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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
THE CAPE (NBC)
(written by Tom Wheeler; directed by Simon West; TRT: 45:02)
The network's description: ""The Cape" is a one-hour drama series starring David Lyons ("ER") as Vince Faraday, an honest cop on a corrupt police force, who finds himself framed for a series of murders and presumed dead. He is forced into hiding, leaving behind his wife, Dana (Jennifer Ferrin, "Life on Mars") and son, Trip (Ryan Wynott, "Flash Forward"). Fueled by a desire to reunite with his family and to battle the criminal forces that have overtaken Palm City, Faraday becomes "The Cape" his son's favorite comic book superhero -- and takes the law into his own hands.
Rounding out the cast are James Frain ("The Tudors") as billionaire Peter Fleming -- The Cape's nemesis -- who moonlights as the twisted killer: Chess; Keith David ("Death at a Funeral") as Max Malini, the ringleader of a circus gang of bank robbers who mentors Vince Faraday and trains him to be The Cape, Summer Glau ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles") as Orwell, an investigative blogger who wages war on crime and corruption in Palm City; and Dorian Missick ("Six Degrees") as Marty Voyt, a former police detective and friend to Faraday. "The Cape" is a Universal Media Studios and BermanBraun production from executive producer/creator Thomas Wheeler ("Empire"), executive producer/director Simon West ("Con Air"), the executive producing team of Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun (NBC's "Mercy), and executive producer Gene Stein ("Accidentally on Purpose")."
What did they leave out? The cut I saw had very, very temporary effects so I can't vouch for the execution of the actual cape.
The plot in a nutshell: Vince Faraday (David Lyons) seems to be the only honest cop left in Palm City, which finds itself terrorized by a masked villain known only as Chess. It's gotten so bad that the mayor plans to privatize the city's police force to the Ark Corporation, a Blackwater-esque company run by Peter Fleming (James Frain). After some prodding by best friend/ex-cop Marty Voyt (Dorian Missick), Vince decides to get a jump on the transition and go to work for Fleming, where he quickly uncovers the billionaire tycoon is in fact Chess himself, who's been plotting to take over the police all along.
Even worse, Fleming taps Vince as his fall guy and before the long the entire city - not to mention his wife Dana (Jennifer Ferrin) and son Trip (Ryan Wynott) - think he's Chess. On the run and presumed dead, Vince stumbles across the Carnival of Crime, a misfit pack of thieves run by Max Malini (Keith David). Sensing a common enemy, Vince begs Max to train him in the mystics arts and before long, The Cape - inspired by his son's favorite comic book - is born. Along the way we meet Orwell (Summer Glau), a mysterious blogger who also lends Vince a hand as well as Scales (Vinnie Jones), a weapons dealer with - you guessed it - what look like scales covering his skin. Ultimately, Vince has his work cut out for him in restoring his name. Until then, to protect his family, he must only be known as... The Cape.
What works: The bulk of the cast - particularly Frain and David - seem to be having fun here in a 1960s "Batman" meets "Dick Tracy" kind of way. Frain's Fleming practically twirls a figurative moustache in parts while David's Malini constantly finds way to bring levity to even the most dramatic moments. The problem is, at least as far as the pilot's concerned...
What doesn't: ..."The Cape" can't quite decide what it wants to be. Part campy action-adventure show, part white-knuckle thriller and part family drama, the show transitions between tones rather jarringly. For every quirky scene in which Vince tries to learn how to hypnotize people there's another in which Dana, Vince's wife, tearfully watches news reports about her husband. It's not that those two scenes can't exist in the same show, it's just they come across as not from the same show. Tossed in with our hero's relatively ramshackle origin story - all the above happens in the first half-hour - and you walk away from "The Cape" not totally sure what you're going to get from week to week.
Lyons is capable albeit vanilla as Vince/The Cape: he seems game for the show's sillier aspects but we never quite feel for him. Save for a few beats early on with his family, we're more or less left to fill in the emotional gaps ourselves. And speaking of gaps, the show makes more than a few leaps in the name of keeping the story moving. Vince improbably trusts his newfound crew, who make no secret of their less than clandestine take on what's going on. Likewise, Glau's Orwell seems to appear out of nowhere, serving no purpose other than to read intel and reinforce that Vince's cause is just.
It doesn't help that virtually all of the above occurs simply because it has to, rather than - as far as I can tell - an organically driven plot. Vince being the patsy for Chess is one thing but then having him just so happen to befriend not only a group of criminals who can help him but also a smoking hot blogger with the blueprint to take the real Chess down goes above and beyond pure happenstance. It all ultimately makes Vince feel like a pawn caught up in the tide of the story rather than a hero who's fighting back. All in all, there are definitely some fun elements...
The bottom line: ...I just wish there was some solid storytelling to go with it.