Dear Mr. Wheeler: About The Cape!

Thoughts on NBC’s The Cape

It takes a new Nerdy TV show to pull me out of hiding it seems, and tonight’s premiere of Tom Wheeler’s new NBC show “The Cape” has managed to do just that. So without further ado, I present my review.

First, the impression: The Cape has all the makings of a great superhero show, but like a new package of Legos, those pieces have been poured onto the floor in a big, incomprehensible mess. Let me explain.

Let’s start with a discussion of what was wrong (I prefer to end on a positive note, so bear with me,) which can be summed up in a word: Pacing. The show’s pace was all wrong, racing along at breakneck speeds as it tried to get Vince Faraday into his outfit quickly–too quickly. In the space of about twenty minutes we went from a basic character introduction to a man in an outfit, with only snippits in the way of explanation. Sure, we get the gist–Vince is a good cop, most of the rest are scumbags, and then bam-his partner, who’s barely introduced at all, becomes his betrayer.

Faraday’s introduction to the carnival was interesting but raced by too quickly, his “training” barely existing at all. The characters who make up the circus and its various abilities had too little screen time, with virtually no motivation to actually help Vince, much less teach him the secrets of their trade. The security card was nice, sure, but in reality it would have been deactivated before the frame job even happened, useless for a bank robbery, much less several, but we can chalk that up to “suspension of disbelief” and move along.

Next is Vince’s meeting with Orwell. What the hell happened here? First time we see her she’s snapping pictures of Vince, next moment he knocks her down and gets her in a headlock, and before we know what’s happened she’s driven him to her house. What.The.Hell? What should have been something that examined both characters was simply plowed through, like a teenager so desperate to get to the goodies in his prom date’s dress that he doesn’t bother to ask if she even wants to show him. And why, apparently out on a spying and picture taking “mission,” did she have a bunch of flyers clearly identifying herself as Orwell, yet she spends the rest of the episode telling Vince that she can’t let anyone know who she is? If you want to remain anonymous, it’s probably best not to carry clearly identifying paraphernalia while spying on those from whom you wish to remain a secret.

I felt that the editing of The Cape was a little baffling at times in both halves of the episode, a fact which I think is a little strange given that it seems all this footage was filmed at least 6 months ago (which is about when the trailer debuted, if I recall, though it may have been longer than that.) Beyond just the speed of the thing, many scenes and shots were just incredibly abrupt, immediately cutting away from what could have been more interesting moments. It wasn’t terrible, to be sure, but all the way through I felt like we were being rushed and hurried to some big destination–that we never did end up reaching.

There were some other very glaring oddities as well. For example, why, in the restaurant where the poisoning guy was trying to kill the secretary of prisons (is that even a real position?) was the killer the only one working in the kitchen? Here you had this giant kitchen in a fully loaded restaurant, yet nobody was cooking anything? There were no additional chefs? No waiters coming in and out? No food all over the place, no sign that anybody’d done anything at all? Seriously–somebody needs to talk to the set dresser. Another strange thing was with Vince finding that old “not the cape” cape and starting to dick around with it arbitrarily. OK…why? Sure, we saw him read the comic with his son, but that doesn’t explain why he’d have given that thing a second look, much less played with it so much. Last but not least, so Vince kick’s the poisoner’s ass and ties him up–in the kitchen of a restaurant apparently owned by Chess. OK, and? What’s to stop Chess from simply untying the thug and putting him back to work? Nothing, that’s what. Chess owns the police (and apparently a restaurant, but no security detail to check out the skirmish in the kitchen, that he does on his own, mysteriously.)

The big problem I see with The Cape is simply this: the focus appears to be on plot over character, which is simply backwards. If the audience doesn’t know the characters well enough to care about their well being and their situation, the plot doesn’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love plot, and rue the show that eschews it entirely in favor of character development (see Lost, which had 95% character development and 5% plot; it irritated me to no end, but I kept watching because they managed to make me care about some of the characters,) but you do need to have some. There are questions to be asked and relationships to be examined, and it’s precisely these that make any plot worth watching at all.

Moving on to what was good: I like The Cape‘s costume design, and his (admittedly tenuous) grounding in somewhat real world “stuff.” I like that he has no super powers, and that his connection to “regular” human stuff is his son and his wife. Right there we have the basic ingredients for some very poignant moments on The Cape, but there are layers that need to be built up first in order to make that happen. Simply knowing they’re his wife and son isn’t enough to get us caring–everyone has people they care about, the question is, “why should the audience care?”

The other elements I see as having promise are some of the outlandish villains, with the exception of Chess. A billionaire CEO on a power trip can be a great villain (witness Lex Luthor as portrayed by John Shea–a much better actor, I’ll add, than the one hired for Chess) without the need for an outlandish outfit or silly contact lenses. It’s fine for him to find those folks and hire them directly, there are plenty of character quirks you could exploit to make his desire to use them seem plausible, but there’s virtually no reason why he’d dress himself up, and certainly no reason why he’d wear those cheesy contact lenses while alone, in his home, without the rest of the outfit.

How I wish it would have unfolded is pretty simple: first, spend the first hour on character. Show us Vince Faraday being a good cop, doing the right thing. Show him taking down bad cops. Hell, maybe even show him working with Orwell via her cryptic computer messages and taking down some actual corrupt cops. Show Vince and his family at play, sharing good times. The comic book reading with Tripp was the best part of the episode–yet unfortunately one of the shortest. Don’t dress him up yet–before we can care about the Cape, we have to care about Vince Faraday. It can’t work any other way. Let hour one resolve in Vince being betrayed and presumed dead. End it in a scene of grief and despair.

For hour two let’s talk new connections and training. Meet the circus freaks, establish something meaningful. Vince and Max should have a father/son sort of relationship, with Max seeing in Vince some potential that stirs something in himself, ideas about heroism and doing great things. There’s a little of that hinted at in the second half now, but it’s too slim. Realistically the entire second half should have been devoted to his training in various ways and forging relationships with some of the circus characters, only to finally debut as the cape in the last 10 minutes, but still not coming face to face with Chess. The direct encounters between Chess and Vince were easily the worst parts of both episodes. These characters simply should not have met face to face, much less in battle, by this point in The Cape.

So, my advice in summary is simply this: slow down, slow down, slow down. The show is trying to cram far too much into far too little time, and the whole endeavor suffers as a result. Put character first, put plot a close second, and if you can get any of them, hire some of the writers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Pushing Daisies or the first season of Heroes (but not the later seasons, please.) Some names to consider include Jane Espenson, Brian Fuller, David Fury, Tim Minear, Stephen DeKnight, among a few others I can think of off the top of my head.

All in all The Cape has a worthy premise and all the ingredients to make for powerful superhero drama, but it’s not quite there yet. I’m holding out hope for things to improve, but only time will tell. Now back to work!

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