Review: Powers 1×1 (Playstation network)


On the Internet: Playstation network

To quote Master and Commander, what a fascinating modern world we live in. Once upon a time, you needed something called a ‘television set’ to watch television programmes. Imagine that, hey? I mean ask the average teenager what a television set is now and they won’t know, am I right? It’s only if you tell them it’s the screen for their console games that they’ll know what you’re talking about.

The main cause of the step away from broadcasting TV has been the Internet: now practically anyone with enough money can not only make TV but also air it over the Internet to anyone who’ll watch it. No need for a pesky network of transmitters, cables or satellite dishes. The challenge has been to demonstrate that Internet TV is as good as broadcast TV and therefore worth watching.

Companies such as Netflix and Amazon have been doing just that, giving us the likes of House of Cards, Transparent, The Man In The High Castle, Orange Is the Only Black and more. Now comes Sony with TV for its Playstation console network. And it seems intent on proving that actually, Internet TV is pretty sucky and nowhere near as good as that stuff you used to watch on your ‘television set’.

Powers is the Playstation Network’s first foray into scripted original programming. Adapted from Brian Michael Bendis’s graphic novel of the same name, it imagines a world in which superheroes (aka ‘powers’) are real and commonplace, how that world would deal with it and how those superheroes would genuinely act. ‘Arch nemesis’? You’ve been reading too many comics – there’s no black and white in the real world. That guy’s just a dick…

Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team, Maleficent et al) plays a detective in the police’s ‘powers’ division tasked with policing homicides committed by superheroes. A former ‘power’ himself, he lost his abilities in a fight with the Sylar-esque Wolfe (Eddie Izzard) and hasn’t quite adjusted to his loss, something his new partner, Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), quickly comes to realise. Now he’s faced with dealing with someone who’s killing ‘powers’ – and it’s probably the teleporting ‘power’ Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor), who everyone thought was dead.

Now clearly Sony wanted to produce something that it imagined would draw in games players. So pause for a second and imagine a crude stereotype of games players. Imagine what TV they’d like to watch.

And you’ve pretty much got Powers.

Okay, it’s probably not as bad as whatever you’ve imagined. Yes, there is underage sex between a teenage powers wannabe (played by the thankfully 28 years old Olesya Rulin) and a much older man. Yes, there’s plenty of gore and ickiness. But actually, there are no hot naked babes, only the ever-wonderful, well clothed Michelle Forbes as Retro Girl. And actually the story involves remarkably little action and violence, intent as it is on trying to depict real people in a strange world.

But this is a superhero fest with ample eye-rolling moments, startling bad dialogue and in-show trading cards of all the ‘powers’. There’s also amazingly bad acting, just like in most games. Although Forbes is reassuringly competent, she’s only in the first episode for a few moments, leaving the bulk of the action to Copley, Izzard, Heyward and co, who are clearly under the impression they’re getting paid a lot of money to appear in something that only about five people will watch so are either hamming it up something chronic or phoning in their performances. It doesn’t help that Copley and Izzard are both woefully miscast, clearly hired as names rather than because they were the most suited actors for the roles.

Worse still, someone has obviously been counting beans at Sony and figured that this actually qualifies as just another game and gave all 10 episodes of the show the budget of one. Because everything just looks rubbish. Imagine CGI from the early 90s and that’s what pretty much every special effect looks like – you won’t believe that a man can fly… or shoot lightning bolts or anything else. In fact, ITV2 did a very similar but comedic show a few years ago called No Heroics and it had better effects than this does.

Actually, the whole thing was better. Think on that. A seven-year old, not very good ITV2 show is better in every respect than a TV programme intended as Sony’s Internet TV calling card.

As well as the poor, often tedious pacing of Powers, the largely bland look of the show is a big surprise, given that the director is David Slade, who set the visual tone of the delectable Hannibal. But beyond a few piquant visual flourishes, Powers‘s direction is about as bland as it comes.

There’s a decent enough story lurking under all of this. Unfortunately, it’s Sony who are trying to ‘realise’ it and the result is something pretty poor. Frankly, gamers – even everyone – deserve better than this. And broadcast TV looks like it’s got a good few years left in it as a result.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.