July 24, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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ALPHAS:  Monday 10PM on Syfy


WHERE WE WERE:  Think X-Men without the big special effects, the cool gadgets and the costumes.  Dr. Lee Rosen (David Stathairn) is the shepherd to a group of Alphas, individuals with mutations that give them abilities beyond the normal:  Hicks (Warren Christie) has super-aim, Harken (Malik Yoba) has super-strength, and Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) has super-senses, while Nina (Laura Mennell) has the ability to bend people to her will, and the autistic Gary (Ryan Cartwright) can use his mind to hack into electric, cellular and wireless signals.  They work together for the government, tracking down other Alphas, especially the evil ones who work with Stanton Parrish (John Pyper Ferguson), and want to take over the world.  Rosen’s own daughter is an Alpha as well.  At the end of last season, Rosen went public and announced publicly that Alphas exist.  (Department of Full Disclosure:  I worked on some of the business deals for an earlier incarnation of this show.)

WHERE WE ARE:  The second season premiere, written by Co-Executive Producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by Matt Hastings, is a pseudo-reboot, one of those episodes that travels a long way only to end up back where the series started.  8 months have passed since the Season 1 finale, and the government has successfully managed to dismiss Rosen as a crank.  Most Americans believe Alphas are a hoax, so none of the societal changes the finale seemed to promise have come to pass.  The government has also put Rosen in a mental institution to get him out of the way.  Meanwhile, Hicks and Harden are working as agents, Nina and Rachel are trying to live “normal” lives, and Gary has disappeared.  As it turns out, Gary has been put into an Alphas prison along with the others rounded up by the feds, with chips implanted in their necks to restrain their abilities.  When some of the bad Alphas take over the prison and take Harken and Gary prisoner, Rosen is called in, and by the end of the episode, the bad Alphas are back on the loose and the good ones are once again working with Rosen to track them down for the government.

The main trouble Alphas had in its first season was an inconsistent tone.  One week it would be a fairly light-hearted caper, and the next would get very dark; one episode would be action-packed, and the next would be slow and character-based.  It also veered between a purely Alpha-of-the-week show and a serialized one.  You could never get a handle on just what kind of series Alphas was trying to be.  The Season 2 premiere, being more of a gimmick to get the characters reunited than anything else, doesn’t provide much comfort that this has been worked out.  There have also been problems throughout with thin, lazy writing, and that unfortunately continues to be in evidence:  the premiere’s key plot fake-out is, even in the context of the show’s universe, ludicrously far-fetched, and the characters have no more substance than they did last season.  The episode’s big-bang conclusion, apart from being badly filmed (presumably because the budget wouldn’t allow for more) is completely gratuitous.  The show’s cast is a mixed bag:   Strathairn is a fine character actor, and he brings more shading to Rosen than one would expect, while Ryan Cartwright has managed to be both funny and quite moving as Gary when the material allows; other performances are less notable.

Alphas was a bubble show for Syfy last season, getting around a 0.5 demo rating and watched by about 1.5M people in total.  It’s paired again this summer with the higher-rated Warehouse 13, and it’ll need to at least hold steady to be assured of a continuing berth on the network.  If the series has any new tricks up its sleeve to pull in additional viewers, now would be a good time to make them appear.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."