Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ALPHAS: People With A Plan In A Minivan

I wasn't originally going to check out Alphas (Syfy, Monday nights, check local listings), but I saw enough buzz about it to be intrigued enough to decide to watch it.  I have to say I was relatively impressed by how the show turned out.  I didn't really know what it was, so I didn't go into it expecting anything.  What I got was a little bit of everything that's good on television.  If it weren't for the "talents" of the characters, in the show, it very likely would have felt right at home on USA.  It's kind of hard to classify exactly what this show is, for me, so I'll just start with the character break downs.  Hopefully that will lead us into something that gives us a little more understanding of what this show's all about.

The Characters:

Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn)
Bill Harken (Malik Yoba)
Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright)
Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada)
Nina Theroux  (Laura Mennell)
Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie)
Don Wilson (Callum Keith Rennie)

Dr. Lee Rosen is kind of a Xavier type from X-Men.  My guess is that he's part Psychologist, and part special operations expert.  He runs his patients (each character, when introduced, has a badge that says "Patient") like a team.  It almost seems like this show is a really bizarre form of group therapy.  Rosen is a mysterious guy, and we don't really understand what his motivations are for what he does.  He apparently sees his "team" as a good means to an end, but we honestly have to wonder what makes him use them the way he does.  They are used in extremely dangerous situations, and it's completely unclear whether anyone, outside of the Harken character, has ever had any form of proper training.  If Dr. Rosen is an "Alpha", we don't know what his particular skill is, yet.

Bill Harken is an "Alpha".  His particular gift is that he can use his fight-or-flight mechanism to perform incredible feats of strength.  He shows us his particularly useful set of skills, when he notices that his driveway is blocked by a Ford Explorer.  Apparently, Harken is from the FBI.  He identifies himself as FBI, in one scene, but it's rather unclear whether he really works for them.  If he does, he's not REALLY working for them, as he's likely on some kind of leave.  This leave is likely what puts him with Dr. Rosen, and it's probably not for good reasons.  His knowledge of police work makes him the de facto field leader of the "team".

Gary Bell is an "Alpha".  His character is somewhere between Rain Man and someone with Asperger syndrome.  He is considered high functioning autistic, and doesn't really get along well with people.  His particular skill is that he can evidently see every type of electromagnetic communication, or something.  He spends much of his time moving his hands like he is using a touch screen computer.  We see images of TV, and various other electromagnetic effects.  If it's on the airwaves, he can see it, and he is used to help the team do the work that a computer would otherwise do.

Rachel Pirzad is an "Alpha".  She has the ability to lock in one sense, and use it in a hypersensitive way.  This allows her to hear, see, taste, feel, etc. things that would not be noticeable to anyone else.  Using this power puts her into a trance like state.  When she is using her power, she tunes everything else out to focus on whatever the task is she is doing.  This puts her in quite a bad situation, later in the Pilot.

Nina Theroux is an "Alpha".  You can sum up Nina in one phrase.  She uses the force.  The force usually works pretty well, for her (with a few exceptions), and proves to be an invaluable asset for the "team's" needs.  She is not supposed to be using this gift, except in emergencies.  We all know how that will turn out.

Cameron Hicks is an "Alpha".  He just doesn't know it at the beginning of the Pilot.  I won't spoil his character introduction, but let's just say he has a particularly amazing set of marksmanship skills.  This character isn't officially on Rosen's "team", yet, but he likely will be, by the end of the episode, once Rosen finds out what he's all about.

Don Wilson is a guy who apparently brings the "case" that Rosen's "team" works on in the Pilot.  We really have pretty much no understanding of who this guy is.  He clearly was once Rosen's superior in some form or fashion, has a lot of money, and only brings in Rosen when he has need of the special skills the "Alphas" can bring to the table.  I'm pretty sure this character will be developed more fully, in later episodes, but he says some pretty bizarre things every time he's on the screen.

Here's my best guess as to what an "Alpha" is, even though I have done no real research on the show.  I think they are people who would be considered at the top of the heap when using their sensory ability (or special ability).  When using their power for good purposes, they can be excellent resources, but when using their power for bad purposes, they can bring a lot of destruction to those around them.  My guess is that Dr. Rosen is there to help the "Alphas" find their good side, when it is likely they have used their skills for bad purposes, or with bad results.  He's probably there to help them deal with the issues having a gift like this could cause.

It's strange to see these people, who are basically psychological patients, being used to fight crime.  That's why I refer to them as a "team".  They're not a traditional crime fighting team, as they never would have gotten together, had it not been for Dr. Rosen.  So, a lot of the things they do border from law bending to law breaking.  There is also a level of disorganization the "team" has, that is not normal for police procedurals.  The funniest thing, to me, in the show, is that the "team" travels around in a minivan.  I don't know if the minivan was meant to be portrayed in a comedic light, but it sure is a funny little touch to me.

Alphas is slick.  It has some pretty humorous parts, especially with the Gary Bell and Nina Theroux characters.  It has a solid pace, and it's a fun show.  Hopefully we'll get a lot more back story on the characters in the future, as they are all severely underdeveloped, in the Pilot.  For now, we know each character has a specific set of skills that moves the story along.  The casting is solid, and probably makes the show seem better than it really is.

When I started writing all of this stuff about the show, I immediately started thinking that this was totally unbelievable, when written down.  However, the way the show is done makes it easy to suspend your disbelief.

The basic premise of the Pilot is that a very bizarre kill has happened in a sealed interrogation room.  Dr. Rosen uses his "team" to figure out what happened.  There is another undercurrent going on in the show (that wraps into the main story line), that leads us to believe there are two rival sets of "Alphas".  The series is probably going to turn into a basic clash of good and evil, and this is probably why the show ended up on Syfy Channel, instead of USA.  If you like sci-fi shows that have some grounding in reality, you will probably enjoy this show quite a bit.  It has a nice amount of wit, the character interactions are believable (and often funny), and it has a lot of good stylistic choices.  It would fit in very well with the style of USA shows, except for the fact that sci-fi elements are in play.  If you like the USA style of TV show, I think I can recommend this highly for you.  The show's off to a good start, and now we just have to see where it goes next.  Thanks for reading.

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