“The Cape” is not the superhero show anyone deserves, nor is it the superhero show anyone needs right now — or ever. NBC has proven once again that it simply can’t handle the supernatural or the surreal. “The Cape” falls into place after “Journeyman,” all the seasons of “Heroes” after the first, “Persons Unknown” and “The Event” as the network’s newest terrible series shamelessly pandering to a Comic-Con fanbase.
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The show’s Palm City is teeming with hero tropes: villains who talk too much, secret societies of assassins, handy sidekicks with impossible technology and a band of misfits with hearts of gold. Thrown into the mix is Vince Faraday (Daniel Lyons, “ER”), a cop framed as being a supervillian called Chess. After everyone in Palm City conveniently comes to think Faraday/Chess was killed, the cop takes on the hero persona of The Cape — his son’s favorite comic book hero — in an attempt to exact vengeance on the real Chess (James Frain, “The Tudors”) and his corrupt corporation, which threaten to turn Palm City into a police state. There to help is a literal carnival of bank robbers led by escapist Max Malini (Keith David, “ER”), and a corruption-exposing, sexy young blogger who simply goes by Orwell (Summer Glau, “Firefly”).
With all the crazy shit that goes down in this awkward dystopian setting, it’s hard to say which is more absurd: the implausible events or characters’ readiness to accept it all as normal. Faraday finds nothing strange in getting knocked out by a trainyard explosion and waking up in a distant circus tent. He doesn’t think the idea of a bank-robbing carnival is weird either. Masked supervillains are simply accepted truths, but a masked superhero is decidedly notable. And no one thinks to ask how a random girl living alone could amass all this impossible technology nobody else has. There’s nothing wrong with presenting an alternate reality for a superhero story, but it has to be consistent, believable and well explained.
Throw on top of that the complete lack of pacing. While comic books are the obvious inspiration for “The Cape,” that doesn’t mean the story has to unfold like a panel-by-panel barrage. It’s just big event after big event with no room to breathe, as though the story were written by an overeager, comic book-reading child whose concept of narrative structure is throwing together as many explosions, fights and one-dimensional caricatures as possible with no transitions beyond “and then.”
Further supporting the a-child-wrote-this theory is the complete lack of subtext in the dialogue. Every line is either just a statement of what’s happening or a gimmicky, dumb joke meant to establish character. But the dialogue never reveals the characters’ inner feelings because it would seem they have no inner feelings. Everything is just out on the surface, plainly stated. And because there’s never any mystery about why these characters change their identities, forge their alliances or risk their lives, there’s nothing entertaining about watching them do it all.
Whichever comic books the creators of “The Cape” looked to for inspiration did them a great disservice. These days, comics have subtext, mystery and intrigue. They bring readers into a potentially dark world with complex problems and no simple right answers. “The Cape” has no subtext or mystery — it’s a world more goofy than it is dark — and a boring, simplistic view of morality. Not only is it a horrible TV show, but it would make for a horrible comic book too.