There’s a new dog in the superhero fight and it goes by the name of Powers, the first Sony Playstation series to arise to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. Considering Heroes is coming back and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and other series from a superhero universe are out there, how can this dog make itself heard as a purebred?
Powers: Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot” (Playstation Network)
Based on the long running comic series from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, this show is all about the everyday world of today, only some people have powers. This show goes in an interesting direction with these characters because it makes the powers themselves something people highly covet and wish to have. In a society where we already covet rappers, actors and the highly rich it’s not a stretch in the slightest and in large part this makes the superpowers in Powers grounded and relatable. The premise is sound, but how are the characters that hang off it?
The lead protagonist is played by Sharlto Copley who is Christian Walker, ex-superhero relegated to very much average human detective. He’s lost his powers, but continues to lock the bad guys up best he can. Once the incredibly famous superhero known as Diamond, Walker has to deal with issues in regards to ex arch nemesis, the lack of being godlike and having to deal with a new partner. Copley does a good job establishing the character and making him broken, beaten and ready for something to keep himself moving forward. Overall he’s a strong center to the series, but doesn’t necessarily save it from some of its pitfalls.
Before delving into its weaknesses, let’s talk about the things that work. First off, this show has a good balance between special effects and the actual powers that make up the title of this series. Frankly this show should have come out years ago simply because it makes economical sense to have a show that features special effects so infrequently. That isn’t to say the powers that blast across screen aren’t there, but it has a nice balance between normal human detectives working and the powers that make their world so special. It’s a feature that lies just below the surface so you never know when it might pop up. This creates a sense of anticipation that anything could happen at any moment. It’s a nice undercurrent that permeates the show.
Something else that makes this world so believable is the slight touch of a culture different from our own. Characters reference things that are believed to be true and historically accurate, but details beyond reference aren’t given. This creates a sense of reality in the world that makes you want more. It also helps establish things are running as usual and not a bunch of actors pretending.
Frankly though, this show can’t get away from the cliches that run rampant in detective TV shows. There are elements you see coming, procedural scenes that could use a punch up but don’t get one, because the story isn’t about these but revealing a world. That’s when the show is strongest, but it still needs to abide by the rules of detective TV. Walker also has a Riggs personality form Lethal Weapon where he has an edge because he just doesn’t belong. The show has some good reasons for it, but it’s become so boring to see suicidal and semi-psychotics running the show in detective departments.
This also includes the protagonist’s new partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), who doesn’t quite nail this role. A pilot is an early first try before a show is picked up and I don’t fault her for some awkwardness and I’m sure she can pull this around, because she has strong moments throughout the series. That said, she is a bit weak here and there and isn’t the most believable in scenes. The acting just doesn’t work and that’s partly due to some awkward moments resulting from the writers instilling some drama that just doesn’t belong, like when she asks Walker to accept her as his new partner even though his previous partner just died two days earlier.
This is a strong pilot when it comes to world building and establishing its lead character, but it’s a bit too by-the-numbers to call it a resounding success.
Editors note: Check out our review of Episode 2 and 3 here.