– Minor Spoiler Review –
By single-handedly launching the entire PlayStation Originals brand, Powers has a lot riding on it. But with a story adapted from a comic that sounds perfect for TV, a world full of people with powers and a police force designed to deal with them, the comic’s writer helping on the show, and a rather talented cast, it might just be able to help PS’s fledgling TV brand. After the “Pilot” I can at least say it’s off to a decent start.
The episode begins with an unfortunate (and very avoidable) workplace accident that leaves Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley), a washed up superhero named Diamond who lost his powers, without a partner. In walks Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), a young but experienced cop who wants to learn the ropes of the Powers Division. It’s not long before they have their first case with the death of a Powers named Olympia, their only witness being a young girl Calista (Olesya Rulin) who was with him at night, and a drug named Sway.
While it has all the trappings of a procedural–there’s a death and the police are hunting down evidence and questioning people of interest–everything isn’t wrapped up neatly by the end of the episode. There are a lot of threads left open plot-wise, including Johnny Royalle’s (Noah Taylor), a Power with the ability to teleport who is thought dead, supplier for the drug Sway, why Sway kills some Powers and increases the abilities of others, and just how much does Zora (Logan Browning) know. I’ve always preferred long-form storytelling over procedural, so fans hoping we wouldn’t have a death a week should be really pleased.
But it’s the relationships and history between the characters that I found myself pulled towards the most. Walker reveals to Pilgrim he trained alongside Royalle under the claws of Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), who is currently locked up in the highest security facility for being the biggest baddest Powers of them all, and how they went from friends to mortal enemies is what I look forward to uncovering the most. Even with the public tracking all the Powers with handy apps and the media covering everything they do, they’ve still managed to find a way to cover up details surrounding their actions. But since the public’s obsession with Powers mirrors our own culture’s obsession with celebrities, we all know not everything stays a secret for long.
PS Originals struck out with their casting decisions so far. Copley and Heyward already work pretty well together, the tension and slowly building comradery was written well enough for these two actors to make it work, even if it’s somewhat clichéd so far. Noah Taylor is frighteningly calm as Royalle, but I can’t say much for Izzard and Forbes, as they both have short and minor appearances here. Logan Browning and Olesya Rulin both play awe-struck over being around Powers well, and really help sell this alt-reality’s setting of a super-powered obsessed culture.
The production on the show is somewhat hit or miss. The special effects are a little weak, as I’ve seen YouTube videos with better effects, but so far they don’t break the experience or anything. When it really needed to look good, like when Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes) swoops in at the end, it looked better than some of the earlier effects. But what takes some getting used to are the costumes, which might bring back nightmarish memories of a rave mixed with 90’s fashion only Will Smith would’ve worn in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And while at first it might seem like a poor choice, once you consider the world they live in is one where the public looks up to and deals with super-heroes/villains all the time, dressing the way they do would be pretty normal.
At first, I felt the final scene was a heroic move by Walker, as he attempts to save a girl doomed to die even knowing he’d probably not make it either. But Retro Girl’s scolding comment to Walker, after she saves them both, left me a little confused and got me thinking. Eventually I realized my initial thoughts on the scene were wrong, dead wrong, and I was extremely happy with that. Instead of trying to be heroic, Walker is goading Calista to jump off the edge of the building. He knew she wanted to be more, be a Power, but instead he keeps calling her normal and ordinary. So why would he want her to jump? Because he obviously wants to die and if he can go out with it looking like he was trying one last heroic stunt, no matter who else goes with him, he’d be perfectly okay with it. That makes Walker a way more intriguing character and solidifies the darker, dramatic tone this show wants. Plus, it makes for a far better ending to this episode.
Here are a few other things:
- And just as a reminder, there’s a reason this isn’t airing on broadcast TV and Powers is already well on its way to earning its TV MA rating. Whether it’s the beheading, a blown up heart, lobotomy, or discussion about Power-giving blowjobs, Powers is definitely a mature take on the superhero genre, able to touch on and talk about things most other on-air comic book adaptations can these days. Let’s just hope they use it wisely instead of just shock-value.
- The pilot is available to everyone to stream through the PlayStation store (on the PS3, PS4, PS Vita, the web, or select mobile devices) and on YouTube for free. After that, episodes cost $2.99/$1.99 for HD/SD, but if you’re a PlayStation Plus member you get the entire season for free. Plus is the PlayStation Network’s subscription service, much like Xbox Live, except it only runs you $49.99 a year and guarantees you 6 free games a month, online multiplayer access on PS4, steep discounts on game sales, and more. It’s a pretty fantastic deal and you don’t have to take my word for it, the fine folks at GamesRadar have an article on why you should probably get it already and PushSquare figured out a one-year subscription gave gamers over $1,300 in games…and it only costs you $49.99. It’s up to you how you want to go about watching Powers in the end, but the options include either buying the season, joining PS Plus, or just waiting till the eventual home video release.
- I think my favorite power anyone on the show has so far is Simons. How many of Simon are there?! I laughed pretty hard at his short conversation with Royalle when he handed him the phone.
- Deena Pilgrim is getting some backstory in the form a prose novel, Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim, co-written by comic series creator Brian Michael Bendis and Neil Kleid. Whether it fits within the comics, TV show, or possibly both isn’t known.
- While I’ve never read the comic series, if I can find a comparison/difference article, I’ll try to link to some throughout my reviews.
- The first three episodes were released on March 10th, so I’ll be doing my best to catch up, as next Tuesday the fourth will be available already.
Powers has been in gestation for quite some time with several different networks and film companies, but it finally landed with PlayStation, in a time where game consoles are now pushing to diversify their content and become multi-channel devices. Powers is off to a good start for PS Originals and I look forward to seeing its take on the darker and somewhat more grounded take on superhero genre as the season progresses.
+ Darker, mature tone
+ Full of possibilities
+ Sense of history
– Special effects
– A little clichéd
Season One: Ep. 2: “Like a Power” | Ep. 3: “Mickey Rooney Cries No More” | Ep. 4: “Devil in a Garbage Bag” | Ep. 5 “Paint it Black” | Ep. 6: “The Raconteur of the Funeral Circuit” | Ep. 7: “You Are Not It” | Ep. 8: “Aha Shake Heartbreak” | Ep. 9: “Level 13” | Ep. 10: “F@#K the Big Chiller“