Cancelled Too Soon: Alphas (2011)

By | August 25, 2016

Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.

alphas-dvdIn this Syfy series, people with superhuman abilities known as Alphas are brought together by the Department of Defense to form a team to seek out others of their kind and also to defend against threats from malicious Alphas. Back in 2010-11, when word first broke about this show joining the network’s lineup, a collective groan went out through the sci fi community as it seemed rather derivative and yet another retread of themes already explored by the X-Men movies and the Heroes TV series. And that latter entry had just been cancelled after a three-season downward spiral that followed a promising first season start. But while Alphas did borrow some from those other properties (as well as offering a bit of a superhero spin on Syfy’s own Sanctuary), it managed to maneuver past the many of the expected pitfalls and prove itself a unique twist on an established concept. That came largely on the part of good writing that avoided too much in the way of copy-and-paste and an excellent cast that was headed up by the likes of David Strathairn, Ryan Cartwright, Azita Ghanizada, Malik Yoba, and more. The characters quickly established themselves in the series and the stories didn’t just rehash plots previously covered in other shows (or comics or movies). During the show’s first season, I referred to it as “Heroes done right”, and it showed plenty of promise to develop into an excellent genre entry with some well-done sci fi stories. However, the ratings for the its freshman year were not great even though it was sandwiched between two of Syfy’s better-performing shows (Eureka and Warehouse 13) in a three-hour Monday night block. The network did renew it for a second season, but they tinkered with it to an extent and its sophomore year did not deliver as satisfying of a run (though still much better than the much-maligned Season 2 of Heroes). The ratings continued to slip and Alphas was cancelled at the end of its second season, even though it ended on a pretty major cliffhanger. Ultimately, it had the misfortune of being the wrong show at the wrong time. Syfy had just rebranded from the Sci Fi Channel in 2009 and had started to focus on “sci fi lite” (my term) entries like Warehouse 13, Being Human, and Haven. The network also amped up its reality programming and renewed its commitment to wrestling, all designed to appeal to a broader audience than just sci fi fans. That worked for a while with some of the network’s new offerings bringing in decent ratings, but the backlash from the network’s former audience was already evident by 2011. Alphas was seen be many as another of Syfy’s not-really-sci-fi shows and its concept seemed all too familiar, so it never succeeded in building much of an audience. Then the tone shift in its second year apparently led to a shrinking of its fanbase and ultimately it got kicked to the curb in favor of other Syfy projects (mostly more reality programming). Those of us who were onboard from the beginning still lament the loss of this show and the wonderful set of characters it introduced in its short run. There were some rumblings about a Kickstarter revival of the show (that was right about the time that Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars revival blew away its funding goal), but co-creator Zak Penn said that it was not feasible. And sadly, the show did not get the obvious comic book continuation, so we are still left hanging from the series finale with little chance of resolution. The entire series has been released on DVD and it is definitely worth a look. But just a warning that you will find yourself hooked by this one and will walk away brokenhearted with its unsatisfying ending.

Aired: Syfy, 2011-12, 2 Seasons Totaling 24 Episodes

Created By: Zak Penn, Michael Karow

Starring: David Strathairn, Ryan Cartwright, Warren Christie, Azita Ghanizada, Laura Mennell, Malik Yoba, Erin Way

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