Powers (2015, TV)
Developed by: Brian Michael Bendis & Charlie Huston
As the first original scripted show for the ‘PlayStation Network’ this show presents an original take on a genre that’s in abundance at the moment but also in high demand, from a renowned comics writer. So you might think this was a sure-fire success… Sadly, maybe not.
Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley, ‘District 9’ and ‘The A-Team’) was once a superhero with strength and flight, but losing his powers to super-villain Wolfe (Eddie Izzard) has left him grounded and now a detective with the ‘Powers’ division of the LAPD who police the many superpowered who live in the city. Partnered with inexperienced Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) they investigate the new threat of a designer drug killing many in the community, discovering unexpected links to old foes.
Beset by issues early on when originally developed for FX, the network behind such international hits as ‘Damages’ (a personal favourite of mine), ‘The Shield’, and ‘American Horror Story’, they had the potential to stir up a buzz around this show and make it a big hit, however that’s really not happened. Becoming a tent pole for the ‘PlayStation Network’ instead has led to it being really only available to PlayStation console owners, though estimated around 100m (based on numbers of sold PS3s and PS4s) this marks a huge reduction and instant mass elimination of the potential audience. As such it hasn’t had much buzz around it at all, it’s completely out of the general Zeitgeist and even in superhero circles the reaction has been minimal.
That’s not to say that an online distribution model for this type of show can’t work well, Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ last month proved that beyond any shadow of a doubt. With a similar mature comics audience, ‘Daredevil’ was well publicised internationally and the buzz was undeniable. When the show turned out to be really well produced and a brilliant example of the genre it quickly solidified a place high on lists, including a strong 9.1 (at time of writing) on IMDb. Evidence that the audiences ended up being dramatically different in size also comes from IMDb, in that at this moment, there are only 1,720 users that have rated ‘Powers’ in stark contrast to the 64,085 who have shared their opinion on ‘Daredevil’. Though many people, myself and at least two friends included, signed up to Netflix so they could watch ‘Daredevil’, it’s hard to imagine even the most ardent fans of this genre going out to buy a costly PlayStation for the sake of being able to watch this, even if they really enjoyed the pilot episode that was made available online. This example therefore not only shows that a series like this has a large and clear potential audience, but also on the flipside proves that this could have done an awful lot better.
Tonally, the show seems to try for ‘gritty’ but falls short of that target on most occasions. The strong language that seems intended to make it mature becomes gratuitous, noticeably so when you consider how surprisingly little swearing there was in the whole season of ‘Daredevil’, I think there are episodes here that had more than that whole 13-episode run. The premise is brilliant, and the potential is clear, but only a few episodes and scenes really deliver, with multiple aspects undermining the dramatic effect, including sometimes the displays of superpowers that should be integral to the story but at times are done in such a way that they felt superfluous.
Even the advertising has a look that belies the pedigree of the cast and crew, just see the poster below, how straight-to-DVD it looks! In the fore is an actor who has been in some big (though not always critically praised) movies, but the devilish look of the poster (one of very few to be released) is somewhat at odds with the finished product. I feel like it wouldn’t attract many to try the show if they didn’t already know more about it from other sources.
I like Sharlto Copley, and there are moments in which I felt he was well-suited for the role as he looked the part as an ex-superhero and begrudging cop. What never worked for me was the chemistry between him and his partner Pilgrim, sadly they lacked the spark or frisson that usually indicates lasting success for a police procedural show, though there are brief moments that are clear attempts and forging a relationship and banter between them.
Villain-wise there’s one stroke of genius in the casting, that of Eddie Izzard as Wolfe, an incredibly powerful incarcerated villain who started out as a philosopher. With Izzard’s elocution and speech he fits the role very well. What ruins this otherwise excellent part is the way in which his killing is depicted, as his name indicates he ‘devours’ people in an animalistic way, but for some reason there are literally fountains of blood shown spraying out. I understand the aim is to make his killing seem visceral and violent, but it’s so removed from reality that it completely undermines the impact of the scenes making them almost laughable.
The A-list casting is counteracted with some B-grade effects, not just the over-abundant blood, but many scenes in which superpowers are displayed, with flyers looking ill at ease in the air, and other powers indicated with visual effects that resemble the PS2 boot-up screen cubes. Whether it’s deliberately meant to look like that as a misguided branding attempt I’m not sure, but the whole series is cram packed with Sony product placement, absolutely EVERYBODY has a Sony phone, Vaio laptop, tablet, TV, PS4 and other Sony devices. There’s not a single Apple, Microsoft or other manufacturer’s device to be seen, right from the richest to the poorest character they have all chosen Sony products exclusively. After a couple of episodes it becomes so over-saturated as to be laughable, or a potentially brilliant drinking game!
I personally think that despite the hugely promising premise, the ready audience, and a few strong leads in cast and crew, this show falls far short of its potential. Aesthetically it has moments that look fantastic, yet strangely these aren’t the fantastical moments of the show, they terribly reflect the ‘console’ output and dramatically cheapen the production. With a few small changes this could have been a worthy contender alongside ‘Daredevil’ and ‘The Flash’ for best superhero show of the year, and with one big change, that of distribution, at least people could have known about it. Hopefully the recently confirmed second season will raise the production values and overall quality of the show, possibly raising the profile at the same time, there’s such potential here and I hope it can better realise that.