NBC (Nobody’s Broadcasting Channel) is trying desperately to attract desirable demographic rating again after years of bad programming decisions culminating with the disastrous Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno debacle. Leno’s 10pm bore-fest almost single-highhandedly killed both the network and the lucrative local 11pm news zoos. Poor ratings for local late-night news shows contributed to Conan’s Tonight Show dismal ratings.
Jay’s bull-in-the-china-shop ego also bred contempt and hate among Hollywood’s writers, producers and actors in scripted shows who lost jobs when five prime hours of programming vanished overnight. One of NBC’s best shows in years, Southland, was unceremoniously dropped after only half a season. (Fortunately, TNT bought the remaining shows from NBC and is continuing production of this complex, gritty, well-written, produced and directed cop-drama with a large ensemble cast that is as rich, diverse and believable as it gets.)
NBC’s last scripted superhero show was a hit – Heroes. However, Heroes completely self-destructed with too many heroes with too many powers and convoluted time-warped parallel plots. Heroes marched off the air in a freak-show carnival where everyone was “special.”
The Cape, NBC’s latest venture into superhero fantasy begins with our hero, the framed-cop Vince Faraday who is forced underground to protect his family from the evil villain, Chess. Vince is adopted by a freak-show carnival where he is taught the tricks of the trade. Add one cape with supernatural properties and a superhero is born. It’s Batman without the good back story peppered with a bit of Superman. David Lyons who plays Vince Faraday has an uncanny resemblance to Nathan Fillion (Castle, Serenity).
I’m not sure starting with a carnival metaphor is a smart move. The Cape now occupies the same jinxed Monday 9 pm time spot, last occupied by Heroes and the now-postponed (maybe canceled) Event, another floundering scripted Si-Fi hour involving ageless aliens who look just like us but have technology so advanced, it appears to President Blair Underwood that they have superpowers.
Smallville, Warner-Brothers’ TV prequel to Superman, is in its tenth and mercifully final season on the CW network. The character Chloe Sullivan is the semi-hot chick, onetime love interest of Clark Kent, who is so smart she can hack into any computer or security camera and make things happen with a few keystrokes through the magic of the internet.
In The Cape, the same character appears using the avatar “Orwell.” The mysterious Orwell is rich, hot and she can do anything with an internet-connected computer and a garage full of pricey dream cars. I think Summer Glau (Serenity, Sarah Conner Chronicles) is the best thing in the show.
Mercedes-Benz has a pretty obvious product placement agreement with NBC and the producers. I was expecting to see a disclaimer in the end credits that “no expensive Mercedes was harmed during the filming of this motion picture.” The villain, Peter Fleming (a.k.a. Chess) is a thinly-veiled doppelganger of the real-life villain, Erik Prince of Blackwater (now Xe) infamy, which provides private security and mercenary soldiers to governments and private individuals/contractors in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Fleming (played by James Frame – I liked him better as a vampire rapist in True Blood) owns ARK, a private security force contractor complete with body armour, automatic assault rifles, secret explosives and Black Hawk helicopters.
Chess frames Vince Faraday for the assassination of the police chief of Palm City. As a result, ARK gets the contract to be the privatized police force in Palm City (basically Gotham West). After the contract is awarded to ARK, Fleming is chauffeured off in a sleek black Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan (S550 base MSRP $93,000) and the camera makes sure you know it’s a Mercedes with close-ups of the sides and grill. It’s subtle, but the camera shows too much metal to be just a coincidence.
In Orwell’s first appearance, she is driving a Tesla Roadster EV (MSRP $109,000; easily $130k with options) which inexplicably has some dubbed-in “combustion engine noise.” Again the camera lingers just a bit too long on the sleek Tesla, with front, side and rear shots, long enough for product recognition.
Her next appearance is in an Imola grey Mercedes SLS AMG (base MSRP $183,000 and easily over $200k with options) when she rescues the Cape at the very moment he crashes out of Chess’ skyscraper penthouse after being poisoned by a French marble-mouth master chef serial killer who goes by the name Cain. The magical cape helps break his fall and he lands on some junk car before being shoe-horned into the Gullwing SLS. Cain magically appears at street level (fast elevator, I guess) and breaks through the driver’s window trying to stop the escape. Of course, Orwell, assisted by the dying Cape makes a tire-burning, Xenon and LED lit escape.
We all know that superheros don’t go to hospitals, so Orwell drops Cape back at the carnival for “medical” treatment but only after a slow, nighttime gratuitous drive through a street market featuring the SLS. There is some dialogue to fill the time.
When she gets out of the car to help him out, it’s daybreak (better lighting) and there isn’t a scratch or digital broken window on the SLS. The camera lovingly pans back and forth over the hind quarters making sure you see the SLS, AMG and Mercedes Three-Point Star badge. And if you weren’t sure about the obvious product placement, the carni-dwarf Rollo mentions that the Cape was dropped off in a Gullwing Mercedes.
It was hard to get through two hours of this melodrama and I found myself nodding off from time to time. To refresh my memory, I viewed the episode online and was just as uninvolved and only mildly interested in the fate of the “good guys.” If The Cape makes it to a second season, I’ll be shocked. However, I may watch just to see what expensive Mercedes or other exotic car gets product placement.