REVIEW: Powers fails to make its mark in a television landscape dominated by superheroes
In a film and television landscape that is currently being dominated by the superhero comic stalwarts of Marvel and DC, it takes a lot for a new series filled with relatively unknown heroes to make an impact. New Spike series Powers is an adaptation of the comics by Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis (more famous for his work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil) and offers an alternative and interesting take on individuals with “powers”, but fails to make its mark.
The summary for Powers ironically does it less justice than it deserves. Billed as a police procedural fronted by a former-superhero, it opens itself up immediately for comparisons with DC adaptation Lucifer, which also took to the screen earlier this year. Luckily, my reaction to Lucifer was less than impressed, so there is a very low bar to jump.
While some shows masquerade as an interesting concept and really turn out to be a case-of-the-week standard police procedural (Lucifer included), Powers actually seems to be closer to the opposite. In the world of Powers, many individuals have superpowers and are called “powers”, but only those who use these abilities for good can be considered ‘heroes’. Series protagonist Detective Walker is a former superhero named Diamond who had his powers stolen and now works in a police unit handling matters involving powers. He oversees the typical murders and crime that one might see in a cop show, but this is background noise. The show is really be about Walker and what it means to have powers and to be a ‘hero’.
This is examined most obviously in the main case of the episode – about a girl who believes she is a power and is searching for any means to awaken her abilities. She repeatedly puts herself in dangerous situations before her story climaxes with a suicidal drop from a building that causes Walker to confront his own demons at having lost his powers.
Powers could be a breath of fresh air. It’s certainly different from Lucifer, which relied solely on the magnetism of its principal character to back up a poorly written and insubstantial plot. Powers genuinely asks real, interesting questions and for that it can be applauded. The only problem is I’m not sure that I care.
I have little attachment to Detective Walker, and I can’t feel his pain at losing his powers. At the moment he is a frontman much like any other main character in a procedural – a damaged cop with a past. His new partner Pilgrim is developed very little and her main trait seems to be following Walker around. I can’t feel their chemistry at all – which is something that can make or break a police procedural. And to top it all off, the special effects are completely awful. They look cheap, and take away from the story.
All in all, Powers examines the superhero psyche – and those who must live alongside heroes – with a kind of earnest interest not usually found in superhero television and film. Powers has an opening to be original there, but fails to exploit it with excellent characterisation and storytelling. In the end, it means Powers is just another average drama in the clutter that is television.