PILOT LITE: Powers (2015 television pilot)

Posted: March 23, 2015 in Image, Marvel, Powers

Powers has a premise that’s almost better than any story that could possibly be spun out of it. Set in a world filled with super-powered beings, it follows two normal detectives who are tasked with solving cases involving superheroes and villains (known as “powers” on the street). From that ingenious and deceptively simple premise has sprung a creator-owned behemoth that has been in near-constant publication since 2000. As such, it has been a popular candidate to transition into other media.

Much like my last write-up, this is a property that has played the “adaptation game” for quite a while. In fact, the period of time from when it was first optioned to its premiere a couple of weeks ago spans nearly 15 years. Entire franchises have risen, fallen and risen again in that time-frame. Back in 2011, a Powers TV series looked the closest it’d ever been to being a reality. FX had filmed a pilot with Jason Patric and Lucy Punch playing the leads. After it was finished, the studio didn’t feel confident that the finished pilot would be strong enough to sell a series. So they sat on it and debated re-shooting or re-editing it before their option ultimately expired. Then, about a year ago, Sony announced that they now held the rights to the franchise and would be the first series for their newly announced Playstation Television Network.

And so, a new pilot was commissioned. Sharlto Copley (of District 9 and other dystopian sci-fi movie fame) took over the lead role of Christian Walker, a veteran powers division cop who has a past that’s closely linked with these super beings. The role of Walker’s rookie partner, Deena Pilgrim, was taken over by Susan Heyward. The rest of the cast is a fairly impressive collection of respected and genre actors including Noah Taylor, Michelle Forbes and Eddie Izzard.

The pilot opens with Walker’s partner being killed by a power that they are taking into custody. From there, he’s assigned a rookie sidekick and his backstory is given in a shot-gun manner by Mario Lopez. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on this, because really, the pilot was pretty good. But there is an exposition dump about three minutes into the episode that is probably the worst example of this that I’ve ever seen. Mario, seen here hosting an episode of Extra as he is wont to do, gives a needlessly precise rundown of all of the major players and how their backstories are connected like some sort of overly specific Greek chorus. It’s annoying because he’s not supposed to be talking to us, the audience. He’s supposed to be doing what he literally does for a living. But it feels so forced and cliched that it nearly ruins the flow that the episode has established. It also raises the question of why Walker is even watching it. What’s the point of him watching a stranger talk about the life that he lived? Wouldn’t he just turn it off, frustrated and angry?

I know he frustrates and angers me.

The rest of the episode remains fairly heavy on exposition, but not nearly to the degree of that opening scene. I feel we learn a little too much right out of the gate (especially once Eddie Izzard’s Wolfe is introduced) but I can understand why they erred on the side of giving too much info rather than too little. That said, viewers should know that some of the information given in this, the first episode, wasn’t parcelled out until the 30th-ish issue of the comic series (a good four years into its run). But I’d rather the information be up front if the writing staff don’t feel that they can do justice to the slow-burn style of the comic. Lesser of two evils, I suppose.

See? No spoilers!

Another huge change between this series and the source material comes in the character of Retro Girl. In the comic, Retro Girl is only notable because of one thing: she dies. This isn’t a spoiler or anything, her death is the first that Walker and Pilgrim investigate together. She’s the body in Law and Order that drives the rest of the episode. Hell, the first volume is called Who Killed Retro Girl? yet, in the pilot she shows up in the last few seconds alive and well. A quick look at IMDb shows that she’s slated to play a role in the entire first season. Within the show, she is much more connected to Walker than in the comic and it remains to be seen as to how much she’ll actually impact the plot. She has only one line in the pilot, after all. But it’s odd to see a character who is primarily seen as a dead body seemingly feature prominently in an adaptation.


Walker’s partner, Deena Pilgrim is used as a POV character in the comic. The show shifts most of the focus onto Walker, but Pilgrim still gets plenty to do. She’s a bit more “by the numbers” than Walker which is a cop-drama subplot as old as time. Pilgrim’s been somewhat changed for the adaptation. She’s essentially been name-swapped with Enki Sunrise, another partner of Walker’s within the comic. I think this makes sense. Comic book adaptations tend to have a lack of people of color in lead roles, so seeing a black female as a strong protagonist in this series is a refreshing change of pace.

This is the most evil he’s ever
looked. And he played Hitler.

The last character I’ll discuss is Johnny Royalle, played by Noah Taylor. Royalle is an enigmatic teleporter with menace to spare. The narrative has yet to cast him directly as a villain. It seems pretty obvious that he’s doing some string-pulling but I’m curious to see how much of a player he’ll be. With Wolfe positioned as something of the “big bad” I’m curious if Royalle’s role will amount to anything more than just a threatening henchman.

Overall, the series has promise. The biggest problem with the pilot is it’s over-reliance on exposition. One of the few advantages of that, is that future episodes are completely unburdened by that need. They can just tell their story using the groundwork that the pilot laid. The series also has a very spartan sensibility. Meaning that the sets are fairly common looking and the city doesn’t have any fantastic or extraordinary embellishments. I think this works for the fairly straight-forward and contained story that the show is going for. It also adds some believability to the powers’ decidedly low-tech, DIY style costumes. When the world of the series looks “common”, it feels less jarring to see superheroes that look like they actually made their costumes with supplies from Joann Fabrics. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Playstation, so I can’t keep up with the series as it airs (the pilot was released for free on Youtube). I’m hoping a DVD release of the first season isn’t too far in the future, because I’d definitely like to see how it shapes up.

See ya.

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