Alphas is a Sci-Fi (I won't call it Sy-Fy) Channel series whose first season is now available on DVD and Netflix streaming. Created by Zak Penn and Michael Karnow, the show follows a team of superhumans who work for the government solving crimes, tracking down other Alphas, and opposing a terrorist group called Red Flag.
While the show does have promise, the writing breaks little new ground. If you’ve ever read X-Men, the setup and plot elements are familiar — just trade “Mutant" for "Alpha," then lose the costumes. There’s a team of good Alphas and a team of bad Alphas. Their ideological difference is X-Men versus The Brotherhood of Mutants. Rather than quickly setting their universe apart from Marvel's, Alphas mistakenly wastes a lot of episodes and focus on the team investigating crimes and tracking down the superhuman-of-the-week. Despite some cleverness, this is tedious syndication-fodder. The “crimes” follow the CSI/NCIS plot formula but with superpowers unearthing the clues instead of computers and lab equipment, and the superhuman-of-the-week apes the pattern of the generic X-Files stand-alone.
If it wasn’t for strong characterizations from David Strathairn, Malik Yoba, and Ryan Cartwright, I wouldn’t have made it to the end of the season. The show doesn't find its identity until the last three episodes. "Blind Spot," "The Unusual Suspects," and "Original Sin" are well-paced, tense, exciting, and full of great character moments. They're what the entire season should have been.
Now, if those episodes are the standard for its second season, Alphas has a long life ahead of it, and I'll tune in eagerly. But, if the writers follow the new television formula and produce a season of syndication-filler bookended with enough plot to maybe lure you back for another season, well...at least I didn't pay cable/dish prices to watch it.
September 8, 2012
Shane Stevens’ fans familiar only with Dead City and By Reason of Insanity may not like Way Uptown In Another World. It’s the least “crime” of his eight novels. Fans of plot-driven fiction will certainly hate it. Marcus Garvey Black’s story isn’t divided into three neat acts with a slam-bang ending. A man’s life is never that neat, and it’s never that clear.
For me, however, none of those are drawbacks. In my opinion, despite the praise heaped on Dead City by everyone from Stephen King to Dave Zeltserman and By Reason’s importance in the creation of the serial killer novel, Way Uptown In Another World is clearly Shane Stevens’ masterwork.
With his second novel set in Harlem, Stevens finds his street voice. Unlike Go Down Dead with it’s pages of dense and sometimes hard to follow ghetto-speak, Uptown is both simple and starkly poetic, authentic but approachable. In this sometimes messy but always beautiful novel, Stevens explores all those themes that would come to dominate his later and more well-known works:
The dark side of the American Dream and its false promise of opportunity--
“After the first couple, I didn’t tell them I been in prison. But it was the same thing, still nothing. Then I get smart and I put down on the card that I got outta high school. Still the same. So I said I been to college. Nothing. That’s when I got mad and the last place I went I told them I got outta three colleges and I was a doctor and a lawyer but I wanna do something else.”
The problem of money and class, the true great division between peoples--
“And what I learned most was that money talks best. Even when it whispers, everybody listens.”
Sadness and loss--
“Ginny never really had a chance. The sick got her and the misery got her and then the dead got her. She didn’t know anybody much and she was scared of all the paper stuff and she was too proud to ask other people for help. She was a Southern girl who didn’t understand the strange and easy ways of the North and she never got used to the cold.”
And finally, the thing that drew me to Stevens’ work in the first place. Crime fiction is all too often dominated by squalor porn and a certain sadistic glee in aberrant and illegal behaviour. Shane’s work, his reoccurring themes, confront those things in the world that separate and divide us unnecessarily. When he writes about criminals, mobsters, serial killers, French detectives, or New Jersey private eyes, it’s not to show us how awful the world is. Instead, Shane is teaching us that it doesn’t have to be this way--
“I mean, what’s the good of living if you can’t go around hating all the people who screw you down? Without that hate, you got no cover, no protection. And if everybody’s the same and you ain’t better’n nobody, how can you feel like a man? That’s the game everybody plays, but without them all you got is love and beauty everywhere.”
Stevens needs to be rediscovered. His work needs to be reprinted. And no novel is more deserving than Way Uptown In Another world.