Superhero properties are tough. There isn't a guaranteed formula. A cartoony approach can be fun (Scott Pilgrim) or cheesy (Batman & Robin). So too can a serious approach (The Dark Knight versus Daredevil). Even more difficult is creating a superhero project for television, with budgets and schedules a fraction of what the features get. CW's Smallville has enjoyed a long run due to fanboy loyalty (not because it is a particularly good show), while NBC's Heroes started with a bang, but fizzled out when the storyline got too convoluted. This weekend, NBC gives the genre another try with The Cape.
The Cape in question is Vince Faraday (David Lyons), a good cop in a corrupt force in Palm City framed for murders committed by masked villain Chess (True Blood's James Frain). During a police pursuit in which he is the target, Faraday slips into the sewers just before the tanker truck he is hiding under explodes, and remains "dead" to keep his wife and child safe while he tries to clear his name.
Underground, Faraday hooks up with a bizarre circus of bank robbers who call themselves the Carnival of Crime. He strikes up a deal with Max, the ringleader: Faraday will help the Carnival of Crime steal from a private security firm owned by Peter Fleming (Chess's alter-ego). In return, Max will help Faraday clear his name and get his family back. As you can probably imagine, this will be accomplished by donning a mask and magical cape, and fighting crime vigilante-style.
The eponymous cape is the work of an old-timey magician with special fibers and a unique weaving process, allowing the wearer to make the edges stiff or turn it near-liquid with a flick of the wrist. Faraday can alternately use the cape to glide across rooftops, disappear in a puff of smoke, change size, or extend and grab like an elephant's trunk. It treads a fine line between hokey and cool, but for the most part the gimmick works; the cape becomes a character, an entity in its own right, without becoming ridiculous.
Circuses are inherently creepy; give one an underground lair and Burtonesque costumes, and it should be a wonderful nightmare. The Carnival of Crime is saddled with that unfortunate title and in the first two episodes they get very little screen time and virtually no storyline. Hopefully it will play a larger role as the season progresses (if the season progresses). Instead, screen time is given over to Orwell, a blogger determined to expose the city-wide corruption. Played by genre fave Summer Glau, I suppose she is better eye candy than subterranean circus freaks.
Overall the cast is good; it just feels like they don't have much to work with. In addition to Lyons, Frain and Glau (Firefly), the cast features Vinnie Jones (The Midnight Meat Train, Smokin' Aces) as Chess's head thug, and the Carnival of Crime is made up of Keith David (Chain Letter), Martin Klebba (the Pirates of the Caribbean and Feast films), and Izabella Miko (The Forsaken).
I had high hopes for The Cape. The promos made the show look dark, and the premise has plenty of room for weirdness. It has the makings of a great show but unfortunately, the first two episodes I watched were disappointing. The pilot episode desperately feels like it was cut down from two hours to one. Faraday is established as a good cop in a corrupt system, discovers his best friend is on the take, vetted for a private security job, framed for murder, and fakes his own death - all in the first act. We are thrown into the action before characters can really be established. The second episode had a better pacing, but it felt like a story that would fit better later in the season.
I won't lie; I am disappointed. The Cape had the potential to be Batman Begins, but right now it's more like Elektra. I want to give episode three a chance, but it might require a superheroic effort to muster the interest.