Review: The Cape: Season One

NBC’s The Cape feels like a bad adaptation of a comic book.

The Cape: Season One
Photo: NBC

NBC’s The Cape feels like a bad adaptation of a comic book, a hobbled-together superhero show about a framed-and-left-for-dead cop named Vince Faraday (David Lyons) who reinvents himself as the Cape, a vigilante crusader in the mold of Batman. He’s also a man on the run, having been framed by Peter Flemming (James Frain), nefarious head of a privatized police force in the fictional Gotham-esque Palm City. Frain was brilliant as Tara’s vampire suitor on True Blood, but he’s awful here, literally tipping his head back and emitting an evil laugh at several points. Or maybe he just recognizes the show for the camp that it is, and he’s wisely playing along.

The Cape’s signature is, of course, his cape, but it’s no ordinary garment, given to him by Max Malini (Keith David), leader of a troupe of circus performers-cum-bank robbers who shelter Vince while he’s on the run. The cape is somehow able to expand and retract incredibly fast so that Vince can whip out his sleeves like silky fists. In order to explain its physics, the show’s writers have Malini intone, “Made entirely of spider silk, stronger than Kevlar but thinner than filament.” David, who has years of practice in B movies, says this nonsense in a heavy baritone as though it actually makes sense.

The Cape’s writers are unable to elevate any of the characters beyond the most basic of archetypes. Vince is simply a good cop in a corrupt city, trying to provide for his loving wife and adoring son. The bad guys are seemingly evil for evil’s sake; their only individuality comes from the strange comic-book-villain physical quirks they’re given. One, played by Vinnie Jones, has snake-like skin and goes by the moniker Scales, but that’s all we’re told about him, as though that’s enough to justify his existence.

There are moments of levity sprinkled throughout, but the jokes fall flat, such as when Melina makes a dying speech and then suddenly pops back to life, or when the Cape perches on his son’s balcony and tells him to work harder at his math homework. Vince’s family is particularly problematic; it seems ridiculous and cruel that he would not allow them to know he’s actually alive (he actually hides behind a tree during his own funeral), and it’s unclear what their purpose (other than grieving) will be as the show progresses.

During the training montage in which the cape is introduced, I kept thinking of Edna Mode, the costume designer from The Incredibles, purring, “No capes, darling.” That film is a reminder of what can be achieved in the superhero genre—something that makes you care about its characters while occasionally riffing on its own genre. But The Cape falls into a wasteland of its own making, where neither the stakes nor the jokes can distract one from the thinness of its writing.

 Cast: David Lyons, Keith David, Summer Glau, James Frain, Martin Klebba, Anil Kumar, Jennifer Ferrin, Ryan Wynott  Network: NBC, Sundays @ 9 p.m.  Buy: Amazon

Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson's poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov's Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, and The Vocabula Review.

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