Alphas wrapped up its first 11-episode season on the SyFy Channel this week. I think it was a largely successful season, and I’m looking forward to more.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alphas are the same kind of superhuman mutants found in X-Men or Heroes. This should come as no surprise, since series creator Zak Penn’s name has appeared in the credits of two X-Men films, Elektra, and The Incredible Hulk. Veteran science fiction TV producers Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ira Steven Behr help run the show.
The series deals with many of the same issues as X-Men or Heroes, such as discrimination and government cover-ups. The set-up is similar to X-Men in that there is a wise leader, Dr. Lee Rosen, played by the always engaging David Strathairn, with a team of untested good alphas fighting against the forces of bad alphas known collectively as Red Flag. Rosen’s team is not necessarily fighting crime for altruistic reasons; they are part of a secret government operation that offers “a paycheck and a good dental plan.”
The good alphas consist of Gary Bell, played by Ryan Cartwright, an autistic young man who can tap into any kind of electromagnetic transmission with his mind, Cameron Hicks, played by Warren Christie, an ex-Marine with super reflexes, Rachel Pirzad, played by Azita Ghanizada, a second-generation Iranian-American with super senses (but can only use one at a time), Nina Theroux, played by Laura Mennell, who has what amounts to super hypnotism, and Bill Harken, played by Malik Yoba, a former FBI agent with super strength.
The ensemble cast works well together. I think that Hicks may have been originally intended to be the focal point of the show, with Gary as comic relief, but Ryan Cartwright’s amazing portrayal of Gary has moved him to be the heart, with David Strathairn as the soul, of the group. Cartwright, a Brit using a flawless American accent, has obviously done a his homework on autism, and he captures the essence of an autistic person without it being a demeaning caricature. And, he still gets the best comic lines.
Alphas has had some notable guest stars, such as Summer Glau, Brent Spiner, Garret Dillahunt, and Lindsay Wagner (reprising a role created on Warehouse 13), to keep things interesting.
The alphas’ powers are mostly grounded in real science. For example, Bill Harken’s strength is attributed to spikes in adrenaline when he is stressed, and thus is a power that can only be used in short spurts. One of the guest villains had the power of invisibility, and this was explained as a manipulation of the eye’s optic nerve blind spot. Still farfetched, but at least the writers are trying to come up with legitimate neurochemical reasons for the alphas’ powers. At least (so far) no one flies, levitates, or otherwise overtly breaks the laws of physics.
Much of the charm of the series is that it portrays the heroes as banal office workers who don’t all hang out together outside of office hours. They don’t have fancy code names, they don’t wear uniforms, and in Gary’s case have to observe a nightly curfew.