The Cape is not a good television series. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst new series of this current season. The acting is poor, the dialogue is shockingly worse and well, if you’ve seen the promos you know how bad the effects are (in case you haven’t: they’re terrible).
These first two episodes burned through every single origin story trope with a straight face and didn’t even bother to attempt mixing it up a bit. This is a straightforward superhero television serial, stripped of any sort of postmodernity or meta winking. We’ve grown to expect villains to sometimes talk in goofy chess metaphors, but The Cape presents us with a villain named Chess and he only speaks in chess metaphors. This is the kind of series The Cape is.
Super-serious and earnest superheroes don’t really work unless they’re done unbelievably well (see: The Dark Knight). They especially aren’t fitted for television, or at least haven’t been so thus far. Even Heroes’, a series that shied away from certain superhero tropes like the costume, got bogged down by its own seriousness and heavy plotting. Smallville’s been just goofy enough to stay around.
Just writing those 190 words makes me recognize that The Cape is not a series I should enjoy. And for most of this two-hour debut, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed myself. However, there were moments of decency that made me wonder if The Cape had something slightly interesting to offer us. Of course then David Lyons would try to emote or James Frain would have to deliver a terrible paragraph of dialogue and I would realize that I was watching an awful program.
But still, just as there is something inherently terrible about The Cape – a lot of things, actually – there is something inherently appealing to it. There are elements in place that are interesting in their individual rights. The zany group of bank robbing circus performers, led by Keith David and Martin Klebba, are pretty great. Most of them are playing goofball stereotypes, but in the opening two episodes, it works. The episodes pick up when they are around and generally make me realize that I would rather watch a full-fledged series about bank robbing circus performers.
I’m also kind of surprised at intriguing qualities of the overarching plot. I don’t suspect that the series is really interested in diving into a high-quality or even middling political discussion, but having the major baddie organize the first fully operational privatized police force with eyes on a private prison system is actually kind of interesting. Of course, the first two episodes blow through both those plots with blind aggression so who knows that it will be explored ever again. But still, it is a compelling backdrop, even if it will surely be mishandled on a weekly basis. I have to give the production team some credit because I expected an overly generalized plot about bad guys and good guys and there is actually some middling ground addressed here.
Finally, I kind of like the goofy intertitles that introduce each new segment, as if it were the title to a new issue of the comic. It’s completely obvious and kind of stupid, but it’s charming.
And yet those are just a few elements that I only kind of like. The rest of The Cape is weak at best and downright horrible at worst. The writing and plotting is unfortunately the biggest problem, especially in the second episode “Tarot” when Tom Wheeler is forced to do something outside of copying every basic origin story ever. Vince’s training moves at a stupidly fast rate, but it also feels like his decision to fake his death just happened a few days before. I understand that he’s a good cop with great training and the series doesn’t want to spend five episodes with him falling off buildings when trying to jump or something, but the wheels start spinning 40 minutes into the pilot and by the end of the second episode, he’s doing good work, pairing up with Orwell and only slightly struggling.
As for the dialogue? Well, it’s some of the worst I can recall in my somewhat foggy memory. All the characters spout hackneyed words that you expect from a weak run of a mediocre comic book from back in the day when they were only thought to be for 8 year old boys. Vince rambles on about one man making a difference, we’ve already discussed Chess’ glorious wordplay and Summer Glau’s Orwell loves talking about dirty cops and corruption and blah blah blah I can barely remember any more of it because Glau doesn’t really fit in the role. That is until she wears short skirts, long boots and kicks someone in the head. That’s the Summer we all know and love!
Overall, The Cape is not good. It’s like a live action superhero animated series, except for we all know that the superhero cartoons are awesome these days and this is just drivel. I guess The Cape is what non-watchers or random people assume superhero cartoons are like: stupid, loud, clichéd and generally immature. I’m still not sure if The Cape team is in on the joke and they recognize they’re making one of the unintentionally goofy and hilarious television series of the season or they actually believe villains with unbelievably obvious names like Scales are what the superhero genre needs. Unfortunately, I think it’s the latter, but I am going to go ahead and pretend it’s the former. At least for a few more episodes.