Having euthanized Heroes last season, NBC is heading back to the dark world of superheroes with the vigilante series The Cape - and the results are middling at best.
The story centers on Palm City Police Detective Vince Faraday (David Lyons), who, amidst a citywide threat from a masked villain - the ridiculously literal Chess (James Frain) - is framed for a murder he didn't commit. Vince is thought to have been killed himself, but instead is rescued by a group of circus-themed thieves who train and help him attempt to reclaim his life and take down Chess and his band of not-so-merry henchmen.
Fearing his son will think the worst of him, Vince adopts the persona of "The Cape," Tripp's favorite comic book character, to send Tripp the message that there is hope as long as there are good people willing to fight for what they believe in.
On the one hand, the concept appeals to my fanboy sensibilities, and I find it refreshing that they don't give Vince super powers, instead making him sort of a Bruce Wayne-without-the-bucks. He has no abilities outside of his police background and thirst for justice.
This piqued my interest because I can't recall a comic-based series about a powerless superhero since... the 1960s Batman, perhaps.
But that's where the originality, if you can call it that, ends.The pilot episode covers no new ground, and moves so quickly in attempting to set up the premise that the characters all feel as one-dimensional as the comic book images from which the series gets its title.
You aren't given time to really feel the connection between Vince and his family before he's yanked away from them, although there are some flashbacks in the second episode which attempt to fill in some of that emptiness.
The writing is so painfully trite that the performances don't make much of a difference; even Meryl Streep couldn't give these words life. There are so many references to "taking back the city" and "one man can make a difference," that the dialogue comes off too general, lacking any real depth.
I don't think I can stomach another cliche-ridden attempt by Vince's illusionist mentor, Max Mallini (Keith David), to deliver an inspirational speech.
Even the effects and action scenes are laughable. I know it's television, and the budgets are limited, but Vince looks like he's tossing out black ink instead of a cape. Maybe it would have served the CGI capabilities better to have called it The Squid.
What bothered me the most, though, is the depiction of the villains. For one thing, there are just too many of them, at least four introduced in the first two hours alone. Plus, masked marauders only work in two cases:
- When the camp factor is upfront and intentional.
- When firmly grounded in reality and the use of such grandiose theatrics is explained in a thoroughly believable way.
The Cape tries hard to set a dark, serious tone and establish a camp-free world in which these characters reside, but the lead villain, Chess, is so literal an interpretation he can't help but come off campy. He even has contact lenses which make his pupils look like a pawn and knight, respectively.
There appears to be no rational reason for his appearance, and his over-the-top laughs and villain speeches approach caricature levels of pretentiousness. Additional villains Scales (Vinnie Jones) and Chef (Raza Jeffrey) are also equally superficial in their representations.
The second episode, "Tarot," which airs as the second part of the two-hour premiere, does fare slightly better than the rushed pilot, but only by a hair. The writing still leaves a lot to be desired, as does the establishing of the characters. I feel no real impetus to care or invest myself in any one of them at this point.
The strongest tool in The Cape's arsenal is Summer Glau as Orwell, a blogger and covert investigator who provides tactical support to Vince, but even she can't help the show rise above its relative mediocrity.
I can't help but feel shortchanged and disappointed. I really want to like The Cape, but so far it lacks any measure of substance and it aspires to be far greater than it has the ability to muster.
Jeffrey Kirkpatrick is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.