Great Ideas, Poor Execution

About a month ago I wrote about SyFy’s new show “Alphas,” thrilled with the idea of the characters and eager to see what the writers did with the show. Now, two months or so into the season, I’m still waiting for the writers and directors to do justice to what they’ve created. They have this unique idea about a group of “common folks” with uncommon abilities, and they’re turning the show into a retread of “Heroes,” and a weak retread at that.

I sat and analyzed why it was so weak and decided it was because the writers just don’t know what to do with the characters they’ve created. The character who can influence people’s minds? She’s just an enforcer, who steps in when violence isn’t desired or necessary to get a confession or information. The empath? Well, she’s a little more useful, though she often seems more like a bloodhound than an empath. The former FBI agent who goes ballistic on command? Seems like he fails in his goals more often than he succeeds. The character with pinpoint aim? Certainly, he can throw a textbook and trip a running goon, but what else is he capable of doing? So much more! The character who reads/sees digital information is the most enjoyable, and yet they could do much more with him than have him track cell phone signals or read Google maps in the ether. And, finally, the fellow who has brought them all together…he caved so suddenly when the government wanted them to become “super agents” that he no longer has any credibility. What was the initial reason for gathering the Alphas? Does anyone remember?

Another show that had great promise but has withered on the vine is “Leverage,” about a group of con artists and thieves who help those who can’t help themselves, standing against all odds for the Little Guy. Unfortunately, Timothy Hutton is incapable of headlining the team with any strength of character; he’s the weakest link in the group of six. That’s likely due to his acting limitations, rather than to the writing, but the storylines have grown increasingly absurd and uninteresting. The season’s opener involving a mountain climbing expedition was laughably horrible. The Brits were able to keep the audience’s interest in the original series, but here in the U.S., the potential has fizzled.

Such a disappointment to see how these characters in both shows are going to waste. They have such potential for new storylines, but instead seem simply to be retelling stories from other shows using different characters.

The same goes for the second book in the Cleaner series by Brett Battles. In the first book, The Cleaner, Battles introduces us to an interesting character unlike any I’ve encountered before. The Cleaner sanitizes scenes where government/CIA/Office interactions have gone bad, removing bodies and covering any tracks of what took place. An intriguing idea, and I looked forward to reading more  books. The second book, The Deceiver, is so slow-moving that I found it hard to read until the end (though the last 50 pages finally picked up the pace). And in the second and third books, the Cleaner is no longer cleaning, but is involved in international intrigue on his own. We already have those characters and those stories.

Not that these books aren’t decent reads, but I get the sense that Battles has lost sight of the character he created, a new character with great potential for new stories. It’s sad to see a writer (or series writers) create something new and let the characters lie fallow, instead taking the easy/safe/tried-and-true path that has worked for other authors and writers.

I’ll keep watching “Alphas” for a few more episodes, though I’m almost certain I’m finished with “Leverage,” and haven’t decided on the Battles books.

The moral of the story is, it accomplishes nothing if you create great characters and let them go fallow in weak stories. Do justice to your characters and give them vehicles in which they can thrive.

‘Alphas’ on SyFy: Am I An Alpha?

The SyFy channel is offering a new series this summer, “Alphas,” which is about run-of-the-mill humans who each have one extraordinary trait, the Alpha trait, which sets them apart from the rest of mankind. (David Strathairn, a favorite of mine, is one of the leads.) One character is able to sense what events transpired in a room by “reading” objects, pulling from the objects the scent of sight and sound of what has transpired. Another is able to manipulate the thoughts of others, enticing them to act as she desires, whether encouraging a Highway Patrol Officer to eat the ticket he had written for her, or convincing a truculent hotel clerk to give her forbidden guest information. My favorite is the Alpha who can see certain non-visible waves, such as cell phone transmissions or the Internet. I love the fact that he can scroll through the waves, searching the air as though he had a computer touchscreen in front of him.

So, this got me to thinking. Say I were an Alpha, what special powers would I have? I don’t have stupendously accurate hand-eye coordination. It’s good, excellent, in fact, but there’s nothing Alpha about it. I have a will of iron and can often convince others to do my bidding. But, again, nothing extraordinary, so no Alpha trait there. I’m attuned to the emotions of others, and can read a mood or environment well, but an inanimate object remains inanimate in my hands, unless I chuck it across the room. No sensory feedback, so no Alpha trait.

But, wait. I have this innate ability to proofread, and have had since I was a child. I’m forever finding errors in signage, books, menus, and newspaper articles, wherever the written word exists. If there is an error, chances are I will find it. This seems to be an inherited skill, passed along to me by both parents. (I wonder whether all Alpha traits are inherited?) When I take editing tests, as I must do for every new publisher client who wishes to hire me, I feel I’ve failed if I find 98% of the errors, though my potential clients are thrilled. That 2% niggles at me, driving me to improve the next time. Okay, so maybe there’s no Alpha trait there, given a 2% error rate, but that’s my best guess as to any latent Alpha ability I possess.

Not sexy, I know. How would they even use me on the series? Alpha Editor! Maybe I could compare a recently delivered hijacker note to previously known hijacker notes and see a pattern for identification, but I don’t really see myself saving the free world with that talent.

And so, I remain unknown, flying under the radar of the DOD (Department of Defense), righting wrongs in my own little world, but unsung and unchallenged on the world stage. Still, I am content. I am Alpha on my own stage. The Master Editor of all I survey. (David Strathairn, I’m here if you need me.)