It’s always better to go into something with no preconceived notions. I’ve felt very strongly about this since at least the summer of 2003, when my best friend saw the much-maligned film adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before I did, and told me it was awesome; one of the best comic book movies ever made and even better than X2. It wasn’t until halfway through the movie that I finally realized he was joking.
Of course, it’s harder than ever to do these days, a lesson learned once more with Sunday night’s debut episode of The Cape on NBC. Hours before the episode aired in my time zone, I read dozens of tweets from people whom I generally find reasonable and intelligent condemning the show for being clichéd, derivative and otherwise terrible. Encountering such reaction is a post-modern problem nearly impossible to avoid — you could just not check Twitter, sure, but that takes a degree of self-restraint not really practical in the year 2011.
I did my best to clear my mind of the negativity as I watched all two hours of The Cape, stepping into the world of Palm City as objectively as I could. The show doesn’t always make it easy, with unintentionally ironic lines of dialogue like, “it’s my most annoying feature” and “the cape is just a tool.”
Yet that dialogue is emblematic of the show as a whole — it’s very earnest in what it does, which depending on your perspective is either refreshing or off-putting. Heroes, the previous NBC attempt at capitalizing on comic book cool for a mainstream audience, avoided familiar trappings of the superhero genre like costumes, and seemed more concerned with explaining how someone could have superpowers than showing people do cool stuff with them. In a world where Smallville’s Clark Kent still doesn’t fly after 10 seasons, it’s kind of neat to see The Cape unabashedly embrace so many superhero tropes so quickly.
In the first hour, we’re introduced to the ordinary world of police officer Vince Faraday (David Lyons), his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin) and their son from the Palin Family Naming Factory, Trip (Ryan Wynott), for about 15 seconds before a ton of totally crazy stuff happens. Vince hits a punching bag and reads a comic book to his son (the comic's called The Cape, do you see where this might be going?), and pretty soon the chief of police gets murdered by a chemical compound called L-9 that makes everything all bendy. And then there’s an explosion.
It’s the handiwork of supervillain Chess (James Frain), and don’t worry, within just a couple of minutes we see him with a chessboard and speaking in extended metaphors. (Phew.) It’s also quickly revealed that he’s really billionaire Peter Fleming (careful viewers may have noticed that they have the same voice) who’s working to privatize Palm City’s police department, a seemingly controversial move apparently not getting much opposition.
Vince tries to be a hero and discovers canisters of L-9 being smuggled inside of dolls (one of the sturdiest tricks in the “legitimate company that’s a front for evil shenanigans” book), which only gets him betrayed by his buddy Marty (Dorian Missick), kidnapped, framed for Chess’s misdeeds, and presumed dead. (And even though after this point, Chess is presumed dead and Fleming has an out for all his crimes, he still wears the mask and maintains the identity throughout the rest of the episode. Not every criminal is a criminal genius.)
Fortuitously, he’s found by the Silver Age-y Carnival of Crime, who despite being self-professed criminals, actually seem like an alright group of folks. After letting their midget (Martin Klebba, from latter-day Scrubs) rough him up a bit, ringleader Max Malini (Keith f’n David) gives Vince the titular cape and takes him under his wing for two to three minutes of vigorous training, leading Vince to the natural decision to become a Batman-esque superhero called, you guessed it, The Cape. The cape grants him the ability to grab things quickly, and also disappear in a puff of smoke. (Illusions, Michael.)That’s all in the first 20 minutes or so.
For the rest of the series premiere, The Cape meets Orwell (Summer Glau, acting as a geek Trojan horse to draw in Firefly fans), an Oracle-type blogging against Fleming; Vince comforts/creeps out his son by showing up outside his bedroom window as The Cape and tells him everything will be alright; the “Secretary of Prisons,” the one man in power against Fleming privatizing everything, gets nearly food poisoned by a French serial killer chef; The Cape gains a mask, saves the day and has one last staredown with Fleming; Mike Powers from Reno 911 (Mather Zickel) hires Dana after a sentence or two of tense hesitation; and Mena Suvari, absent from the public eye for nearly a decade, resurfaces in the scenes from upcoming episodes.
Oh, and Vinnie Jones shows up in a couple of scenes as a thug with scales, because, why not?Did you check out THE CAPE?