When it comes to movie adaptations of superhero stories, the results can be hit and miss. Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman trilogy was clearly a huge hit, but other DC Comics adaptations like The Green Lantern and Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns were not so well received. The same is true of Marvel’s superheroes, with Sam Raimi’s Spiderman being a huge success, followed by the X-Men films and the movies leading up to this year’s The Avengers, but The Fantastic Four and Daredevil movies not having the same impact.
There have been few live action superhero TV shows that have had much success, with the genre seemingly more compatible with animation, but in January 2011, American network NBC premiered The Cape. Even a TV show based on an existing superhero may be considered a risky move, but The Cape was NBC’s attempt to create a superhero from scratch. But the show’s ratings didn’t live up to NBC’s expectations, and after the show’s run was cut from 13 to 10 episodes, with the final one being shown on NBC.com rather than television, it was cancelled.
But did NBC give up on The Cape too soon? I decided to find out for myself, and watch the whole series.
You can’t have a superhero without a superhero origin story, and the pilot episode of The Cape is exactly that. Vince Faraday (David Lyons) is a good cop in the fictional Palm City (really Los Angeles), who quits after failing to save the chief of police from Chess, a masked killer terrorising the city. He is enlisted by Peter Fleming (James Frain) to work for his security firm ARK, whose aim is to privatise the police force and save the city by ending police corruption.
But Peter Fleming IS Chess, and he sets Faraday up so that the city believes he is Chess, and after a shootout at a train yard, it is presumed that Faraday has been killed in an explosion. But he survives and is taken in by ‘The Carnival of Crime’, a group of circus performers who perform bank robberies and are lead by Max Malini (Keith David). Malini initially wants to kill Faraday, but after Vince helps him with some robberies, he is persuaded to train him, allowing Faraday to become The Cape (named after the favourite comic book of Faraday’s son).
While attempting to stop one of Chess’ henchmen (a man called Scales, played in spectacularly wooden fashion by Vinnie Jones), Faraday is photographed by a girl calling herself Orwell (Summer Glau). She is a blogger whose website leaks information about police corruption in the city, and the pair form an uneasy alliance.
This is an awful lot of plot to fit into a 45 minute episode, but the pilot does a pretty good job. It’s not a show that takes itself too seriously (somewhere between the 60’s Batman show and Raimi’s Spiderman) and there are some decent gags to go along with pretty good action and reasonable acting (apart from Vinnie of course).
Once Vince has become The Cape, he sets out to prove that Peter Fleming and ARK are corrupt, which will clear his name and allow him to return to his family. While Max takes Vince under his wing and wants to teach him how to use the cape properly, the Carnival is divided over Vince’s presence, believing that a former cop in their midst will stop them from making money.
But getting evidence of ARK’s corruption won’t be easy, and there are plenty of bad guys in Palm City who are keen to get in Vince’s way. While Fleming is the man trying to take over the city, there are hints at another organisation; known as ‘Tarot’ which is an order of assassins that Fleming occasionally recruits to kill off The Cape. In a later episode Fleming refers to the ‘Masters’, suggesting that Tarot has leaders and he is in communication with them. It’s also suggested that Max has a long-term plan for Vince and the cape, and that he is manipulating Vince rather than helping him.
But while it’s good for a show to have ideas that can be expanded upon over many episodes rather than just one or two, the biggest problem that The Cape had was the quality of the writing. I enjoyed the first few episodes, but the final four, including a two part story called ‘The Lich’ was really poor and badly executed. The poor writing was probably the biggest reason why the show’s viewing figures dropped dramatically, and only 5 episodes had aired when NBC announced that they were cutting their order from 13 episodes to 10.
Ratings continued to drop for the show, so much so that NBC decided to stream the final episode on their website, rather than actually air it on television. As a result, the finale is a bit of a confused mess. It clearly wasn’t designed as a series ending episode, as it doesn’t resolve Vince’s fight with Fleming and ARK, or get him any closer to being reunited with his family.
So overall, I have to say that The Cape deserved to be cancelled. Creating a superhero from scratch could be a good idea for television, but the writing and production has to be much better for it to have any chance of succeeding. Too many of the characters had secrets that were brought up once or twice and never explored further (Orwell possibly/probably being Fleming’s daughter, for example) and the mysterious Tarot group didn’t produce any villains that were a real threat to Vince. And the plots for each episode got worse, rather than better as it went on.
Series 3 of Community featured numerous references to the show and even had one of its stars, Keith David mention it when he narrated one episode. Unfortunately for The Cape, it’s become a joke in a cult TV show, rather than becoming a cult TV show itself, and that’s why NBC made the right choice.
One and Dones is a new series looking back on TV shows that got cancelled after one full season. Were they put out of their misery or axed too soon?