The easiest way to think of “Alphas” (Syfy, 10 tonight) is like a poor-man’s “X-Men” mixed with a dash of ABC’s cancelled “No Ordinary Family.” Sadly, “Alphas” doesn’t have the engaging start “No Ordinary Family” did; you’ll probably lose interest with this first episode.
The “Alphas” opens with Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), a good-looking guy who works in a supermarket. We learn later that he’s a former army sniper and phenom baseball pitcher. He suddenly starts getting messages to shoot someone, and when he does, it’s pretty clear he’s under the influence of someone or something.
Next we meet Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn), a neurologist and psychiatrist and the Dr. Xavier; apparently we’re supposed to think he’s eccentric because of his affinity for herbal remedies and skimpy swim trunks.
He’s head of a team, the Alphas, that has a secret relationship with the Department of Defense. The members all have special abilities. The team includes Bill (Malik Yoba), a former FBI agent whose kind of a black Hulk; he gets all sweaty and then uses his flight-or-fight response for super strength and painlessness. Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) is a shy 20 something who can shut down all her senses to make one sense supersensitive. Gary (Ryan Cartwright) has high-functioning autism and can read electromagnetic frequencies (TV, radio, cell phones). Nina (Laura Mennell) can override your willpower and make you follow her suggestions.
Naturally, the team is a bit of a wacky family with Dr. Rosen as the calming influence managing all the quirky personalities. Bill, for instance, is a bit of a pig, rude and boorish, and miffed because he’s working with amateurs. Gary’s social skills are dicey; he’s prone to saying inappropriate things, making him the show’s comic relief. (I haven’t decided yet how I feel about the whole ‘those autistics, they’re funny aren’t they?’ thing.)
Despite the fact that the show plays as a thriller, it’s pretty inert. You won’t be cowering in suspense during a single scene. I had hopes for this show because of Strathairn’s participation; he has moments but his performance is nothing genius. I guess he's doing the best he can with what he got.
Much of this first episode is setting up the characters and the plot line; that doesn’t excuse the producers from delivering a good show, but it might mean that show improves going forward.
Based on the pilot, though, “Alpha” is not starting out on top.