Kyle might be smart, but can he name all the members of Timbuk 3?
Kyle XY, everyone’s favorite non-bellybuttoned teenage super-genius, is back for another round of adventure, intrigue, and teen heartache with the ABC Family’s release of Kyle XY: The Complete Second Season.
When we last left Kyle (Matt Dallas, Living the Dream), he had left his adoptive family, the Tragers, with a couple claiming to be his birth parents. Because nothing is as what is seems on this show, Kyle ends up with Adam Baylin (J. Eddie Peck, All My Children), who finally reveals who Kyle is and where he came from.
A change of plans, though, has Kyle returning to live with the Tragers—computer expert dad Steven (Bruce Thomas, Legally Blonde), kind social worker Nicole (Marguerite MacIntyre, Red Dragon), teenage bad-girl-turned-good-girl Lori (April Matson, Forsaken), and wisecracking son Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Ill Fated). Kyle is also reunited with the cute but troubled Amanda (Kirsten Prout, Elektra), with whom he develops a growing romance. Plus, Lori’s ex-boyfriend Declan (Chris Olivero, Now You See It) continues to be a part of everything happening in the Tragers’ lives.
Not all is well in Kyle’s life, though. Mystery man Tom Foss (Nicholas Lea, The X-Files) is still lurking about. He encourages Kyle to develop his superhuman abilities, but he’s also trying to convince Kyle to sever ties with his family. Even more worrisome is the arrival of a young woman known as Jessi XX (Jaime Alexander, Rest Stop), who has the same powers as Kyle, combined with cold-hearted, violent impulses. Someone at Madacorp, a high-tech corporation, is secretly manipulating Jessi, and that same someone has an interest in Kyle.
This episode list was decoded from a subliminal message:
• “The Prophet”
It’s exposition overload as Kyle learns the truth of who he really is and where he came from. This truth, though, comes with a terrible price.
• “The Homecoming”
Kyle returns to the Tragers, but having to keep secrets from them to protect them is already weighing heavily on his mind.
• “The List is Life”
At a school bonfire, Kyle encounters Jessi for the first time, while worrying about telling Amanda a truth that could hurt her feelings.
• “Balancing Act”
Kyle tries to find time for his family and friends, as well as his training with Foss. Could his secrecy be putting the people he cares about in danger?
• “Come to Your Senses”
After Amanda’s house is robbed, Kyle uses his abilities to track down the culprit, with Lori acting as his Dr. Watson.
• “Does Kyle Dream of Electric Fish?”
Kyle unlocks a new ability, which allows him to relive his own memories and see them in new ways. This leads to discovering a hidden message from Adam.
• “Free To Be You and Me”
A school dance leads to romance for Kyle and Amanda, and then to tension as Jessi shows up and complicates life for everyone.
• “What’s the Frequency, Kyle?”
When Steven’s father becomes ill and ends up in a coma, Kyle is somehow able to see and recreate images from Steven’s past.
• “Ghost in the Machine”
An adventure in the wilderness for our heroes leads to underground caverns where many secrets are revealed, and several lives are put in danger.
• “House of Cards”
Kyle and Foss have a one-shot-only chance to get inside Madacorp to steal an important piece of evidence that could lead to more information Adam left behind. To pull off the heist, Kyle brings in an unexpected accomplice.
• “Hands on a Hybrid”
An all-day charity event gives Kyle an opportunity to learn more about Jessi. Not only are the results more explosive than either of them are ready for, but Amanda doesn’t like them either.
After the craziness of the last two episodes, Nicole institutes a “lockdown,” keeping the whole stressed-out family under one roof for the whole day to relax. Kyle, meanwhile, goes into a personal “lockdown” in his own mind, which leads to him making a fateful decision to save his family.
• “Leap of Faith”
Kyle finally confronts Jessi, and the two of them take a journey into the woods, where more shocking surprises wait for them.
• “To C.I.R. With Love”
It’s time for the big showdown. In one corner: Madacorp, the shadowy corporation with the unscrupulous plot. In the other corner: Kyle and the Trager family, in a last-ditch effort to take down the bad guys or die trying.
• “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”
While Kyle, Lori, and Josh wonder about their future careers, Jessi starts showing off her abilities in public, with disastrous results. Sadly, the music of Timbuk 3 does not make an appearance.
• “Great Expectations”
Amanda’s highly protective mother forbids her to see Kyle, but he, Lori and Josh come up with a way to get a message to her.
Having run away from her mom, Amanda hopes to hide out in Kyle’s house. It’s a busy day, though, when a stern social worker shows up asking questions about whether the Tragers are fit to raise Kyle.
• “Between the Rack and a Hard Place”
Amanda gets a job working with Josh at the Rack, the local coffee shop. When some money ends up stolen from the cash register, Kyle is brought in to help solve the case.
• “The First Cut is the Deepest”
During a visit to a college campus, Jessi learns more about her past, and pushes her abilities to the limit.
• “Primary Colors”
In the middle of an especially busy day in and around the Trager household, Kyle unexpectedly loses his superhuman abilities. Can he cope with suddenly being normal?
• “Grey Matters”
When a computer hacker posts the high school’s test answers on a Web site, Kyle and Josh are blamed for the crime.
Kyle is reunited with yet another mysterious figure from his past. Organizing a second meeting, this time involving Jessi, proves to be complicated.
• “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”
It’s the prom, an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how far they’ve come, how much they’ve changed, and what lies ahead. Some characters say their goodbyes, some admit their true feelings, and there’s one final surprise at the end of the night.
As far as recent genre TV sensations go, Kyle XY doesn’t have the elaborate production values of Lost, the over-the-top thrills of Prison Break, or the dramatic and thematic intensity of Battlestar Galactica, but I have to admit it’s compulsively watchable. This is comfort food TV, like some sort of televised macaroni and cheese.
If you’re hoping to get nonstop sci-fi action from this show, you might be disappointed by the emphasis on family dynamics and teen romance. This is a series with shadowy conspiracies, deadly assassins, and the future of mankind possibly at stake, but entire episodes deal with characters being grounded, getting after school jobs, and going to a school dance. This “everyday life” tone works, though, for a couple of reasons. First, when the big suspenseful moments do come, they have the appropriate weight. Because of all the time we’ve spent with these characters, seeing them live the ordinary ups and downs of their lives, we really care when the big crisis occurs. In a lot of shows like this, the characters will often remark about how happy they were “back when.” But, when you rewatch the show’s earlier episodes, which represent “back when,” they weren’t really happy times. On Kyle XY, we get to see the good times in their entirety. The school activities, the chatter among friends, the family dinners—it seems superfluous at the time, but it’s part of the show’s bigger picture. For all of Kyle’s powers and all the people who are after him, his only desire is to be part of a family. When makes a crucial choice to take down a conspiracy or confront an enemy, there’s a long, slow buildup to it, in which we see that Kyle makes these choices not just because he’s the typical “good guy,” but, instead, he does it to protect his family, and to ensure that they’ll always be a part of his life. Secondly, there’s the acting. There are many times when the scripts threaten to overdo it with suburban tediousness, but fortunately, the actors all have great chemistry with one another and are generally likable. Despite some semi-regular cheesiness in the scripts, the cast still comes across like a genuinely tight-knit family and friends.
Remember how much Kyle’s character changed over season one? He went from an innocent blank state to a far more active personality, better in control of his powers and his interactions with others. He continues that growth in this season, though in more subtle ways. Kyle still doesn’t have a handle on common expressions, but he is much more capable of “reading” other people. Not only do the other characters go to him when they need his amazing skills to help them out, but, now, he’s often the character they go to when they need advice, or if they just want someone to talk to. Many times during this season, Kyle becomes a leader, either by rescuing his friends from dangerous underground tunnels, organizing an elaborate heist inside a high-tech compound, or by something as simple as decorating for the prom. I have to admit that I like the active “take charge” Kyle a lot more than I did the robot-like “clueless” Kyle. The show’s creators have dropped hints left and right that Kyle will someday grow up to be a famous figure, changing the whole world, and with the character’s new role as a leader this season, it’s easy to see that happening.
The big twist this season is the introduction of Jessi as the “anti-Kyle.” Aside from the obvious male-female difference, the creators have gone a long way in establishing the pair as opposites. Kyle learned to “act human,” so to speak, by observing and interacting with others. Jessi, however, gains the ability to “act human” only after it is programmed into her. Kyle’s family is genuine and supportive. Jessi’s only “family” is a phony one given to her by Madacorp, and her identity is a false one the company developed for her. Kyle’s family offers him the freedom to make his own decisions, within parental boundaries, of course. Jessi is manipulated by Madacorp to act out the company’s less-than-ethical secret missions. Throughout the first half of the season, the ongoing plot builds toward Kyle and Jessi’s eventual confrontation, but by the time it finally happens, something changes. Although initially introduced as Kyle’s dark shadow, Jessi reveals herself to be more of a victim than a villain, an innocent being used as a puppet by those who are far more vile. When the big dramatic showdown between them finally happens, it’s suddenly more about him bringing her back from the brink than it is the ultimate battle between good and evil. That makes sense though, because that’s one of the ongoing themes of this series—how everyone becomes a better person after meeting Kyle.
After Kyle and Jessi and all the conspiracy/evil corporation/secret society stuff, the most interesting plotline of the season belongs to Josh and his encounter with Andi (Magda Apanowicz, Caprica). At first, she’s merely a wisecracker, with a sarcastic comeback always at the ready for whenever Josh says or does something ridiculous. Apanowicz is obviously having a blast with the character, who is never at a loss for words, and who never hesitates to speak her mind. Their banter is a lot of fun, and works to break tension in otherwise serious episodes. As the season progresses, it’s revealed that Andi has a big secret. After this, she shows her more vulnerable side, but still does so with a good amount of snarky wisecracks. This plot also brings out the best in Jean-Luc Bilodeau, who plays Josh. In the first season, he was simply comic relief, but the Andi storyline gives him some real emotion to play with, alongside the humor. He performs the serious moments just as well as the he does the slapstick.
Another revelation, acting-wise, is Kirsten Prout as Amanda. In the first season, she was merely the nice girl, a convenient (too convenient?) object of Kyle’s affections. In the second half of this season, though, we get to see Amanda (and, perhaps, Prout) come out of her shell. She rebels against her witch-tastic mother, takes a leadership role of her own by running the prom, and even stands up to the menacing Jessi. It’s great fun to really get to know Amanda for the first time, to discover that she’s a lot more than just the typical, bland “nice girl next door.”
Not faring quite as well in the acting department are Bruce Thomas and Marguerite MacIntyre as the parents, who just aren’t given as much to do this season as last. It seems to me that hints about their “radical, progressive” parenting style has potential for more interesting plotlines. Likewise, April Matson continues to do good work as Lori, but the writing this season has her character not sure of who she is, and, as such, she seems to drift in and out of the season with a less clearly-defined arc as the other characters. She flirts with becoming an activist, she attempts becoming songwriter (but not in a Timbuk 3 style), and she deals with a violent attack, but each of these mini-arcs are only given a few episodes. Most of Lori’s scenes are with Declan, as the writers continue to stretch out the “we used to date but now we’re just friends” dynamic as far as they possibly can.
Outside of Kyle’s comfortable home life, we get the show’s more curious and “out there” characters. Chief among these is Tom Foss, played by the great Nicholas Lea. Foss has Kyle’s best interests at heart, but he’s also such an intense, mysterious guy that there’s a sense Kyle can’t fully trust. J. Eddie Peck doesn’t get a lot of screen time as Adam, Kyle’s personal Yoda, but the moments the two interact almost always lead to a new power or surprise plot twist, so any Adam scene is an exciting one. Carrying the villain torch are Conrad Coates (The Dresden Files) as Ballantine, the head of Madacorp, and Leah Cairns (Battlestar Galactica) as Emily, a ruthless secret agent. Not unlike Jessi, though, these so-called “bad guys” reveal their vulnerable, human sides as episodes progress. More ambiguous is Mr. Taylor (Martin Cummins, Vice), who is first introduced as Adam’s friend, but who takes over as Kyle’s number one adversary in the second half of the season. Unlike Ballantine, who merely saw Jessi as a means of getting to Kyle, Taylor’s entire focus is on Jessi, and pushing her to develop her powers—but for what purpose?
As noted above, the season is divided into two distinct halves, with the first “finale” taking place in “To C.I.R. with Love,” and a new beginning for the characters in the next episode. The first half has a lot of great tension, with Kyle’s worries over hiding the truth from his family, and the troubles it eventually causes, not to mention Jessi’s arrival and Madacorp slowly closing in around Kyle. It’s all exciting stuff, a slow burn throughout a bunch of character episodes that eventually explodes in a tense climax. The second half of the season continues with more good character work, but lacks the suspense of the first half. I can’t help but wonder how the season would have improved if the first arc could have been expanded and worked into plotlines from stand-alone episodes like “Grounded” and “Between The Rack and a Hard Place.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t the creators’ decision to make. The bonus features reveal that no one knew if the series would get a full season order, so the main plot was wrapped up in the first half, and then new storylines were kicked off in the second. Hopefully, this kind of behind-the-scenes network meddling can be avoided in season three.
The picture quality is good, if a little soft at times. The standout visual scenes are the characters’ handful of visits to the woods, where the rich greens and browns of the local fauna practically pop off the screen. The audio does its job nicely, making the most of the occasional pop ballads (but not Timbuk 3) on the soundtrack. Two featurettes, “Living with the Xs” and “The Science of Kyle XY” provide short but interesting looks behind the scenes, one focusing on the actors and the other on the writers. Several episodes come with commentary tracks, each one filled with alternative story ideas, production anecdotes, and a lot of discussion about the characters’ clothes and hair. There are more than 20 deleted scenes, the most interesting of which is an “alternate ending,” which would have taken the Kyle/Jessi dynamic in a wild—but potentially exciting—new direction.
OK, seriously: There’s an episode titled “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” and it doesn’t feature the song of the same name by Timbuk 3? That’s just criminal.
Kyle XY is a lot less flashy and more low-key than other TV shows of its kind. If the teen soap plots and family melodrama aren’t your thing, stick with the show anyway, because the payoff is worth it. For Kyle XY first-timers, you’re definitely better off starting with the first season and working up to this one. Either way, great show.