Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? Five people with extraordinary abilities known as Alphas are brought together to work for a secret organization in the Department of Defense that seeks out others of their kind and tries to contain those that present a threat.
Aired: Syfy, 2011-12, 2 Seasons Totaling 24 Episodes
Created By: Zak Penn, Michael Karnow
Starring: David Strathairn, Ryan Cartwright, Warren Christie, Azita Ghanizada, Laura Mennell, Malik Yoba, Erin Way
Why It Stands Out: This series managed to rise above its rather derivative premise and deliver a decent superhero series with well-developed characters brought to life by an excellent cast.
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? No. But it is a decent superhero / sci fi show and definitely worth checking out.
The Skinny: Before superhero shows exploded on television (beginning with The CW’s Arrow-verse entries) and after the halo of the acclaimed first season of NBC’s Heroes had faded, the networks made multiple attempts to launch a non-branded group of heroes apparently in an attempt to recapture the early glory of the latter-mentioned series. Syfy took a stab at that in 2011 with Alphas, a show that drew heavily from the same well that Heroes dipped into while also borrowing liberally from the X-Men mythos (series co-creator Zak Penn had penned the scripts for X-Men 2 and The X-Men: Last Stand). But while the show had plenty that was borrowed, it also offered a fresh spin on a well-worn premise and managed to deliver more than the superhero-retread many expected. The scripts tended to avoid the copy-and-paste trap more often than not and also had plenty of humor, and it essentially delivered what I believe was Heroes done right.
Of course, much of that can be attributed to the first-rate cast that helped give the show just the jolt it needed. David Strathairn was onboard as the Charles Xavier-like mentor, though he was not wheel chair-bound nor did he have superpowers. His steadiness and sincerity provided the cohesiveness needed to hold together his disparate group of heroes. And each of the other main characters stood out as more than just stock superhero-types, particularly Gary Bell, the autistic Alpha played brilliantly by Ryan Cartwright. The combination of well-developed characters and clever scripts made this series really shine in its first season.
Unfortunately, that did not hold up as well in the show’s second year. The ratings had not been great for Alphas during its first season, so Syfy tinkered with it and brought in a new showrunner. It didn’t completely go south at that point, but it did start to slip more into the derivative. The ratings did not improve and the show ended on a huge cliffhanger when it was cancelled after its second season (more on that below). But its first season is definitely worth checking out and that will draw you into the second year because you will find yourself quickly attached to these characters. Alphas may not stand out as one of the best television superhero shows, but it had plenty of promise and counts as a sleeper sci fi series.
Cancelled Too Soon? Yes. Alphas opened to decent, if not spectacular, ratings in its first season, but it had at least a couple of things working against it. Many considered the premise far too derivative and felt it had little to offer to the superhero or sci fi genres. In addition to that, a backlash against Syfy’s rebranding in 2009 was starting to impact that network’s shows. After turning away from beloved space-based shows such as Battlestar: Galactica and the Stargate franchise, the newly named Syfy started offering “genre-lite” entries like Warehouse 13, Haven, and Being Human. Alphas was unfairly thrown into that group by many as well and it just failed to attract a large enough audience. Syfy did renew it for a second season, but as mentioned above it went through some retooling at that point. The ratings slipped further and the network decided to cancel the show, leaving it on a huge cliffhanger and with many of its storylines unresolved.
Should It Be Rebooted/Revived? Perhaps. The chances of this one coming back for another season are almost nil. But I would love to see at least a two-hour movie to act as a better finale for the series. Zak Penn put out the following tweets giving a brief rundown of what would happen, but a full movie would be a much nicer conclusion.
Dr. Rosen lived. Hicks and Nina ended up together. Rachel went back to civilian life. Bills kid was an alpha. Gary…
— Zak Penn (@zakpenn) March 2, 2013
Gary ends up the leader of a reconstituted, less violent Red Flag. Parish dies of a viral infection that targets his peculiar chemistry.
— Zak Penn (@zakpenn) March 2, 2013
Interesting Fact: Characters from Warehouse 13 crossed over to Alphas, and characters from Eureka crossed over to Warehouse 13. All three of those shows aired together in a three-hour block on Mondays from 2011 to 2012. There was never an opportunity for an all-star team up across all three shows, though.
Where Can You Watch It? You can buy the complete series on DVD (though not Blu-ray) and it is pretty economically priced. You can also buy the season on VOD from Amazon and others. But it is not currently on any of the streaming services that I am aware of.
Available from Amazon.com: