Reading the plot synopsis of “Alphas”, it would be far too easy to brush this aside as a low-rent “Heroes” clone. The basic premise of the show is quickly established, but the draw of the show isn’t in its concept necessarily, but in the excellent acting, writing, and production of the show as a whole. The actors have created unique characters with believable flaws and wrinkles. The pilot does an excellent job of introducing the readers to the team and their interactions and to the universe at large.
Any pilot has to deal with the issue of exposition and for the most part “Alphas” does a very good job of it. We are introduced suddenly and jarringly to Cameron Hicks, who leaves his job suddenly in the middle of the day to commit a near impossible assassination, highlighting his enhanced ability. From this jarring introduction we are slowly introduced to each of the characters: Bill Harkin, a FBI agent whose ability is super strength and pain resistance from an intentionally activated flight-or-fight response and the only one on the team with any kind of law enforcement or military training; Rachel, a young woman capable of heightening one of her senses to the extreme at the expense of all the others; Nina, a siren who is capable of imposing her will on most anyone; and finally Gary, a high-functioning autistic who is capable of visualizing the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum, except for somewhat humorously, Nokia.
One of the most immediately noticeable things about the show is these heroes act like real people. Not in that somewhat stylized ‘down-to-earth’ television style, but very much like actual people: they talk over each other, which is a bit startling at first, they forget where their keys are, they argue over who gets to pay the parking meter, and they drive a minivan. These are definitely not your glamorous superheroes or mysterious government agents. This is a team of people who are not particularly compatible other than the fact that they have remarkable abilities. Things break and don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. The only real issue I had with the exposition was the profile graphics that were shown once we were introduced to a new character. It dropped me out of the world and reminded me that I was watching a TV show.
The character dynamics and interactions were simply marvelous to behold. The team is only really held together by Dr. Lee Rosen, played by an excellent David Strathairn (though I’ll admit it was a bit odd to see him trying to help the government agents rather than trying to assassinate them). He helps smooth the ruffled feathers as each of the group’s members has issues with everyone else. He also relates to the team’s government sponsor, played by Callum Keith Rennie (again, another actor it’s odd to see playing a good guy). The team we are introduced to is very much like an unruly family. They don’t always get along, but they still are a family at the end of the day.
The plot is a serviceable bottle show, primarily concerned about introducing us to the characters and setting up the vaguest notions of the big bad organization for moving forward. The story’s twist wasn’t radical or anything particularly special, but Zack Penn, the main writer and creator of the series, did a decent job of avoiding telegraphing it. The production values were above average, though they were used a bit too frequently for my taste, but that may have been a result of the 90 minute run-time more than anything else. The episode was directed by Jack Bender, he of “Lost” fame, and his professionalism shows. Going back and watching a “Lost” episode really shows his unpretentious style, letting the actors tell the story and getting out of the way and not trying to wow the audience with unnecessary cuts or dramatic flourishes. His participation with the show heightened its professional and high-budget feel, and was something you don’t often see from new pilots.
The pilot provided some excellent material for the upcoming season. The strong character dynamics and excellent writing and acting provide the audience with something to latch onto, and with Ira Steven Behr of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “The 4400″ serving as the showrunner, there is no reason to think that “Alphas” won’t evolve into something excellent, and exceed the audiences expectations.