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REVIEW: ‘Alphas’ Series Premiere

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Stars: David Strathairn, Malik Yoba, Warren Christie, Azita Ghazidada, Ryan Cartwright and Lauren Mennel

The Big Idea: What if “one in every million people are born to be extraordinary”? Syfy’s newest scripted series leaps confidently off that premise and delivers an entertaining, compelling series premiere.  An Alpha is an otherwise normal human being who, because of a quirk in brain chemistry, has one extraordinary gift, ranging from old favorites like super strength to a Singularity-style talent to visually intercept, decrypt and trace any electronic transmissions. In this first of twelve episodes, we learn of a loosely affiliated group of five Alphas, who, under the protection and leadership of Strathairn’s Dr. Lee Rosen (envision Mr. Rogers with an M.D./Ph.D in neurophysiology), use their abilities to find and stop other Alphas with criminal intent.

To Watch or Not to Watch: Watch it … it’s what Syfy does best.  As with Eureka (what would living in a town of scientific geniuses be like?), or Warehouse 13 (what if Raiders of the Lost Ark and The X Files had a baby?), it all starts with A Big Question, and with an equally Big Commitment: to build layered characters, and ensure that answers are gradually revealed through coherent storylines and intelligent dialogue. Alphas’ substantial pilot exposition is handled deftly throughout (Yoba’s Bill Harken’s endeavors are neatly summed up through a Beastie Boys tune), and the characters interact with a naturalness that most shows take years to achieve.  And there are hints of twists to come; we’re told every Alpha ability has a downside, there are dark hints that Dr. Rosen’s sponsorship by the Department of Defense has some hidden price tags and, in the final scene of the premiere, Rosen’s  kindly façade cracks in an interesting way.  In short, it’s Heroes, with more heart, uncanned dialog and, thank you, Syfy, a sustainable storyline.

TV Screener Tidbit: Oscar nominee David Strathairn attended the elite Williams College, and has a son, Ebberly, who graduated from the well-known boot camp for geniuses, MIT. Maybe the Alpha doesn’t fall far from the tree?

Alphas premieres Monday, July 11, at 10PM ET on Syfy.

— JE Maher

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