Mondays @10 (SyFy, Space Channel)

Okay, here’s the sitchy:

There are people in this world with naturally developed extraordinary abilities called Alphas. Several of them (an eclectic, multi-racial and beautiful bunch) along with kindly Dr. Rosen work “off grid” for an unnamed super-secret government agency to solve crimes that normal law enforcement would be unable to handle, using their aforementioned abilities, or “powers,” if you will.

I know what you’re thinking: CSI: Mutant.

I suppose that’s sort of the idea, and you’d be right to say this is well-trod ground. However, instead of mythologizing these powers through the lens of “radical evolution” like Heroes or X-Men, Alphas takes a different path. The abilities of the Alphas are grounded in physiological behavior that seems more normal. For example, we have all heard of the mother who lifts a car to rescue a trapped child, or mathematical and music savants.  Alphas takes these ideas and extends them, so while the end result isn’t all that much different from others in this genre, the feel of it is more like Jason Bourne (or the movie WANTED from a couple of years ago) than it is fire-fighting cheerleaders or blue scaled skin.

The other stupendous idea the Alphas creators had was to frame their story not in how great these people are, but how dramatically isolated and alienated from Society they feel. Far from the omniscient tactician of Charles Xavier, Dr. Rosen reminds me more of the Psychiatrist in that ‘80s classic DREAM TEAM, trying to get his group of misfits to see that they can make it in the world if they stick together.

More pointedly - each extraordinary ability comes at great cost to the Alpha. Let’s meet the team and you’ll see what I mean.

Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie)

Alpha Ability - Hyperkinesis: Cameron is capable of perfect coordination between mind and body, which results in super awesome balance, dead-aim and other superior motor skills. Cameron can do things like throw two perfect games in a row or make an impossible ricochet shot from half a mile away.

The Cost: When Cameron’s ability doesn’t work (which is most of the time) it really messes him up. The result is that he often seems strung out, addicted to stimulants and generally unable to function beyond a menial level. Cameron’s travails cost him his wife and kid and top-level military career.

Sidebar Character Note: The show starts with the team already established and Cameron ends up joining them, so in a way he’s the outsider of the group. Also it’s worth noting that he looks uncannily like a lot of different actors. I got everything from Oliver Martinez to a young Tom Cruise to a buff Chris O’Donnell in just one episode.

Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell)

Alpha Ability - Influencing: You know how hot women get men to do what they want, almost by magic? Think of Nina’s ability as an extension of that. She is able to able to focus her charms and actually cause a mini-seizure in the person she’s talking to, resulting in de facto mind control. (I told you this show was more realistic than others. Don’t even pretend you haven’t done something jarringly idiotic because a woman asked you to.)

The Cost: They really didn’t get into this in the Pilot. The website Character-Bio mentions how Nina can never be sure that the affection she receives is genuine or false, but they also hinted that sometimes it spins out of control on the person, perhaps fatally....(dun Dun DUN!)

Sidebar Character Note: Nina is the Veronica Lodge/Karen Walker/Cordelia Chase (circa Buffy, not Angel)/Daffy Duck character. I predict people will split hard on her - love or hate, with no in-between.

Bill Harken (Malik Yoba)

Alpha Ability - Hyperadrenaline: Bill is a former FBI agent with an ability to ramp up his “Fight or Flight” response to Hulk-like levels. The result is a short burst of near super-strength while impervious to harm.

The Cost - You know what happens to you when your body is flooded with adrenaline. Afterwards you feel shaky, sick, exhausted. Now imagine having Bill’s level coursing through your body. Additionally, all those hurts he can ignore during his rampage are felt doubly once it’s over.

Sidebar Character Note: Bill has by far the most crime-fighting experience and professional know-how, but he seems to think he’s in charge of his “unit,” and in a way he’s the most deluded about his new reality (seeing it as a temporary assignment rather than what cost him his job). He reminds me of Christopher Lloyd in THE DREAM TEAM who kept thinking HE was the doctor instead of another mental patient. (By the way, this is the second time I’ve mentioned THE DREAM TEAM. If you have never seen it, put it in your Nexflix queue or just buy it on Amazon. It’s hilarious.)

Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada)

Alpha Ability - Extreme Synesthesia: What Rachel is able to do is to enhance any of her senses exponentially. Thus Rachel can see microscopic details or detect aromas to make a police dog jealous. l

The Cost: Any time Rachel takes one of her senses to an empathic level she loses cognition of the others; sort of the “Tunnel Vision” effect to the extreme. This puts her in constant jeopardy.

Sidebar Character Note: Rachel is of Persian descent, with hints that her Old-World traditional family laments her condition because it makes her damaged goods toward finding a husband. I’m hopeful this dynamic will be explored more.

Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright)

Alpha Ability - Electromagnetic Transduction: Gary may have (at first blush) the most gee-whiz-cool ability - he can read electromagnetic waves in the air (and in some cases control them). This includes television radio and cell phones (except Nokia, Gary felt obliged to tell us). Every crime-fighting group has a nerdy-genius tech guy, but this ups the ante, yet might be the most plausible, because of what else Gary is.

The Cost: Gary is Autistic; he seems a cross of Aspberger’s and Rain Man-esque Savant. Most Autistics are not super-geniuses, but of the ones who are, it’s debatable whether their affliction causes their abilities or is an response to the overwhelming stimulation OF their abilities. In other words, some experts theorize that Autistics have trouble with emotions not because they feel so much less than most people but because they feel so much more. This would fit Gary’s profile: Imagine being able to see and read TV, Radio and Cell phone waves. It sounds useful, but now imagine not being able to turn that off.  You don’t have to be Anna Paquin to know that would suck.

Sidebar Character Note: Autism is the cause célèbre of the next decade: you can bet the baby-shoe money on it. Expect plenty more Autistic characters from Hollywood, and while the necessities of Television’s “short-hand characterization” means a greater likelihood of reinforced stereotypes, in the long run more exposure means more humanization and complex understanding by people, not less. (If you don’t believe me, ask African American actors how they feel about roles available to them in the ‘50s up through even the ‘80s versus now, or on a smaller scale, how far Indian roles have come in just a decade.)

Doctor Lee Rosen (David Strathairn)

Ability: Dr. Rosen is a neurologist and a psychiatrist, and while not an Alpha himself, is fascinated by what makes them special and also the problems that arise from their abilities. Rosen comes across as eccentric, a little Dumbledorish and perhaps a tad paternal, but also deeply caring about his people.

The Cost: For reasons we don’t yet know, Rosen is tied to the shadowy government agency and appears obliged to solve crimes when asked, though he’s fiercely protective of putting his “patients” in harm’s way. Rosen seems to carry a heavy burden of knowing it is his responsibility if any of his vulnerable Alphas were to suffer calamity, and there is nothing he can do about it.

Sidebar Character Note: You probably know David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK or the bad guy in the THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, but he’s been doing outstanding character work for years. He is the emotional center of his team and the cast, and the best chance Alphas has of rising out of “genre” and into simply great television.

Whether Alphas makes that leap is an open question. The budgetary and writing limitations of a network like SyFy are potential roadblocks, but in a way it might be the saving grace as well.  If Alphas continues to focus on the frailties and failings of their characters rather than the super powers or non-stop action they have a chance to carve out a nice corner in what was seemingly an overcrowded niche market. SyFy already proved you don’t need big budgets or names to humanize “misfits” with this year’s excellent Being Human.

The familiar plot set-up doesn’t bother me so much. There is always room on Hyperion’s TV for a story well told.

The 90-minute pilot of Alphas airs six more times before next Monday’s new episode if you want to set your DVR, or it is also available On Demand at at

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