alphas in the past.

The show was, I dunno, okay? It’s nice that it didn’t begin with a big recruitment sequence, as you might expect: the team is already assembled and has been apparently working together for a while, so we get to skip a lot of back-story and get into the case pretty quickly. While I appreciate that, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly interesting, and their powers are sort of vague.

For instance, Nina can tell some people what to do, but not others, with no explanation as to why some people can resist and some can’t. It seems like an open door for the writers to make things work or not work whenever they want, which may be a little too loosey-goosey to be really satisfying. I think rules are important in science-fiction and fantasy. The rules can even be silly, as long as they exist and are stuck to. Otherwise, any time the writers paint themselves into a corner, they can just whip up something to get them out of it. “Oh, he just used his ill-defined powers extra hard, and that’s how they escaped.” Then again, it’s just the pilot, so some rules and limitations may be forthcoming.

I don’t know. The show didn’t grab me, didn’t excite me, but didn’t bore me or annoy me. It was just sort of there. I’ll probably give it another shot.


  1. Yeah see, when I saw the idea of the show, my first thought was “Heroes”, followed by “X-men”. “Normal people with super powers” isn’t that great a concept to begin with, it needs more then that to work. A CSI style show could work with that I guess.