If you’ve ever watched a SyFy original movie, you might expect any TV show made for them would be cheap, dumb and rather cheesy. However the series that they’ve premiered in the US are a lot better than their films, with the likes of A Town Called Eureka, Sanctuary and Warehouse 13 all welcome additions to the sci-fi landscape – and Alphas certainly adds to that. In Alphas, X-Files meets The Avengers meets the police procedural with Davis Strathairn as Dr. Lee Rosen, a man who’s spent his life researching the titular Alphas.
These are people whose brains have evolved beyond those of normal people, giving them incredible abilities. Dr. Rosen has brought together a team of these superpowered folks to investigate and get to the bottom of cases involving other Alphas. It’s a task complicated by the fact the government and other federal agencies are suspicious of the Alphas and want to keep them secret, while many of those with incredible power believe in a more violent way (whether deliberate or accidental) of dealing with their problems.
The team includes ex-policeman Bill, who has immense strength; Nina, who can ‘push’ people to force them to do what she tells them to; Rachel, whose hyper-powered senses make her pretty much a mobile crime scene lab and the autistic Gary, who’s able to see and decode the electromagnetic waves that surround us all the time. In the first episode they’re on the trail of someone who managed to shoot through a grating and kill someone in police custody, which brings them into contact with Gary, whose fantastic reflexes make him a perfect addition to the team.
Across the 11 episodes they investigate everything from a delusional religious leader who believes that his ability to bring people peace outweighs the fact that he might be killing them, to a teenager who seems to have the ability to spark riots. Running through this is the shadowy Red Flag, a group of Alphas whose motives are murky, but seem to leave violence and destruction in their wake.
The similarities to the X-Men are undeniable (series co-creator Zak Penn worked on the scripts for the X-Men movies and The Avengers), and indeed there are quite a few scenes through the first season that feel like they were pretty much lifted from those movies. However using the format of a police procedural works surprisingly well.
As often with sci-fi there are moments where it gets a bit too silly for its own good (particularly an episode involving an invisible Alpha and Brent Spider as a man who can slowly vibrate buildings until they collapse), but it’s good natured and entertaining. That’s particularly true of Gary, who’s a wonderful character, both funny and endearing as he tries to find some measure of independence and use his powers to help, despite being autistic. It doesn’t hurt either that the series has the wonderful David Strathairn at its centre, who anchors things as the normal guy trying to find a balance between the rights of the Alphas and a suspicious government, which is happy to lock up superpowered people it believes are dangerous.
Overall Verdict: Alphas is a lot of fun, with some decent special effects, a good cast and stories that keep you hooked in. It certainly ensured I’ll keep an eye out for Season 2, which should start airing on Five in the next couple of months.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac