Super heroes have been tried on the small screen over the years with varying degrees of success. Recent attempts include Smallville, which started off as a monster-of-the-week procedural that was not at all good, then evolved into an often pretty cool original story of Superman’s early life. Heroes was a slow, large casted serial, that began with a lot of steam, and then tapered off. No Ordinary Family went for the lighter approach, combining family drama with the powers, sort of like a Fantastic Four. Now we have NBC’s The Cape, which feels like a modern Marvel movie, with elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. In short, should the show maintain what it showed us in the first two hours last night, we could finally have a movie-quality hero on the small screen, with movie-quality adventures every week.
While there were two episodes aired together last night, with one opening credit sequence, they were separate stories. The first hour, “Pilot”, felt like an origin movie, rushed and gutted to fit into one hour. The second, “Tarot”, would have made a great sequel, though the family stuff, as well as the arc with Patrick Portman (Richard Schiff, The West Wing) could easily have padded the middle of the pilot. If the two hours didn’t contain three separate villains, different editing would have delivered one solid movie. Yes, super hero movies have done three villains in one film before, but rarely very well. I kind of wish this approach had been taken, as that would have created a product superior to what aired. But what did make it on screen was still pretty good.
Obviously, there is a hero. In this case it’s Vince Faraday (David Lyons, ER, Eat Pray Love), a good cop who stumbles onto some bad machinations he wasn’t supposed to know about. The main villain of the show, Peter Fleming (James Frain, True Blood, The Tudors), promptly has Vince killed, and pins all the bad stuff on him, ruining his good name. Peter is slowly taking over the town of Palm City, which is so full of corruption that it seems a lost cause. Think Gothic City in The Dark Knight. To make matters worse, Vince’s best friend, Marty (Dorian Missick, Lucky Number Slevin), is one of Peter’s minions. Vince realizes that revealing he survived puts his family at risk, so instead, he works on taking down Peter and clearing his name in the shadows, taking on the guise of The Cape.
Peter is not content to battle The Cape alone. Sure, it’s likely only a matter of time before Peter, also known as the super villain Chess, discovers The Cape’s secret identity and can go after Vince’s loved ones. But until then, it seems he will be bringing in a slew of lesser bad guys to tackle our hero. He already had two different ones in the first two hours, though the first one wasn’t killed in the pilot. Why did he need another new one? I hope that these other baddies with super powers end up being more than henchman to Chess. Imagine how good the show could be if Chess teamed up with some of his equals?
Now, Vince is far from alone in his endeavors. He is first found by the Carnival of Crime. Only, the carnival people commit crimes against Peter and his company, not the citizens. Or so they say. That part was a little confusing. The carnival is run by Max Malini (Keith David, Gargoyles, Platoon), who is assisted by the small but tough Rollo (Martin Klebba, Scrubs, Pirates of the Caribbean). There are others in the gang, but those are the only two main characters, so I assume they’re the most important. For some reason, Max has a cape just sitting around that, when used properly, makes Vince into his favorite super hero. Yes, The Cape already exists in comic book form, and Vince read it to his kid. Again, not explained. See why I wanted a two hour origin?
Vince is brought into the mess, and soon partners with, the mysterious Orwell (Summer Glau, Dollhouse, Firely, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Orwell won’t reveal herself to anyone but Vince. She is a technical whiz, and provides tactical and technological support, though she can also kick butt when needed. Quick note, Glau is amazing, and always participates in awesome projects, giving me much optimism about The Cape. However, said projects are always canceled in two seasons or less, so let’s hope that the pattern breaks this time.
Lastly, there is Vince’s family. Poisoned by the media and Marty, his wife, Dana (Jennifer Ferrin, As the World Turns), drops his last name to seek work. But his son, Trip (Ryan Wynott, FlashForward), who has been visited and reassured by The Cape, still believes in his father’s innocence. Trip doesn’t take Dana’s decision well, and guilts her into reversing it. The family is the unknown quantity in this show, as until Vince reveals himself to them, I don’t understand how they would really figure into the larger arcs. Dana taking a job with the DA (at least, I think it was the DA) helps, but it’s not good enough. I’d think Vince will have to tell them the truth early in the series.
The dark tone of the show jells nicely with recent profitable superhero movies, so I can see this show doing well. The quality of work is pretty high, and the acting is better than decent. There are some plot holes, especially in the origin, but hopefully they will be plugged in subsequent episodes. And if not, there is always a leap of faith that has to be taken with any series involving supernatural powers and mutated villains. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two hours, and I think the show is better than any of the recent fall premieres.
The Cape isn’t all dreary and depressing. Trip’s hope is supposed to be an identifiable quality for the audience; the boy’s real purpose in the cast. Some of the dialogue is pretty funny, too. For instance, in “Tarot”, Vince goes to rescue Portman, but Max has taken away his cape. Vince identifies himself to Portman as ‘The Cape’, to which Portman responds, “But you’re not wearing a cape.” You can sense the grumbling behind Vince’s “I’m aware of that.” The whole exchange was probably my favorite part of the episode. Also, any scene with Summer Glau eventually ends up providing some kind of snarky, amusing line.
I’m also very gratified to see a super hero with a cape that is actually useful. In the past, I, along with plenty of others, have wondered why any hero even bothers with a cape. Surely it just gets in the way. However, Vince’s cape has CGI-enabled powers, allowing it to snag things, choke people, and break his fall (somewhat) from a great height. Used as a tool, and super strong, the title of the show is appropriate. Even if it sounds a little hokey, which the writers even poked fun at in the pilot.
The Cape, despite its Sunday premiere, will air regularly on Monday nights at 9 p.m. beginning next week on NBC.