You heard right, Powers is dogshit–but it may yet redeem itself. The pilot is hard to watch even for folks like me who aren’t big fans of the comic series*, and while its quality does pick up in subsequent episodes (we’re up to #3 now), it still stinks of wasted talent.
But god help me, I’ll watch through the whole dang series. I know I will.
Here’s the 101: Christian Walker is a Powers Division cop in a world in which superheroes and villains (“powers”) are slightly more prevalent than they are in Marvel/DC comics. The series breaks with the comic narrative by quickly and repeatedly informing the audience that Walker was an A-list superhero once–in print, writer Brian Michael Bendis slowly built to a sizable reveal. Old friends and enemies pop up once Walker starts investigating the death of a hero with DARK SECRETS. It’s half police procedural, half noir-y paranoia.
The pilot was plainly written by well-meaning folks who understood their audience to be thoughtless jerks. Every little thing is telegraphed, overexplained, and lingered upon to the point of suffocation. The writing improves in later episodes, but the unfortunate attitude toward the audience remains. Many shows have this problem (I’m talking to you, Heroes), but it shines especially brightly here. Fans of the comic series are pretty uniformly outraged over liberties taken with plot and character, but adaptations are usually hard for us nerds to take. (Cf. Fantastic Four, Ghostbusters, and pretty much everything else, really.)
It’s not all bad–far from it. The actors are mostly terrific and well-cast. Noah Taylor (Game of Thrones) in particular turns in a lovely performance as Johnny Royalle, a complex villain whose big, nebulous plans include opening a nightclub for powers. Sharlto Copley (District 9) plays the lead with an unfortunate stiffness that doesn’t cater to his strengths as an actor; I’m hopeful that he’ll get to stretch a bit later in the season. Relative newcomer Susan Heyward plays Walker’s n00b partner and is a great foil. Add Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica) as top hero Retro Girl and Eddie Fucking Izzard as an insane, godlike power held chained and naked in a super-dungeon and you’ve got a cast that’s super-fun to watch.
The effects and visual design are also good fun. There’s a weird Miami Vice vibe to the set design that works better than it should, and the costumes and makeup on the powers–especially the trashy club kids–are delightful. The special effects are nice to look at, but not overwhelming or distracting. It definitely feels like a comic book world.
And while the writing hasn’t found its mark yet, the mysteries underlying the plotting and certain character motivations are engaging enough to keep me involved. If they can avoid bullshit lines like “Your real name is Walker. Like as in one who walks ’cause he can’t fly anymore” and focus on the big picture, Powers could turn into an innocent pleasure.
* Yeah, I know, I’m a philistine AND a terrible person. I’m likely to give the comics another chance because I feel sorry for them now.