Let’s say you’ve been given the chance to develop an original superhero series for television. It’s for broadcast television, though, so you can’t go too far with the language and violence. Oh, and the main character doesn’t actually have any superpowers, see, but he does have that famous superhero accoutrement, a cape, that enables him to do some pretty nifty things.
Would you then decide to make your main character a cop who’s been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, who hooks up with a gang of circus folk and decides to fight crime while clearing his name and protecting his family under the alias The Cape? Would you call the show The Cape?
Of course you wouldn’t, but then you’re not NBC, still all a-dither over how it screwed up Heroes after its first season and fully aware that all those Iron Men and Batmen still seem to be pretty popular with the kids. The network hasn’t pushed a new series this hard since last fall’s The Event, its most paradoxically-named program since 1980’s The Big Show.
The endless promotion has helped clear up any misconceptions that The Cape is about Cape Cod or Cape Canaveral (that would have been the failed 1996 series The Cape). Nope, this is about a guy who wears a cape with special powers and calls himself The Cape.
And there’s the first problem with this show, which finally debuts on Jan. 9. It’s an uninspiring title, even if the cop’s basing his alter ego on his son’s favorite comic book character, who just so happens to be called—are you ready?—The Cape. Plus, didn’t The Incredibles pretty much take care of this whole cape business anyhow?
Anyway. The wrongly-accused cop left for dead, struggling to protect his estranged family, is a trope you may possibly have seen before (probably within the last half-hour); superhero-wise, its most recent example was Nicolas Cage’s Big Daddy in Kick-Ass. The circus backdrop seems relatively original, until you recall that Dick Grayson came from a big-top family. At any rate, the show’s giving gainful employment to Keith David, fondly remembered for his roles in John Carpenter’s The Thing and They Live:
That’s David Lyons from ER as Vince Faraday/The Cape, by the way. Also on hand are James Frain (True Blood, Tron: Legacy) as the billionaire who framed Faraday for the crime-he-did-not-commit—and who has an alter ego of his own, “Chess”—and Vinnie Jones, late of Snatch, who plays the villainous “Scales,” so named because he … well, has scales.
Along for the ride is genre favorite Summer Glau from Firefly and, more recently, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where her special brand of woodenness would have seemed perfect for her role as a cyborg, yet still managed to be merely annoying. Here she plays the evocatively named Orwell, since calling the character Zamyatin was presumably too much of a strain for the audience:
Orwell, it turns out, is an “investigative blogger” (who three years ago would undoubtedly have been crowing about her Second Life account) who’s also fighting against crime. Your every waking moment is spent either committing, or fighting against, crime in this series; even the circus doubles as a front for a bank-robbing gang, because what could possibly be a better cover for that?
Obviously you’re going to ask your audience to suspend a lot of belief in any superhero series, but The Cape is asking a lot from the very start. Though I am looking forward to seeing Lyons explain to an interviewer, “I wear a cape as The Cape on The Cape.”
Worth a look? Sure, why not? But don’t be surprised when The Cape joins Manimal, M.A.N.T.I.S., Captain Nice, and untold others on the superhero scrap heap.