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TV Review: The Cape (2011)

I've been holding back on reviewing the new NBC drama, The Cape. I thought the pilot was so good that they might not maintain it, and the next few episodes wouldn't be as good. After four episodes, I'm still not sure The Cape will be a hit, but I do think it's a very good show. Certainly it is the best superhero TV show I've seen in years, and could be the best superhero show of all time.

In The Cape, a cop named Vince Faraday investigating a mysterious super-villain named Chess gets framed for being Chess himself. Faraday is left for dead, but survives and joins a circus of criminals. Along the way, Faraday gets a mysterious cape that is not only retractable and bullet-proof, but can also stretch and grab stuff like a whip. Faraday takes on the persona of his son's favorite comic-book superhero, the Cape, and dedicates himself to fighting crime, defeating Chess, and returning to his family who thinks he's dead.

If that sounds weird, trust me. It works a lot better in context.

(Side note: The funniest thing to me about NBC's new show The Cape is that the cape has become one of the most maligned and ridiculed pieces of the prototypical superhero costume. The argument is that it's useless at best, dangerous at worst. Alan Moore parodied the cape in his graphic novelWatchmen by having a superhero (Dollar Bill) get killed when his cape gets tangled in a revolving door. Later, The Tick had a character coincidentally called the Cape who was played for laughs with an armor-plated cape that gave him lower back problems. The Incredibles devotes a few minutes to a montage about superheroes getting injured (possibly killed) because of their capes. Now we have a hero whose very power is his cape. Bold move.)

The thing that struck me most about The Cape is that it is unapologetic about its portrayal of the traditional comic book superhero. Most recent superhero properties have been trying to court the mainstream viewer. They either try to distance themselves from their comic book source (like X-Men with its "not-too-distant future" intro and no-spandex rules) or try to make fun of itself (as in The Fantastic Four's slapstick approach). The Cape does not. The main character wears a costume, has a secret hideout, and hangs out with a carnival troupe called the Circus of Crime. The super-villain Chess has an obsession with chessboards and has eyes that turn yellow when he's being bad. There's even a gangster named Scales who has scaly skin like a lizard. It's not afraid to go over the top and risk looking silly. And for the most part, it works.

The best part about the show is the emotional subplots woven between the action. At its heart, the show is about a father who was once his son's hero, and has become his son's literal superhero so he can continue to guide and influence his life. But the drama comes from the loss of his old life. Will his wife stay faithful to Faraday, even though she thinks he's dead and her new co-worker is courting her? Will his son hold onto the belief that his father is innocent? Will Faraday clear his name so he can return to his normal life?

I also am not too crazy about the directions the show has gone. The third episode was devoted to him finding out that his cape is actually a deadly weapon that's been passed down for decades among an elite group of assassins. While I appreciate and admire their portrayal of the cape as having a dark history, adding an irony to the fact that he's now using the cape to dispense justice and save lives, it came off a little silly. I can't imagine a group of assassins choosing to make their weapon of choice a cape. A regular rope or piano wire would probably do the job just as well.

In that sense, The Cape's strength might be its weakness. I'm not sure if the average TV viewer will appreciate the show if they don't have a real love of superheroes and comic books. Then again, maybe we don't need the average TV viewer. Maybe we can make the show a hit all on our own, and let the rest of them follow us. Watch The Cape, geeks. This is your show.

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