Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"Powers" Squanders Potential with Uneven Script

This review will contain spoilers for the pilot episode.

Five minutes in to the first episode of "Powers," the Playstation Network adaptation of the comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, you know exactly what type of show this is going to be. After an intriguing and well shot beginning featuring a young girl, a dirty old man, and a mysterious drug overdose, we snap immediately to an Entertainment Tonight feature starring Mario Lopez. The feature is about our main hero, Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley), and covers his entire backstory in the most awkward exposition dumb starring Lopez since an episode of Saved by the Bell.
Mario takes us through Christian's past as the superhero Diamond, making sure to name every single one of his superpowered compatriots, enemies and past relationships, with helpful pictures to demonstrate. The entire sequence is stilted and forced, and very clearly the result of someone's notes to the writer. Every piece of information you gain here that is relevant to the episode is very clearly shown later on in the same episode. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and sets the whole show off on a sour note.

The original comic, which made superstars out of both its writer and artist, was unique in comics at the time. A take on superheroics that didn't shy away from the blood, sex, and drugs that might show up in a real world that contained superpowers, it was groundbreaking. Now, of course, we have dark, gritty, "realistic" takes on geeky tropes on every channel on television, from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones. For Powers to stand out in this world, it would have to do something very different. It fails to do that.

The show follows the Powers Division in Los Angeles (or possibly New York, it's never clear), a police department who's mandate is to hunt superpowered criminals. This is a fascinating idea, but the time spent inside the precinct itself is full of cliches that are hard to shake. The grim-faced older cop is paired with a young rookie detective. The department is underfunded and understaffed. The Chief or Captain doesn't agree with the grim-faced detective's methods - it's an 80s or 90s cop drama wrapped up in a new layer.

The more interesting story comes from Walker's relationship with the current powers community. We see him interact in several key scenes with young teenagers, and use his former celebrity to get good cop work done. His partner chastises him for using his fame to get answers out of these kids, but the good that's done makes those objections seem entirely moot. The problem is, every time one of these scenes starts to get good, a line of dialogue so terrible it should be banned from the English language slaps us upside the head.

Example: One of the superpowered teens yells at Walker, "Your real name isn't Diamond! It's Walker! As in someone who walks! Because they can't fly anymore!"

There's a lot to like in this show. Copley's performance, when he's not dealing with awful dialogue, rings true. Eddie Izzard's Wolfe is downright scary. The exploration of what a society where people with powers actually exist would be like is really interesting. But the show gets in its way with so many cliches and terrible choices that it's hard to get to those gems.

It's possible that this is a poor pilot, as often happens, and that this show will turn itself around in subsequent episodes. But unless the writing really picks up, the show will be nothing more than a lot of wasted potential.

UPDATE: Want to decide for yourself? Playstation just put the entire first episode on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. Check it out here.

Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief for the Ace of Geeks, and one of the hosts of The Ace of Geeks Podcast. He loves the current renaissance superhero TV is having.

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