It has been twenty years since the live-action The Flash tv show’s unsuccessful run on CBS, and since then we have had a slew of prime-time Superhero TV Shows, including Lois & Clark, Smallville, Birds of Prey, and Heroes. One would think that the people responsible for The Cape would have learned from those shows mistakes, but instead, they give us something that resembles The Flash all too closely. The Cape is consciously completely over the top and returns to a Silver Age level of campiness, but has a whole lot of fun in the process.
The pilot opens with a brief introduction to Vince Farraday, honest cop and loving father and husband, and his nemesis, the elusive Chess. Chess starts things rolling by blowing up the Chief of Police of the fictional Palm City. Vince is blamed for the explosion and decides to leave the police force for greener pastures with Ark Industries, a security firm that is trying to privatize Palm City’s police force. Ark Industries is run by Peter Fleming, and it is obvious from the second he first appears on screen that Fleming is also Chess. Following a tip from the mysterious blogger Orwell, Vince discovers that Chess is smuggling in illegal explosives. Betrayed by his best friend Marty, Vince is captured and brought to Fleming, who frames Vince for Chess’ crimes. Vince is able to fake his death in the ensuing chase, but not before it gets out that Vince was Chess all along. Joining up with the “Carnival of Crime”, a troupe of bank-robbing carnies, Vince learns how to use a special black cape and other tricks of the circus trade to become his son’s favorite comic book hero, the Cape.
And right about there is when everything starts to fall apart. The pilot’s campiness reaches a crescendo during ringleader Max Malini’s introduction of the Carnival of Crime and never lets up. By the end it feels like a comic book that someone mistook for a TV show. Some stories only work in one medium.
The writers have gone a little too far out of their way to make Vince ‘good’ and Chess ‘evil’. Not only is Vince an honest cop, he seems to be the ONLY honest cop. Not only is Chess trying to take over Palm City, he’s also trying to basically run the cops and the criminals in every city in the country. These extremes are a little hard to buy into and make the world too black and white. The carnies’ crimes are justified because each one is a blow to Fleming and Ark Industries effectiveness. Every character on the side of “good” is made out to be infallibly so, while every character on the side of “evil” is beyond redemption.
My two biggest complaints about the show were the pacing and the character Orwell. This was not a 2-hour pilot; it was a pilot and the second episode. There is a reason why many shows have double-length pilots, and The Cape certainly would have benefitted from a true one. Vince’s training and transformation into the Cape is rushed, as though they needed to get the superhero in action as soon as possible. It seems like Vince is able to learn and master everything he needs to know to be the Cape in one day (including how to use the cape to fight, hypnosis, and disappearing in a puff of smoke), when the carnies obviously spent years learning these techniques. The writers also fail to fulfill the main rule of a training montage: everything the person learns must come back later, and he must be shown learning each skill that he uses. Instead, the hypnosis scenes stick out like a sore thumb and Vince somehow found the time to become an escapist during his off-screen lunch break.
All of this makes the Cape feel more like a center ring performance instead of a superhero. The pacing hurts many of the other characters as well; all of the carnies aside from Max are pretty one note, and don’t get much more attention in the second episode either. The girl-carnie seems to only be there to be a pretty face, while most of the rest are comedy relief.
Speaking of pretty faces, as much as I love Summer Glau, there’s a time and a place for her very specific acting style. She worked out great as a crazy psychic in Firefly
and as a Terminator in the Sarah Connor Chronicles
, but that’s about the end of her range. The character of Orwell probably wasn’t intended to come off as autistic as Glau played her, and that’s not even scratching the surface of what’s wrong with her character. None of her scenes follow any kind of logic. Her introduction is forced and rather unnecessary. While she seems to be pretty much exactly what Vince needs in a sidekick, he doesn’t really need one. He’s already got the carnies and other than just HAPPENING to be in exactly the right place to save Vince when he needs a getaway, she doesn’t do much at all. Also, I really liked the idea of the Cape being a low-tech illusionist going up against the high-tech Chess, and Orwell levels the playing field a little too much. The best trick in the whole show is using the sexy Glau to distract from the moments of pure deus ex machina.
Despite all of its issues, The Cape
was still fun in exactly the same way as The Flash
. Yes, it was campy and had some major character issues, but that didn’t stop it from being enjoyable. The carnies had some great moments, especially the quick bank robbery montage. I also thought that Vince’s family was handled quite well and the son sleeping on the roof, waiting for the Cape to appear was a nice touch. One of the things I’m most interested in seeing is the development of Vince’s two new identities. Vince is essentially copying an established persona with the Cape, but his “hobo identity” (for lack of a better term) was equally interesting. Not only must Vince hide his face when he is the Cape, he also has to hide when he’s NOT the Cape, forcing him to build a whole second identity. Hopefully the tension between these three identities will be dealt with more in future episodes.
I think the main lesson of both The Cape
and No Ordinary Family
is the same thing we all learned from the Heroes
debacle: when it comes to Superhero TV Shows, animation is the way to go. When you have a big budget movie that covers big name actors and spectacular special effects, you can go ahead and make a live-action superhero, but it just doesn’t play the same on the small screen.
What did you think of The Cape?
The Cape airs on Mondays at 9pm on NBC.