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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DAMN Good Television -- POWERS: "Pilot"


Back in the dark days of 2011, fans of the Powers comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming were cautiously optimistic about a television series adaptation for FX starring Jason Patric, Lucy Punch and Charles S. Dutton.  However, the filmed pilot apparently didn't impress the suits at FX, with reshoots and recasting being discussed by the network.

Well, those plans must have quickly spiraled downward because not three years later, Sony announced that Powers would be the first original series on the PlayStation Network, streaming through consoles and episodes purchased on PlayStation.com.  The second attempt features Sharlto Copley as Christian Walker, Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim, Michelle Forbes as Retro Girl, Eddie Izzard as "Big Bad" Wolfe, Noah Taylor as Johnny Royale, Olesya Rulin as Calista and Logan Browning as Zora.

Sounds pretty decent, doesn't it?  And the premise of a cop procedural set in the world of superheroes has done well for the Fox series Gotham, which has already been renewed for a second season.  So, considering all of this, I really have to wonder why this series seems pretty much doomed to failure.

This first episode, written by Charlie Huston and directed by David Slade, tanks as an adaptation of the source material from the start, showing Walker, the former superhero known as Diamond until he was depowered, operating in bright, sunny Los Angeles instead of a dark, atmospheric city like Chicago or New York.  And with the seriously disappointing production values that make superhero fan films on YouTube look like HBO's Game of Thrones by comparison, this series looks and feels just like a typical USA network show that just happens to have some superpowered characters in it.

With a much thinner, less imposing body frame than his comics counterpart, Copley's Walker hides behind a pair of sunglasses and a beard while moping a number of times about his lost powers. We want to slowly discover what makes him tick, but instead get clumsy chunks of exposition thrown at us in the form of things like an Extra segment hosted by Mario Lopez.

As for Susan Heyward's Deena Pilgrim, she gets partnered with Walker about a third into the episode and fans of the comic series are in for another letdown.  Anyone looking for their favorite sassy and snarky spitfire is going to find a much more subdued, dialed back version that barely resembles the character.  Oh, there are moments when Walker and Pilgrim banter in a traditional manner, but they're far too few and fleeting.

Another significant divergence from the comic series is the initial mystery of the death of Olympia, an aging superhero, which is taken from the third story arc "Little Deaths."  It's not nearly as intriguing of a mystery as the initial "Who Killed Retro Girl?" arc, although the upside is we actually get to see Michelle Forbes as Retro Girl for a while until she presumably gets bumped off.

The second story arc, "Roleplay," is also teased somewhat with the various superhero wannabes and "powers kids" that hang out and party across L.A. just waiting to become famous.  One of the self-absorbed "powers kids" is Zora, who unfortunately becomes another misfire in this adaptation as her character is reduced from being a century-old badass superhero goddess to a vapid young adult wearing a Geordi LaForge visor and a horrible costume seemingly made out of shiny duct tape.

Sure, this is only the first episode of ten for the first season, but PlayStation's decision to make it free only works if viewers actually want to pay $1.99 for each following episode unless they already have a PlayStation Plus membership.  Something tells me that bootleg versions will be big for non-gamers, but honestly?  I recommend just reading the comics instead.

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