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Tim Goodman's TV Review: 'The Cape' Is a Bad Batman Knock-Off

the_cape_2010

The Bottom Line

Is it a "Batman" wannabe? Or is it just a mess of work-around missteps? Both, probably.

Airdate

9 p.m. Sunday, NBC

Switches to Mondays, Jan. 17, 9 p.m.

Starring

David Lyons, James Frain

"The Cape" is being touted, or at least spun, as some kind of superhero series about a wrongfully disgraced cop who uses what amounts to smoke, mirrors and a cape to fight crime in a fictional city. But it sure seems more like a taunt to the lawyers for Batman to come and get the creators.

If it’s not Batman -- though it sure gives off the Batman vibe without any of the interesting parts – then what exactly is The Cape? It’s another misstep by NBC, for starters. But more importantly it’s a series that looks like a whole bunch of cooks decided to build the most creatively awesome and different kitchen imaginable, forgetting for a moment that none of them can really cook.

What in the world were Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, two former network entertainment heads, thinking? Of course, Universal Media Studios is again part of something suspect and equally at fault here. What was the pitch session like? “We’re going to make a series that will have everyone thinking ‘Batman’ at the start, but it will eventually leave them feeling disappointed and huckstered. Do you love it already?”

Beyond that, here’s the real question and problem with The Cape. Why create what amounts to a comic book superhero and make the spectacularly ill-advised decision to make the main character normal -- to make his feats explained by magic and physics when nobody will ever, even for a second, believe that? You’re giving a man a special cape. But it’s not really that special. It’s basically some cloth that expands and contracts, if that’s physically possible, and snatches weapons out of the hands of villains or spanks them into walls (which isn’t possible). Um, why not make this fantasy instead of reality? That way, we believe the cape is special. No, check that. Do not give him a cape. A cape is stupid. It really is. It’s like a black beach towel tossed over a greasy hoodie sweatshirt. Give the hero something cool, like the power of flight, or the ability to disappear or some awesome ray-gun. If you’re going to rip off ideas, go for it.

But no. The Cape is akin to breaking into a bank and stealing the pens.

On the other hand, maybe people (and lawyers) won’t think it borrows liberally from Batman. Maybe they’ll think something more simple, such as, “God, this is stupid.” Or maybe they’ll think both.


Why create what amounts to a comic book superhero and make the spectacularly ill-advised decision to make the main character normal?

The Cape stars David Lyons as Vince Faraday, a cop with a wife and a son who lives in a cartoonishly unbelievable place called Palm City, which looks like a sunny Gotham. Faraday’s son reads a comic book called The Cape. People around him speak in comic book dialogue. The cops are corrupt (don’t worry about which ones are which -- just look for the goons). There’s someone called Orwell, who has enough high-tech equipment to make an Apple store look like Radio Shack. Orwell knows all the corruption. Orwell taps into the broadband in a super-easy fashion. Orwell knows that the billionaire Peter Fleming is a Bad Guy. His company, ARK, which doesn’t sound anything like a comic book company, wants to take over and privatize the Palm City police force. Fleming (James Frain) is, by night, a “twisted killer” named Chess. He wears a mask, but we don’t know why -- since this isn’t supposed to be a comic book story, it’s supposed to be real. But Fleming/Chess is also able to make his eyes go all stripey-funny when he turns bad. How he does that, who knows? If you try it at home, you’ll go cross-eyed, which is the same feeling you’ll get watching the two-hour pilot.

Anyway, back to our non-fantasy, non-superhero world of reality. Orwell turns out to be “an investigative blogger” played by Summer Glau. It doesn’t take much investigation to realize that Glau is here because she’s the geek-crowd’s poster babe and her legs are longer than the summer solstice, especially in a short skirt, the de rigueur outfit of all investigative bloggers. It’s also nice to know that such bloggers have super-expensive luxury cars and state-of-the-art screenless hologram type computers. Sounds like a cartoon fantasy from a sci-fi  series, but no, let’s remember that The Cape is real. It’s all possible.

Sigh. Let’s continue: Chess has people on the payroll who look like cartoon characters, including a thug named Scales (Vinnie Jones), who has a face like a snake. Hence -- scales. And also a French chef with really long, stringy hair that would totally make you not want to eat at his restaurant.

So how does a regular cop like Faraday turn into someone like a superhero but not a superhero? How does he plot revenge in the dark Palm City nights? By falling in with, according to NBC, “a circus gang of bank robbers.” Duh. Their leader, Max Malini (Keith David), is a magician (and bank robber) prone to good wine. He gives Faraday a special cape and trains him (really fast, by the way) to spin it around, snapping up knives and glasses and knocking large men into walls. He also gives him a bunch of exploding marbles or whatnot that produce smoke clouds, allowing him to get away. See, this series -- you’re following the anvil-like hints, right? -- is ground in reality; you can’t just give the cape superpowers or allow Faraday to fly or appear out of nowhere. There’s science here, people. (Although, truth be told, Faraday does appear on an awful lot of rooftops very quickly.)

Eventually Faraday gets more than a cape. He gets a mask. Why a mask in a series that’s not a comic book adaptation or sci-fi show? Well, because Chess has a mask, probably. Who knows?

Berman and Braun must know. They contorted themselves and this series into all kinds of difficult positions so that it wouldn’t be a cartoon and produced, in turn, something that looks like a cartoon but doesn’t allow its hero to be a superhero.

The problem has been illuminated to you now, like a beacon call to Batman, one would hope.

If you watch this series, you will soon hope that Faraday’s cape can somehow morph into Harry Potter’s cape and make the whole idea invisible to scrutiny while also hiding you from the shame of trying to believe in this nonsense.

Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com