Alphas: Season One (DVD)

Impossible is what they do best.

The Syfy Channel presents a series in which the superhero genre butts heads with the cop procedural. Ordinary folks with super powers chasing down perps—it’s all in a day’s work for the Alphas.

Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn, The Bourne Ultimatum) is conducting research on what he calls Alphas, human beings with extraordinary abilities. To fund this research, the government insists on turning his group into field agents. Now Rosen and his team are tasked with tracking down other Alphas, and, if dangerous, stopping them.

The team includes:
• Hicks (Warren Christie), who has as perfect aim with any projectile. He’s the heroic leader.
• Bill (Malik Yoba), a cop, who can control his brain’s flight or fight response, giving him temporary bursts of incredible strength. He’s the tough guy.
• Rachel (Azita Ghanizada), whose heightened senses make her a walking crime lab. She’s the nice girl.
• Nina (Laura Mennell), whose powers of persuasion can convince anyone do whatever she tells them. She’s the bad girl.
• Gary (Ryan Cartwright), who can mentally tap into the information streams all around us, such as cell phone signals, internet, surveillance cameras and more. He’s the weird one.

This episode list exists in the untapped potential of the human mind:

• “Pilot”
Hicks meets and joins the team after being framed for murder. The real culprits, though, are Red Flag, a rival group of alphas with sinister intent.

• “Cause and Effect”
Rosen’s past comes back to haunt him when a former patient of his, a troubled alpha he couldn’t help, comes back for revenge.

• “Anger Management”
The team searches for an alpha who stimulates anger in others, causing riots throughout the city. Can the team handle the case while keeping their own anger in check?

• “Rosetta”
Gary meets a kindred spirit when he encounters a young woman with abilities and a world view similar to his own. Plus, she could be the key to uncovering a Red Flag plot.

• “Never Let Me Go”
It’s back to high school, as the team travels to Pennsylvania to investigate a series of mysterious teen deaths, and whether an alpha is behind it.

• “Bill and Gary’s Excellent Adventure”
After Gary is accidentally arrested, Bill goes to bail him out, and the two end up involved in an old FBI case involving an alpha.

• “Catch and Release”
The team searches for an alpha who can create amazing inventions. Will those inventions be used for the good of mankind, or will they become weapons?

• “A Short Time in Paradise”
Hicks and Nina fall under the spell of a powerful cult leader, who is also an alpha.

• “Blind Spot”
An obstetrician with ties to Red Flag has a plot brewing that could affect all alphas. The team goes undercover to investigate.

• “The Unusual Suspects”
When one of the team is suspected of being a mole for Red Flag, they’re all shipped off to Birmingham, a hospital/prison where all dangerous alphas are sent.

• “Original Sin”
Red Flag makes its move, declaring all-out war on the Department of Defense, with Rosen and his team right in the middle.

With a new blockbuster superhero and/or comic book movie in theaters every couple of weeks, what can this series do that so many others haven’t? For one thing, it goes to great lengths to show that the alphas are, for the most part, just ordinary folks. Bill has a loving wife at home. Rachel’s parents are constantly pressuring her to meet a guy and get married. Rosen loves health food and has a healthy dating life. Even Gary, the weird one, lives with his worrisome yet patient mother. On this show, being a superhero is a nine-to-five job. We spend a lot of time at the alphas’ office, where they deal with less than perfect technology, debates over where to put the vending machine, or an annoying hum bugging them while they try to work.

This everyday life aspect of the show, which is good, is sometimes at odds with the “police procedural” aspect of the show. Making Bill a cop and Hicks a former military man makes for a nice shortcut when the heroes are the pursuit of a fugitive alpha. They already know procedure and they can already “talk the talk” when dealing with other cops. Any doors they can’t open, Nina can with her powers. It’s also a little ambiguous as to who the team is working for. The Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI, and something called “Defense Criminal Investigative Services” are all mentioned whenever the script deals with the alphas are working for. The enemies the alphas are after fit into two categories, either a troubled individual having difficulty controlling his or her powers, or the members of Red Flag, who are pursuing an “alphas are superior to humans” agenda through violence and criminal scheming. Another aspect of the show is the secretive Birmingham facility, the show’s equivalent of Arkham Asylum. Being sent to Birmingham is the constant threat that hangs over the characters’ heads if they ever get out of control.

Speaking of aspects of the show that are at odds with each other, let’s talk about Gary. Gary is intended to be the weird, quirky one. He’s the outside looking in, the one with a different world view than everyone else—the alien through whose observations the humans learn about themselves. He’s the Spock, the Data, the River Tam, the Luna Lovegood, the Abed. Instead of being funny and amusing, though, Gary is abrasive. He’s rude to the other alphas, with this constant sense of superiority over them. Rosen often explains away Gary’s attitude as “that’s just his way,” but that doesn’t make Gary any less likable. Gary and Bill especially do not like each other, and their verbal snipes at one another are supposed to be hilarious in a wacky sitcom sort of way, except that Bill has done nothing (that we know of) to make Gary dislike him, so it instead comes off as Gary always insulting Bill for no reason. Gary is supposed to act like this because he’s the weird one, but instead, they take it too far, and he just ends up looking like a total jerk.

That’s not to say the show is a total disaster. There’s a lot to enjoy about Alphas as well. Strathairn is very much the heart of the show. He holds the whole series together as the team’s father figure, keeping them all in touch with their human sides. The action scenes are subdued, as expected for a low budget cable show, but there are occasional foot chases or standoffs that provide some thrills or tension. The special effects are surprisingly good, showing how the alphas use their powers, especially when those powers are often not abilities that lend themselves to visuals.

All 12 episodes of the first season are on this three-disc set. The picture quality is excellent, especially during the bright, outdoor scenes. The sound is good as well, with clear dialogue and nice use of surrounds during the action scenes. Extras include deleted scenes, Q&As with the producers and stars, footage of the cast at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, and an extended version of the pilot episode.

There’s nothing wrong with Alphas, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, either. Apparently, the show’s super power is to find the exact center of mediocrity. Check it out only if you absolutely must see everything superhero-related.

The Verdict

Hung jury. These alphas need more beta testing.

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