with Hamish McKenzie
From Captain Planet to Touch, taking in Unforgettable, Quantum Leap, Person of Interest, Early Edition, X-Men and Heroes, we've never been short of dramas about crime-fighters with superpowers. And so, when Alphas rolls into Syfy this week (right; two-hour premiere: tonight at 9.10pm), you pretty much know what to expect.
The protagonist 'Alphas' are otherwise normal people with superpowers that make them especially good at solving complicated crimes and bringing the perpetrators to justice. So, you've got the black dude with Hulk-like strength; the autistic teen with the ability to see electromagnetic frequencies as if he were watching television; the sexy mind-controller who can take charge over anyone's thoughts; and a woman who can heighten any one of her senses to extremes.
The Alphas work for the United States Department of Defence and run around New York investigating crimes carried out by other, less socially concerned, Alphas. If the first episode is any indication of what's to come, their various superpowers all seem to serendipitously align in perfectly complementary fashion to address the seemingly impossible task at hand (example one: in the premiere, a man is shot in the forehead by a sniper who manages to weave the bullet through two air vents).
It's funny how the crime-fighting superheroes of these shows are almost always preoccupied with solving isolated murder cases rather than channelling their powers for more useful ends, such as, say, averting war, preventing genocide, or stopping the Hong Kong to Guangzhou express rail link.
Syfy is promoting Alphas, which was reportedly shopped around numerous networks before the cable channel picked up the pilot, as 'X-Men without the spandex'. They might also have added 'nor the panache'. While it is good light drama, it is a tired format that doesn't compare well to its superior predecessor. The story premise is so familiar as to be passe, the acting is ordinary and some of the technical devices - the mind-reader delivering her commands directly into the camera, for instance - are straight-up awkward. Give me spandex any day.
For something much less predictable, tune in to BBC Knowledge to catch the global premiere of Planet Earth Live (Wednesday, 8.10pm). In an ambitious, and difficult to grasp, project, the Beeb is sending out live broadcast equipment around the world to capture wildlife drama in real time. Top Gear's Richard Hammond has been roped in to present the show as documentarians take to woods, jungles, mountains and deserts to show us what lions, black bears, elephants and others of 'the world's most charismatic animals', get up to in their day jobs.
Planet Earth Live, which will also play out online, will be more like a news programme than a traditional wildlife documentary, the BBC says, and will focus on matters of life and death. One potential highlight involves a pride takeover among some lions in Kenya. A posse of hostile males are coming to violently supplant their competitors in another pride. Typically, these ruffians kill all the cubs and then mate with the females. In a dramatic twist among this particular pride, however, a female has run off with her cubs.
Will she escape and save her young? Or will the bad guys get their way? The only way to find out is to watch what is possibly the only reality show more feral than Jersey Shore.