THE CAPE 1.01 ‘Pilot’ & 1.02 ‘Tarot’

NBC's new superhero lands with a resounding thud.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Titles: "Pilot" & "Tarot"

Writer: Tom Wheeler

Directors: Simon West ("Pilot") and Deran Sarafian ("Tarot")

Premise:

When an honest cop named Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is framed for murder and left for dead, he reinvents himself as his son’s favorite superhero, The Cape to take back his city and eventually clear his name.

Story:

While on duty to protect the new Police Chief of Palm City, Vince Faraday discovers that the masked killer known as Chess has arranged for the Chief’s security detail to be diverted in Faraday’s name before Chess assassinates the man with an unknown explosive chemical. After barely surviving himself, Vince accepts an offer from his old partner Marty Voyt (Dorian Missick) to become part of the privatized police force of the ARK Corporation. He soon meets his new boss, Peter Fleming (James Frain), who welcomes him to the his team. That night, Vince spends time with his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin) and his son Trip (Ryan Wynott), whom he reads the latest issue of "The Cape" before sending him off to sleep.

Life is good until the mysterious cyberblogger Orwell contacts Vince and tells him that his new bosses are shipping in illegal chemicals. At the shipyard, Vince confronts Marty with the evidence and is knocked out for his troubles. When he wakes up, Vince is face to face with Chess, who unmasks and reveals himself to be Peter Fleming. Chess staples his mask to Vince’s head and sends him on his way with the police in pursuit. Nearby helicopter cameramen catch Vince taking off the mask on TV (which his family sees live), shortly before he ducks into a tunnel beneath a fuel train which ignites… knocking him unconscious and leading the world to believe that he is dead.

At a press conference, Peter announces that ARK is taking over the entire police department of Palm City after successfully eliminating Chess. When Vince eventually wakes up, he finds himself a prisoner of Max Malini (Keith David) and his Circus… I mean Carnival of Crime (seriously?!). To save his life, Vince trades them access to ARK’s security codes, which allows the Carnival to go on a crime spree and steal ARK’s money. While despondent over the turn of events, Peter finds an old cloak that resembles a comic book costume and convinces Max and the carnival to teach him all of their tricks so he can become a hero for the city.

On his first trip out as The Cape, Vince is soundly beaten by Killer Croc… or Scales (Vinnie Jones) as he’s called in this series. Vince then practically stumbles upon Orwell (Summer Glau), who instantly trusts him enough to take him back to her lair, where they form a partnership of sorts. Meanwhile, one of the Carnival members alerts Vince that Max has been captured by ARK. Vince arrives and saves Max before he encounters Chess/Peter. Vince wins the fight, but Chess escapes into the sea. Later, Vince visits his son as The Cape and tells him that he knew his father and that he was a good cop. To inspire hope in his son, he disappears in a puff of smoke and embraces life as a costumed hero.

For the benefit of everyone’s sanity, the synopsis of the second episode will be brief: Vince breaks into Peter’s home to confront him and is roundly beaten and poisoned by a French killer named Cain (Raza Jaffrey). During his recovery, Max briefly bars Vince from being the Cape, so he reinvents himself as an almost "hobo Cape." Vince and Orwell eventually track Cain through his next target, a Prison board official who opposes ARK and the episode culminates in a fight in a fancy restaurant’s kitchen, wherein The Cape emerges victoriously.

Breakdown:

Let’s just get this out of the way… "The Cape" is a spectacularly bad show on every level. Perhaps even amazingly bad.

You want a quote, NBC? Here’s one: "’The Cape’ makes "Heroes" look like "Watchmen." The comic, not the movie.

Or this, "’The Cape’ is a bigger superhero parody than "The Mask," except without the appealing actors, the relatively well constructed story or the humor."

NBC has a lousy record with sci-fi and genre shows, as was most recently demonstrated with "Heroes;" which started off well and then suffered through three seasons that each became more and more derivative. The main issue is that "Heroes" was a comic book show written by people who had no idea why the story ideas they lifted from so many sources worked in the first place. "The Cape" has that same problem, only amplified. And it’s far from the first time that a major network has tried to adapt the comic book tropes into their own "original" creation.

But here’s the thing, almost none of the masked superheroes created outside of Marvel or DC in the last thirty years have found any success. And the few that have, (like "The Incredibles" in film and "Invincible" in comics) worked because they either told their stories better than the rest of the pack or they brought something new to the table. "The Cape" brings nothing new at all. You name it, it’s been in a comic: the Circus/Carnival of Crime, Orwell = Oracle, etc.

The other issue is that when a heightened reality is used in a story, there has to be some aspect of it that seems real or resonates with the audience or else no one’s going to accept it. The Christopher Nolan "Batman" films have mastered that trick. I’m not suggesting that "The Cape" has to be that dark, but not even the scenes with Vince and his family seemed genuine. And the idea of an evil private corporation taking over the police force was cutting edge… back in 1987. 

After such a great turn on "True Blood" last summer, James Frain is a particular disappointment as the villain Chess/Peter Fleming. A great villain is essential for any story like this, but Frain’s Chess doesn’t seem to have any noteworthy characteristics other than his weird contact lenses; which just make him look goofy instead of frightening. Also, what the hell was up with him being a masked villain before The Cape even came along? It’s like suggesting that the Joker, the Riddler and the rest of the Gotham City villains predated Batman, as opposed to the other way around. There is literally no logic to this world.

Of the cast, I feel bad for Keith David and Summer Glau, both of whom deserve far better than this schlock. The first meeting between Glau’s Orwell and The Cape is also hilariously nonsensical in that she instantly brings him back to her lair when they have no reason to trust each other at that point. And then in the second episode she basically dumps him at the carnival when he’s dying rather than let Max’s performers see her face clearly.

Also, have you ever seen a better way to undercut the lead character than by having a midget beat up the guy who took out the hero? That’s what happens to Scales here. And I have to mention that part of The Cape’s training montage was a sequence in which he was hypnotized into putting on women’s underwear and got his revenge by tricking one of his mentors into wearing a bra!

I don’t think "The Cape" has a shot at ever becoming a popular drama. But it might become a truly hilarious unintentional comedy like the original "Batman" TV series. I can laugh at this, but so far it’s nothing but a failure on a grand scale.

Crave Online Rating: 2 out of 10.