Science fiction and television have a strange relationship. Bona fide hits in the genre are few and far between, and yet every year, the networks give a few spacey series a try. In 2006, it was ABC Family’s turn to take a stab at the genre, with Kyle XY, about a boy with amazing powers living with an ordinary suburban family.
A young man (Matt Dallas, Living the Dream) wakes up in the middle of the woods, naked, with no idea who or what he is. He wanders into a nearby city where he’s apprehended by police and put in a juvenile correction facility. His fingerprints aren’t on any file, and there are no missing person reports for him. He is a complete blank, having to learn how to do simple things like eating. Yet he also shows amazing skill when it comes to mathematics, he can redraw anything he sees from memory, and, strangest of all, he has no belly button.
Fearing for the boy’s safety inside the prison-like facility, a kindly social worker, Nicole Trager (Marguerite MacIntyre, Red Dragon), takes the boy home with her. There, the boy, nicknamed Kyle, slowly learns what it means to be human thanks to Nicole and her family—husband Stephen (Bruce Thomas, Legally Blonde), sexually adventurous teen daughter Lori (April Matson, Forsaken), and awkward teen son Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Ill Fated).
Kyle soon becomes a member of the family, endearing himself to others while searching for clues to his past and discovering more of his own amazing abilities, not to mention his growing infatuation with neighbor girl Amanda (Kristen Prout, Elektra). All the while, a mysterious man (Nicholas Lea, The X-Files) watches Kyle from a distance.
This episode list can be broken down into a simple mathematic formula:
Nicole’s family members aren’t thrilled with the idea of Kyle living with them, but Kyle’s childlike honesty changes their minds, especially after he gets Lori out of trouble at an out-of-control party.
• “Sleepless in Seattle”
Here’s another oddity about Kyle: he doesn’t sleep. As he wanders around the Trager house alone night after night, the family worries that no sleep could be harmful to him.
• “The Lies That Bind”
As Kyle learns more and more about his fellow humans, he discovers some hard truths about honesty and dishonesty.
• “Diving In”
A close encounter with Amanda at a swimming pool becomes an embarrassing situation for Kyle, who has yet to be informed about the birds and the bees. Meanwhile, Lori and Josh have similar uncomfortable experiences with the opposite sex.
• “This is Not a Test”
Nicole hopes to enroll Kyle in high school so he can further his genius. Kyle’s curiosity, however, has him spending more time studying his fellow students than his books.
• “Blame it on the Rain”
While everyone is cooped up indoors on a rainy day, Kyle uncovers a new clue to his past, and the family gets to see Lori’s boyfriend Declan (Chris Olivero, Now You See It) in a new light.
• “Kyle Got Game”
Kyle’s remarkable speed and agility make him a natural to join the school basketball team—and just in time for a big championship game.
• “Memory Serves”
An overnight stay at a college campus leads to even more clues about Kyle’s past, first through an old photograph, and then via a dangerous confrontation in the woods outside the city.
Josh discovers that Kyle has remarkably acute hearing and lip-reading abilities, and the two do some eavesdropping, resulting in more than one surprise revelation.
When someone comes forward with the full story about Kyle’s past, it means he might have to leave his adopted family for good, starting a new life on the other side of the country.
The word “amnesia” gets thrown around a lot in this series, but there’s more to it than that. Kyle doesn’t just begin the first episode with no knowledge of who he is, but no knowledge of anything. He’s a blank state, who has to learn how to walk, how to eat, etc. He can calculate complex mathematics with ease, but he has great difficulty with verbal communication and human interaction. Imagine if Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation got a reboot and had to start from scratch, and you might get the idea.
Kyle grows up fast during these first 10 episodes, though. A major turning point happens in “This is Not a Test,” after Kyle memorizes an entire encyclopedia. On the surface, this is a convenient way for him to fit in after only one day in high school. But it has a wider effect, because after this, Kyle is able to interact with others much more effectively. He’s more talkative, more active, and generally more “out of his shell” then ever before. At one point, he erupts with anger and frustration about not knowing who he is. This dramatic outburst is almost shocking, because just a few episodes earlier we watched as Kyle viewed everything with a childlike wonder. There are about two season’s worth of changes in this character in this one short season. As Kyle rapidly adapts to his environment, the innocent blank-state Kyle of the first few episodes vanishes.
Sci-fi fans might want to know about the action or fantasy elements of Kyle XY. There’s not much, to be honest. Kyle uses his super-fast reflexes in a fight (defensively, of course) only three times this season, and at one point he jumps off a two-story building to land like a cat. That’s about it as far as action is concerned. Kyle’s genius gets a lot more airtime, as everyone is continually impressed with his Rain Man-like cognitive skills. Instead of wowing us with otherworldly weirdness, the creators are more interested in showing how Kyle affects the lives of those around him.
Kyle spends most of his time interacting with his two adopted siblings. Lori spends most of her time fretting over her relationship with Declan and her rocky friendship with best pal Hillary (Chelan Simmons, Chupacabra Terror). Depending on your own background, you’ll either view Lori as an ordinary teen girl or a major-big-time-slut-bag-o-rama. It struck me as rather incongruous when Nicole and Stephen praise themselves for being such great parents when Lori continually sneaks out of the house late at night dressed like a skank to get it on with boys. Josh, meanwhile, is the show’s comic relief. He believes Kyle is an alien, and he gets in a lot of funny lines about this whenever Kyle does something odd. Josh gets a lot of “average kid” moments too, such as struggling with grades and getting tongue-tied around hot girls.
Kyle’s burgeoning romance with Amanda, and some complications that come with it, is cute, but I wonder if more could be done with Amanda. She’s a piano virtuoso, a part-time lifeguard, and she’s still mourning the sudden death of her father. She’s not close friends with Lori, but Lori does describe her as “the nicest girl ever.” Still, with all these descriptive traits, I still feel we haven’t gotten to know her as well as the other characters. Here’s hoping we’ll get more Amanda in the second season.
For some reason, Declan’s importance in the series increases as it moves along, with him going from the “Lori’s boyfriend who’s sometimes a jerk” role to the “Kyle’s closest confidante and sidekick” role. As Kyle gets more and more daring in the search for his identity, Declan is at his side throughout. It seems to me that this “sidekick” role would be much better suited for Josh, who has an earlier-established connection to Kyle. Frankly, I got a little sick of Declan after a while. Chris Olivero gave a great performance, but it still bugged me how the writers clumsily forced Declan into everything happening to Kyle and his adopted family.
Maybe there’s not a lot that’s new in Kyle XY, but the actors and their characters are generally likable, and the writing is just sharp enough that I’m curious about what will happen in the next episode and in the second season. Based on that, I’d say that although the show isn’t perfect, it does its job and entertains.
The picture quality here is quite good, especially scenes in the woods, in which all the greens come across as lush and vivid. The sound is good, with no flaws or distortions, but it doesn’t really push the 5.1 tech as far as it can go. For extras, two episodes have commentary tracks with producers, writers, and actors. These cover the creative origins of the series, as well as some amusing anecdotes from the set. As far as the “Declassified” featurette is concerned, just go ahead and fast forward past the first 12 minutes, because they’re nothing but clips from this season. So you’re either rewatching stuff you just watched, or you’re spoiling the whole season for yourself. After minute 12, you get brief interview snippets with the actors and a lot of hints about what’s ahead in Season Two. There’s also the original pilot, which, while mostly the same, moves at a slower, more dreamlike pace. The extended season finale has a few deleted scenes added back in, but it too features no major changes.
So Kyle XY is really more of a quirky family drama with some sci-fi elements than it is a full-blown sci-fi adventure series. But thanks to some good acting and a few intriguing ideas, it’s compulsively watchable. Give it a try.