It’s getting difficult to define what, exactly, constitutes an “idiot box” these days. Once upon a time, people watched network television shows exclusively. That gave way to cable TV and then pay-per-view. Now we get our television shows on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and a whole bunch of places that aren’t even attached to televisions. Xbox has even started producing movies and series to supplement the system’s game library. Eager to follow suit, Sony PlayStation premiered its first TV series earlier this month, an adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s comic book Powers. It seems the old axiom “It’s the message, not the medium” is finally coming true.
“Powers” is PlayStation Network’s first scripted original series. Own a PlayStation and subscribe to the PlayStation Plus service and you can watch online streaming episodes. Or you can check out the pilot right now on YouTube. Like crack, your first taste is free.
“Powers” follows the story of Christian Walker, a former superhero who lost his powers and now works for a special LAPD unit designed to deal with superhero-based crime. It’s interesting, for a change, to view a world filled with superpowers from the sidelines. The concept also makes it a bit cheaper to produce, since the people with the expensive, effects-filled abilities only drop by occasionally.
So far the first season of “Powers” tracks Walker’s attempts to hunt down the source of a mysterious drug that took the life of an old friend. In this world superheroes are the celebrities. Naturally, they have groupies, a gaggle of young, wannabe superheroes known as “Powers Kids.” Walker and his sarcastic new partner, Deena Pilgrim, trace the drug from a wide-eyed young superhero groupie back to a dangerous villain from Walker’s past.
Visually speaking, the show doesn’t have a particularly strong style. It looks like normal old LA with a few people wearing cheap spandex costumes. Clearly, a restrictive budget is keeping the show from adopting the noir-like dynamic of FOX’ “Gotham” or the costume-heavy free-for-all that is The CW’s comic book shows (“Arrow,” “The Flash”). To be fair, even in comic book form, “Powers” was a bit more realistic than your average superhero series. This at least translates in the show’s mood, which is glum, cynical and filled with issues of loss and regret.
The show’s dialogue is generally rough, relying on cheap one-liners and too-blunt metaphors. (One character actually explains the obvious significance of naming a now-flightless superhero “Walker.”) The drama works occasionally, though, thanks to some savvy casting. Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team) is our main character, and he plays Walker’s loss of godlike powers with a mix of depression, anger and fear. It’s also exciting to see British comedian Eddie Izzard in an unhinged performance as a maniacal, incarcerated supervillain named Wolfe. Izzard doesn’t come into the show full-force until later episodes, but his terrifying villain (a guy so dangerous he has to be lobotomized on a daily basis) leaves a lasting impression.
Watching the potential-filled “Powers” pilot may not be enough to get you to rush out and buy a PlayStation. But it’s a convincing argument that non-mainstream outlets are ready, willing and able to give the creaky old television networks a run for their entertainment dollar.