Powered by i.TV
December 19, 2014

'The Cape' Swoops in With a Lively Superhero Story

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 6th 2011 1:30PM
When the two-hour pilot for an NBC superhero drama arrived, I cringed and put the advance DVD at the bottom of the pile of mid-season shows.

Can you blame me? Given NBC's frequently abysmal track record with drama pilots, given the residual 'Heroes' bitterness so many of us share, given that most networks have had a hard time executing the superhero concept well, it was difficult not to regard 'The Cape' with a great deal of wariness, if not outright fear.

Yet, wonder of wonders, the pilot for 'The Cape' (9 PM ET Sunday, NBC) turned out to be a nimble, engaging, fleet-footed bit of fun.

It's definitely not reinventing the superhero story for our time -- in fact, the drama borrows so heavily from the usual caped-crusader sources that it may start to feel too familiar, and that could be a problem. But in its first two hours, 'The Cape' presents an origin story with panache, energy and a notable sense of style.

And it's funny too. It's not a funny-haha superhero parody, but when 'The Cape' deploys humor, it does so adroitly.

David Lyons provides the solid center for the show as the Cape, but the breakout performance comes from reliably excellent character actor Keith David, who plays Max Malini, the head of a criminal gang that operates out of a circus tent. David dives into his role with so much relish that I found the whole enterprise just about impossible to resist.

Who knew it could be done in this irony-soaked age, but 'The Cape' manages to juggle humor, heart and action with relative ease. If the show had been made with too much seriousness, it would have come off as a 'Batman' parody; injected with too much silliness and it would have seemed like an overly earnest homage to 'The Tick.' As it is, 'The Cape's' well-paced pilot supplies a reasonably compelling story and offers some zingy ka-POW action, and it avoids the angst and overwrought self-importance that have hobbled other superhero ventures.

Of course, all the ingredients you'd expect from this kind of tale are present and accounted for: There's Vince Faraday (Lyons), a good man who vows vengeance after his life is ruined; Chess, an enjoyably malicious villain bent on the domination of a once-great city; Malini, a crusty but good-hearted mentor for the newly minted cape-wearer; and Orwell, a spirited, tech-savvy sidekick.

The fact that the last character is played by sci-fi staple Summer Glau certainly makes 'The Cape' more nerd-friendly, but this is not a show made expressly for comic-book aficionados and Comic-Con attendees. For all I know, hardcore superhero fans will despise this show for being too derivative and not edgy enough.

It is derivative, but 'The Cape' is not coasting, despite being aimed firmly at the mainstream. The show looks terrific; it vividly captures the visual style of graphic novels, and the proceedings are enhanced by a swell theatrical score by Bear McCreary ('The Walking Dead,' 'Battlestar Galactica'). The textured details, the frisky dialogue and the entertaining supporting characters on this show indicate a thoughtfulness that has been missing from many recent broadcast network pilots, which have suffered from an excess of averageness.

Yet here, Vinnie Jones is perfectly cast as a villainous, odd-looking sidekick named Scales, and Malini's circus crew features some memorable oddballs as well. As for the overall tone, it manages to be both deft and earnest, and the final scene of the first hour made me laugh out loud.

Having said all that, 'The Cape' isn't perfect. There's a blandness to Faraday's family backstory, clunky lines land with the occasional thud, and the second hour of the pilot doesn't feel quite as fresh as the first. And of course, there's no way to tell if 'The Cape's' creators will be able to sustain a season's worth of stories without straying too far into camp or falling back on predictable stories or dull earnestness.

All I can assess for now is the pilot, and 'The Cape's' maiden voyage was neither too cool for school nor so corny that it inspired eye-rolling. It's a self-aware superhero drama that manages to have some fun amid the righteous butt-kicking, and if it can develop its characters intelligently and keep up the sprightly pace, I'll stick around.

And I look forward to watching it with my 8-year old son, not because it's a kid's show, but because he still thinks defeating evil is serious business and also looks kind of fun. I think the Cape would agree.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

6 Comments

Filter by:
Nellnee

Glad that I gave it a shot, and looking forward to seeing how it runs on Monday nights with Chuck.

I also LOVE that it has a political POV. The idea of having private policing ... and private jails ... both are terrible ideas often touted by groups as a cost savings measure. That theme alone has me interested in seeing where they go with the villain. And yeah to Summer Glau (although I kept on saying "yeah River" during the show). A much livelier role that the one she had on Dollhouse, she gets to be a real girl now.

January 11 2011 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KathyB

Watched it, will give it a chance. Just read your Game Thrones piece on trailer, which reminded me.

Faraday's eye shadow bugged me. There was a scene where he and his wife were talking over a can of medals in the kitchen and kissed. He had the smoky eye thing going on, not so much for her. It works with the costume, but is irritating otherwise.

Loved Max, and glad that Orwell has the bat cave. Not great, probably more entertaining than The Event.

January 10 2011 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KenG

Watched it. Won't do THAT again. I frequently agree with your take on shows, Mo. But this is not one of those times. It was awful. The writing, the acting, the casting, the overall storyline. I just couldn't connect with it.

January 10 2011 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olddarth

Yours is the only review that puts a positive note on having watched this. Looking forward to checking it out this Sunday.

January 07 2011 at 1:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wendy

I, too, was prepared to give this show a pass, but your review has persuaded me to give it a little look-see. Summer Glau as a character named Orwell? That definitely has potential. :)

Mo, I think you need a different word in place of "belie" in paragraph 10. "Reveal" or "signal" or "indicate" perhaps?

Love your articles! I followed you here from the Tribune and I'm glad I did! Looking forward to more Supernatural write-ups!

January 06 2011 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Europa

I could just sit and listen to Keith David read the phone book and be perfectly happy. :) At first he was the only reason I was going to give this show a try but after reading you're review maybe there are other reasons for me to give it a chance. :)

January 06 2011 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners