ALPHAS “Pilot” Season 1, Episode 1 – When I had read about the premise of Syfy’s new scripted series, Alphas, I was immediately reminded of NBC’s Heroes. I had originally approached Heroes with an eager anticipation and was left disappointed, so I was cautious about my curiosity when I found out that Alphas would follow a team of crime fighting super humans. Although I have a personal obsession with human “super” abilities (particularly those which are a result of brain anomalies) I did my best to ignore previews and avoid any news that might give me any false expectations. I didn’t want to be burned by a “super” show again.
Well, I was lucky to get my hands on an advanced look at the Alphas pilot, and while I’m still trying to contain my potentially premature fanaticism, it’s fair to say, I’m hooked.
The pilot episode plays a little bit like an episode of your standard FBI crime drama – only without the normal forensics, subpoenas and search warrants. The plot isn’t anything extraordinary, but the writing is smart and funny and there doesn’t appear to be a weak player among the ensemble cast.
David Strathairn leads the group as Dr. Lee Rosen, a sort of Professor X, who studies the neurological advantages of the people he calls Alphas and enlists their help to piece together the puzzles behind unsolvable crimes. However incredible their abilities might be, super abilities alone are not enough to pay bills in the real world, so most of the Alphas are happy to offer their unique services in exchange for a paycheck.
Well, maybe except for Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell) whose high end lifestyle is easily supported by her power of suggestion. The rest of the team is formed of individuals leading pretty average lives. Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright) is a transducer with high-functioning autism, Bill Harken (Malik Yoba) is an FBI agent with hyper-adrenal super strength, and Rachel Pirzad (Azita Ghanizada) is the daughter of a traditional family who look upon her synesthetic abilities as a detriment to her marriageability.
A large part of the pilot revolves around Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) and his hyperkinesis which manifests in a way that Dr. Rosen recognizes to be symptomatic of an Alpha. This character in particular highlights one of my favorite things about the premise of Alphas which is that these “superheros” have more in common with the average person than they do with Superman.
Thanks to the imaginative genius of generations of comic book writers, we’ve already been exposed to a million varieties of human super abilities. Super strength, super speed and super senses are nothing new in the superhero world, but because the Alphas team abilities are tied to their roots in reality, it’s easy to see how being an Alpha doesn’t immediately translate to superhero for these characters.
Like many autistic individuals, Gary struggles with hypersensitivity to external stimuli but in his case, he is particularly sensitive to wirelessly transmitted electromagnetic waves. Even though he has acute muscular agility, Cameron is not immune to some of the tics that many hyperkinetic people grapple with and as a result he frequently doubts his control over his muscular abilities. People have thrown boulders or lifted cars with the aid of adrenaline and Bill is only different because he can trigger that rush deliberately. He still has to suffer through the adverse side effects of a sudden stress response. One might argue that Nina’s suggestive abilities are a result of a manipulative personality disorder or maybe a natural inclination towards neuro-linguistic programming and Rachel’s synesthesia is built off of a real neurological condition. Without the guidance of Dr. Rosen, I imagine that the negative effects of their underlying conditions would often outweigh the thrill of experiencing superhuman-like side effects in their normal day-to-day lives.
Purely based off the 90 minute pilot, I can see that Alphas has the potential to be everything I wanted Heroes to be. There are exciting action sequences, realistic and entertaining characters, and a lighthearted witty sense of humor that offers a nice balance to some of the episode’s darker moments. There is a deliberate hint at an intriguing conflict which will likely unravel over the course of the season and I’m left eagerly anticipating the next episode.
Alphas premieres tonight, July 11, at 10pm on Syfy.