Holy awful, Batman.
In fact, beginning any review of NBC’s latest original series (a term here that, you’ll soon see, I use very, very loosely) with a Batman reference feels totally apropos given how much the program owes to Christopher Nolan’s very solid interpretations of the classic hero. The Cape frankly reeks of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in setting, structure, and character; I suppose that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but the series’ creators are flirting ever so dangerously with the line of plagiarism, not in the telling of their story but in the details they use to build the world of The Cape. And as much as that’s kind of problematic, the show could have survived while being derivative. The real problem, however, isn’t that the show cribs from better superhero properties– the problem is that it’s just flat-out incompetently made.
The Cape‘s plot is straightforward enough. Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is a good cop working in a bad city who winds up on the receiving end of super-villainy at the hands of Chess (James Frain), the alter ego of the billionaire founder of a private security firm poised to take control of the city away from the boys in blue. Framed for Chess’ crimes and left for dead, Faraday is rescued/kidnapped (same difference) by a bank-robbing circus troupe led by Keith David, and quickly mentored in the ways of escape artists, hypnotists, and acrobats in order to become a crime-fighting force named after his son’s favorite superhero.
Did I say straightforward? I meant ridiculous, and in nothing but a complimentary way since The Cape‘s basic conceit is of the delightful, tongue-in-cheek persuasion; hearing the preceding synopsis should get any fan of superhero media excited. The problem, of course, is that those who do are ultimately going to be disappointed, because the show is an enormous let down from the very beginning.
Creator Tom Wheeler, along with series co-writers Bill Wheeler and Craig Titley as well as director Deran Sarafian, clearly have an end goal in mind for the first two episodes; they know where they want the show to be and what they want to happen to the characters. While they’re at least smart enough to have an idea of the direction they wish to take the program, they don’t have a plan to get their without haphazardly trampling through Palm City and hastily painting their characters in broad, sloppy strokes. Unfortunately for The Cape, their shared recklessness leads to a series opening that plays like the super-sized recap for a season that doesn’t exist, as though the Wheelers and Titley are racing though a montage of important highlights to bring us up to speed on the story.
The thing is that I understand their dilemma and I understand the need to get through the origin story so that Faraday’s primary arc as The Cape, and his quest for redemption and justice, can begin. I get that. I really do. But this is television– the nature of the format almost seems to be of benefit to the superhero archetype, which inevitably must start off with the hero’s origin story. And if The Cape taken full advantage of the benefits television has to offer this sort of story, it might have turned out better. Instead, the episodes hurtle forward with a strange mixture of anxiety and urgency, and none of the major beats that should matter are given the room or time needed for them to breathe; we never really get to know who the characters are, either, or what makes them tick. It makes for a frustrating two-hour experience; I want to care about Faraday’s plight and I want to root for him. I want to care that Orwell (Summer Glau)– the requisite “hot babe” of the show, and Faraday’s/The Cape’s sidekick– has a vested interested in helping Faraday, as well as a mysterious secret (the truth of which I think the show has poorly telegraphed, though time will tell). But when the show clearly only wants to get from point A to point B without having any fun in between, there’s no reason for us to bother.
My hope for The Cape is that with the pilot jitters out of the way, the program can find its feet and grow into a really entertaining superhero story. But the pilot and Tarot make for a really rocky start. For this show to borrow so much from other stories (apart from Batman Begins/The Dark Knight, there appears to be a hint of Michael Chabon’s The Escapist/The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay in The Cape) wouldn’t be a crime by itself, but when a show is this derivative without yielding anywhere near the level of quality from its inspirations, it’s a problem. Maybe the Wheelers have a great story to tell, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but so far it looks like The Cape is going to squander its premise and fail to capitalize on the benefits of playing out over the course of a season.