Review: The Cape 1×1-1×2

The Cape

In the US: Sunday 9 January 2011, 9pm ET, NBC. Moving to Mondays from the 17th

Ah, my. What is up with NBC? They have the (initially) worldwide phenomenon that was Heroes then go and cancel it, just after an okay season set in a funfair. What do they put in its place? A superhero show called The Cape that’s largely set in a funfair. I’m not saying they’re a bit dim at NBC, but they are.

Of course, that would all be excusable if The Cape was better than Heroes. Yet “cop framed for a crime he didn’t commit, goes into hiding and becomes a superhero but can never reveal to his family that he isn’t dead and is actually fighting dark, sinister villains who like to wear silly outfits as well”? I think I might have heard that one before and it wasn’t good the first time. No wonder NBC is fighting so hard to get it noticed after such a dreadful start to its Fall season.

Nevertheless, despite being desperately unoriginal, ‘homaging’ more c-grade comics than you’d find in a recycling bin, having a lower budget than Heroes that makes every CGI effect look like it’s escaped from 1997 and having the world’s least charismatic hero, it does have just a little bit going for it: it’s actually very slightly fun and it does have Summer Glau, Vinnie Jones and Keith David in it.

Here’s a trailer.

Plot
“The Cape” is a one-hour drama series starring David Lyons (“ER”) as Vince Faraday, an honest cop on a corrupt police force, who finds himself framed for a series of murders and presumed dead. He is forced into hiding, leaving behind his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin, “Life on Mars”) and son, Trip (Ryan Wynott, “Flash Forward”). Fueled by a desire to reunite with his family and to battle the criminal forces that have overtaken Palm City, Vince Faraday becomes “The Cape” – his son’s favorite comic book superhero – and takes the law into his own hands.

Rounding out the cast are James Frain (“The Tudors”) as billionaire Peter Fleming, The Cape’s nemesis who moonlights as the twisted killer Chess; Keith David (“Death at a Funeral”) as Max Milani, the ringleader of a circus gang of bank robbers who mentors Vince Faraday and trains him to be The Cape; Summer Glau (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) as Orwell, an investigative blogger who wages war on crime and corruption in Palm City; Dorian Missick (“Six Degrees”) as Marty Voyt, a former police detective and friend to Faraday; Martin Klebba (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) as Rollo, member and unassuming muscle of the circus gang of bank robbers; and Vinnie Jones (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) as Scales, resident thug and cohort of The Cape’s nemesis Chess.

“The Cape” is a Universal Media Studios and BermanBraun production from Executive Producer/Creator Tom Wheeler (“Empire”), along with Executive Producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun (NBC’s “Mercy”), John Wirth (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), and Gene Stein (“Accidentally on Purpose”).

Is it any good?
At no level is any of this plausible. Quite often it’s dull. Very often it’s immensely stupid. Yet, there’s a kind of wacky charm to it that No Ordinary Family somehow always manages to avoid.

The two-part pilot is pretty much by the numbers. You meet our hero, Vince Faraday, and his lovely family. You learn that the entire fictional city (Palm City) is going to be privatised, right down to the police force, and outsourced to a company called Ark. You learn that the owner of that company – Brit James Frain as Peter Fleming – is a mentalist who likes to dress up as a super-villain called Chess. Our hero gets framed. He has to go into hiding. He comes across a circus where various performers teach him how to disappear, hypnotise, fight, etc. He goes off to right wrongs and fight crime while wearing a special cape, in return for which Chess sends various equally wacky villains – Vinnie Jones is Scales, a man whose face is covered in scales, for example – to stop him. All the Cape has to help him are the circus people, led by Keith David, and the ever-seeing computer genius, Orwell (Summer Glau), who knows the truth behind all the corruption in Palm City.

The trouble is this is pretty much a homage to Batman and every other comic you could mention so there’s very little new here: Orwell is the Oracle from Batman, Chess is basically Lex Luthor and so on. More than that, the writers seem obsessed with the cape, which can grab things and zip around thanks to the magic material it’s made from, so where there are hints of originality, it’s to do with this cape rather than plot, characterisation, et al.

The producers also seem to have difficulty finding a tone. Is it Batman circa the Tim Burton years? Let’s have some circus clowns rob a bank in an unconvincing way then. Is it more Batman Begins we’re after? Well, let’s have lots of training regimes, guffing on about the raw materials the cape is made from, explaining the symbolism of it all, etc. And The Cape wobbles between the these extremes, trying its level best to be family-friendly viewing at the same time.

Cast-wise, Summer Glau is basically her Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles self but with no excuse for acting like a robot this time. Keith David is becoming ever more baroque with every passing year. Frain is a good actor, but an unconvincing bit of casting – plausible as a super-brain but less than plausible kicking around the ex-special forces soldier that Faraday is supposed to be (although given that even midgets can kick him around and teach him how to fight, maybe that’s not so hard). David Lyons at least looks the part, but he appears to have given his charisma away to charity as part of some New Year’s resolution to become more like Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne but without understanding why Christian Bale is such a good actor.

Nevertheless, despite the dull, implausible plots that have our hero only realising midway through the second episode that despite being a wanted fugitive, he might want to wear a mask sometimes, the lack of proper characterisation and the silliness of just about every aspect of the show, it’s at least trying to be something – it desperately wants to be a comic book on TV, right down to the chapter headings, albeit more of an derivative hand-me-down idea of what a comic book is. It very occasionally has a nice line of dialogue and sometimes it manages to thrill, impress or charm. So I’ll give it credit for that. It is at least more interesting than Undercovers, if not Heroes.

At the moment, I’d say give this a miss. But there’s the outside possibility this is going to find its feet in the next couple of episodes. I’ll let you know.