Powers S:01 E:01

Hello, folks! Stefan Gagne here, contributing to Channel Superhero; in my spare time (hah! who has spare time?!) I write serialized novels, so reviewing serialized television content seems right up my alley.

Episode Title: Pilot
Original Airdate: 3-10-2015

Welcome to the world of Powers, where superheroes clash with supervillains somewhere in the background as we focus in on the lives of ordinary folks caught up in the power-obsessed culture that has spawned around them. Instead of directly examining particular caped crusaders, the series builds an intriguing world of celebrity culture and fanatical fandom which destroys as much as it inspires…

Our hero for this journey is Christian Walker, formerly a hero known as Diamond. After losing his similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from-Kryptonian superpowers, he’s joined the ranks of the despised Powers Division of the LAPD, to keep fighting supercrime. While he’s presented as your standard gruff, hard-edged antihero… honestly, his character is at its best in his humane moments. It almost feels like the “edgy” moments are the act, while the real character is compassionate. The writers point this out, too, which gives me hope they agree with me… because he could become incredibly tedious if allowed to be a Standard Adult Televised Drama Jerkass Antihero Guy. (See also: Basically any protagonist on any AMC show.)

His new partner, the obligatory everyman viewpoint character Deena Pilgrim, comes in with four-color naïve eyes which allow the audience to learn the world through her misunderstandings of it. Hopefully she’ll become more than that as the series goes on, though; she has little to do except screw up and fangirl-squee over heroes in this episode and constantly make mistakes due to her lack of understanding. She’s so unmemorably generic that I actually had her name as “Nina Shepard” in my notes originally.

The best in show definitely goes to the main villain, Johnny Royale, a charming and sleazy looking teleporting supervillain. He has the most subtle performance of anyone in the cast, and quietly expresses sympathy even for people he kills. Rather than being a blustering badass or a moustache-twirling evildoer, he’s far more grey area, which makes every minute he’s on screen quite engaging. Even his dialogue is nicely polished and well-chosen, sparse but meaningful… leagues better than the boring and perfunctory lines all the other characters spout.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plot yet, it’s because there’s not much to speak of. The story’s just getting started, and it’s a slow start. There’s a strange new power-enhancing drug, a bunch of wannabe kids eager to boost existing powers or bring out latent ones, a young girl named Calista desperate to be special, something dramatic happens, and… then it just stops.

But that’s fine, I’m actually glad this is highly serialized; it could’ve slid easily into villain-of-the-week procedural stories. By playing the long game and letting the story grow, they give it plenty of time to build. It pulls you along even if some of the more predictable moments slide right out of your memory.

Tuning into Powers plot alone would definitely be a mistake, though. It’s the WORLD that hooks you in, makes you want to watch more. How the plot and characters interface with that world is the key to it all. The flaws are easy to overlook; the cheesy TMZ-esque celebrity culture around heroes (why do all dramas have to be so L.A. centric?) and the astounding cheapness when it comes to lighting and PS2-era visual effects (isn’t this Playstation’s flagship show…?) are irrelevant in face of the concept The concept engages.

You want to learn more about what went down in the past, how the characters relate, how powers interface with society. You want to indulge in this alternate universe and get to know it, little by little, bit by bit. It keeps you going despite the weaknesses, because the world of Powers itself is a character worth watching. How do ordinary humans persist in a world dominated by superpowers? How lazy is society to rely on heroes to save them, while reviling ordinary cops who only want to help? There’s some excellent “Protomen”-esque study of the nature of larger-than-life heroes here, and I want more of that. So much more.

At this point, the coin toss is in the air. If the writers can keep the juicy world going, it’ll definitely come down heads. If characters stay flat and the budget can’t keep up with the show’s demands, it may land tails. Time will tell, and I’ll keep you informed along the way.

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