Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Scraps of entertainment

Now that I no longer have the He-Man well to go to on Wednesdays I find it more of a challenge to come up with something worthily geeky to ramble on about at this point in the week. I haven’t been delving too deeply into the pop culture freakyzones of late, which is probably as much a symptom of time and circumstances as much as anything. And by that I mean, on the one hand, it’s mid-July and the tv shows are (largely) all in re-runs and the Captain America movie doesn’t come out for another week and a half, so there’s your factor of time; but on the other hand lack of time, as always, is an even more prominent factor. I haven’t been collecting new comics because I lack opportunities to get in the same places where they are sold. I’m no longer hosting weekly gaming nights at my house because weeknights tend to be given over to keeping two small children relatively intact. I won’t be going to see the new Harry Potter straightaway this weekend because I still haven’t managed to watch the previous two film installments. And so on. As always, it’s not that I mind in the slightest having two children or wish things were different or anything like that. But the regular bloggery tells the tale: Thursdays come easy, and Wednesday either requires a childhood-plundering gimmick or leaves me scratching my head.

It's going to be HUGE.
I suppose I did encounter an exception to this last night, as the little guy was adequately agreeable about going to bed on time and his little sister passed out on my chest not long thereafter. So daughter and I were couchbound, waiting (as we would be for a while) for my wife to come home from work, and I channel-surfed for a bit and found the pilot episode of Alphas just as it was about to begin.

I should mention that I did not find the premier airing of this pilot, or even watch it on its home network. Alphas is a new original series on Syfy and is regularly going to be televised at 10 p.m. on Mondays, apparently, which is highly inconvenient for me. 10 p.m. is right about the time when, whether she worked that day or not, my wife is more or less guaranteed to be home and we split up the tasks of walking the dogs and prepping the little girl for bed and prepping ourselves for bed and so on, so appointment television in that slot only works if it’s an appointment I can regularly be about 20 or 30 minutes late for (and then maybe pass out early on, once everyone is tucked in and the lights are off). And while there are shows where such flexibility requirements aren’t a huge issue (most Monday Night Footballs, for example), Alphas is an urban fantasy character drama with government conspiracy subplots and so forth. This would be yet another argument in favor of getting some kind of dang DVR upgrade to our cable package already, I know. Maybe the next time I get a raise.

Anyway, for some reason not entirely clear to me, the pilot of Alphas which ran at 10 on Syfy on Monday was being shown at 9 on Tuesday on my cable package’s Universal HD channel, and I wasn’t about to argue. It’s one of those wheelhouse shows (for me) which is kind of comicbooky but not really. No costumes, no codenames, but strange powers for the protagonists and antagonists, who are very much aligned in classic good-vs-evil formations. I had been hearing about it as its debut approached and I was curious enough to waste an hour and a half on the first episode.

I think they chose a reasonably good approach, in the way that they are presenting the titular Alphas as human beings who have extraordinary abilities which require minimal amounts of suspension of disbelief in order to get over. There aren’t any people who shoot bolts of flame from their eyes or can fly or anything like that, and certainly no aliens or gods or vampire werewolf zombies. The in-story pseudoscience posits that some people in the world can do normalish things turned up to 11. One guy’s adrenal system can give him temporary superstrength, but certainly doesn’t make him invulnerable. Another guy has uncanny aim and agility, but only reflexively, not when he’s trying and screwing it up with his own thinking process. A girl has heightened sensory perception but must concentrate to use it, which means when she’s sniffing a crime-scene like a bloodhound she can barely hear or see anything because she has brain-blinders on. On the one hand, as I said, this seems like sci-fi designed for mass appeal because it borders on plausible. And on the other hand, it’s a good fit for basic cable because they can save a ton on special effects. They do make use of some nifty CGI when powers get introduced early on, including House, MD-style shots inside of blood vessels to show the team tank getting pumped up, or (even more hilariously awesomely in my mind) the psychedelic stink lines emanating from things when the human bloodhound is at work. But then after that, they just spray some beads of water on the tank’s forehead and the implication is clear that he’s sweating as he exerts his power, or they show the sensor-girl with her eyes half closed and wearing a look of concentration, and obviously she’s in the zone. Pretty slick, that.

All in all Alphas was a fair timekiller, which seems to be my default line of demarcation between good and bad entertainment these days. But like I said, I have no idea if I’ll catch any more of the episodes this summer, though it does seem unlikely unless Syfy does catch-up marathons on weekends. Cable channels still do that sometimes, right? Even though everyone else on the (first-world) planet has a DVR? I guess I'll have to find out.

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