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NBC’s The Cape Doesn’t Yet Break the Superhero Mold

January 12, 2011

I should get this out of the way now: I watched The Cape’s premiere because of Summer Glau.  I love Summer Glau.  She is gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.  I cannot speak rationally about her, so I won’t even try.  Instead, I’ll attempt to review, objectively, NBC’s new superhero drama, which debuted Sunday at 10pm but now airs Mondays at 9pm.

Oops, wrong Cape.

The Cape features incorruptible mildly-Cole-Hauser-resembling cop Vince Faraday, who gets framed as a supervillain by a supervillain and, as far as the public knows, is killed by the security corporation headed by the supervillian.  As you probably already figured out, Faraday wasn’t really killed by the heat or the shrapnel or the shock wave from the tanker explosion 15 feet above him, because he was protected by a sheet of metal laying on top of his unconscious body.  We shouldn’t be surprised by this, because an earlier explosion that destroyed an armored SUV and killed a police chief also did not kill Faraday, who was only two feet away from the vehicle at the time of immolation.  I really need to get over this kind of stuff, especially in a series about a guy who models himself after his son’s favorite comic book superhero and wears the titular cape which has nearly supernatural powers just because it’s made entirely of spider silk.

I’ll be honest about something else: it wasn’t only Summer Glau that made me watch this show, just mostly.  The showrunner is John Wirth, who also wrote for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which happens to be in my Top Three Favorite Shows Ever and also happens to star Summer Glau as a terminator.  The Cape also has Richard Schiff, who featured prominently in T:SCC Season 2, Episode 9, “Complications,” which was badass but also at the end contained one of the cheesiest lines in the whole series (fans will know which one).

Crap, I Glaued out again.  OK, I swear I’ll talk about The Cape from now on.

I wanted to like The Cape, but I thought it fell pretty short.  The characters aren’t terribly compelling, and for at least the first two hours, they’re entirely one-dimensional.  The only real mystery surrounds blogger Orwell (Summer Glau), about whom we’re given little information aside from her massive hackerific internets techmology skillz; and Peter Fleming, head cheese of the evil Ark Corporation, who has some ulterior motive and, occasionally, weird Opiate pupils.  Also, the existence of Max Malini—Keith David, playing the same awesome sort of character he always plays—and his Circus must somehow be explained.

For the most part, The Cape seems more concerned with moving the plot along quickly, like a show that doesn’t think it will stick around long.  Viewers may feel like they’re cramming for finals, with all the information and plot that’s thrown at them in the two-hour pilot, filled with flashback sequences shoehorned in where they were because they wouldn’t fit anywhere else, even though they don’t fit that well where they are.  If you expected training montages, you get them, but at least they’re sort of interesting: one a carnival montage where The Cape learns how to do Cape-y stuff like fight in dirt rings and use smoke bombs to bamf into the ether like Nightcrawler, the other involving brightly colored poisons.  There are also pre-Cape fitness sequences where Faraday pounds on a duct-taped punching bag and teaches his son to do the same because “Faradays are fighters.”  (NOTE: if you are the physically fit protagonist of a movie or TV show, you must own a duct-taped punching bag in a garage or basement.)

The dialog isn’t great, but it isn’t god-awful either.  As you would expect, cheesy one-liners and moralizing “one man can make a difference!” professions show up, but The Cape refrains from laying on as much super-hero schmaltz as it could have.  The setting, especially the parts involving Malini’s crew, is cluttered-in-a-good-way fun.  The ancillary villains, while short-lived and disposable (one is Vinnie Jones from Snatch), are slightly imaginative in appearance.  The camerawork in the fight scenes exceeds expectations, and the whole thing looks pretty good in HD.  Oh yeah, the Malini carnival’s little person, Rollo, calls Faraday a “bitch-boy,” an epithet most famously used on Riddle Box by the Insane Clown Posse, who supervise their own Wicked Carnival.  Coincidence?  Proabably!

All in all, though, I don’t think The Cape will end up being the show that captures the superhero magic that has eluded other series, at least not on the strength of the pilot.  However, it’s entertaining enough—OK, it has enough Summer Glau—to keep me hooked for a couple weeks until the storylines pick up.  But after that, I swear, if it isn’t able to stand on its own, on to the next one.

  1. Paul permalink*
    January 12, 2011 2:25 pm

    I think Peter Fleming’s crazy pupil contact lenses were chess pieces, a la his supervillain name: Chess.

    • Matt Shorr permalink*
      January 12, 2011 5:52 pm

      Hmm. Had I noticed that, it would have made a lot more sense. However, I wouldn’t have listened to Opiate again as soon as I did. Everything happens for a reason!

  2. Lloyd permalink
    January 12, 2011 5:30 pm

    I beg to differ, Matt, on one point. There’s no doubt that Summer Glau is gorgeous, but the mantle of “gorgeosity made flesh” must be reserved for the bewitching creature in the above photo. Its beauty fills me with an ache I can’t even name.

    • Matt Shorr permalink*
      January 12, 2011 5:54 pm

      That creature is, unfortunately, nearly extinct. It emerges only once every three years or so, when the party is just right, and the costume box is out of storage…

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