Editor’s note: Though released exclusively through the PSN, Powers is unlike other digitally distributed shows (such as those found on Netflix or Amazon), and is being released on a weekly basis instead of all at once. As part of the premiere, the first three episodes were released, one more scheduled to be released each Tuesday until the ten episode season comes to a close. You can expect a review for each individual episode going forward, but seeing as the first three were released together, this review will cover all three in a general overview.
While not exactly in line with the usual game-centric news we bring you here at Gamespresso, the fact that Powers is the first Playstation Original show, and a free bonus for any PS Plus subscribers, certainly makes it pretty hard to ignore. So what is Powers? Well, the general premise of the show isn’t exactly new. It wasn’t even completely new when the original Image comic, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, started its run almost 15 years ago.
Simply put, the idea is superpowers in the real world, and all the baggage that comes with it. So: drugs, super powered crime, copycats, insufficient prisons, the works. Instead of keeping the camera on the epic good vs. evil super-powered fights however, the focus is instead on what it means for the lives of everyone else. To get an idea for the setting though, picture the show Heroes, stretched long into the future where everyone knows about superpowers, or Watchmen, but, in this case, instead of superheroes becoming hunted outlaws, they get publicists and are now celebrities with twitter followers and promotional deals.
Immersed in this world, the show, like the comic it is based on, follows a former superhero, Christian Walker (District 9’s Sharlto Copley), AKA Diamond, who has lost his superpowers and now makes a living as a cop in a division of the police meant to deal with super powered individuals. The show starts off with an accident, resulting in the death of Walker’s partner, leaving an open slot for his new partner, Detective Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), the newcomer to the Powers Division, to step in.
The plot starts rolling as the newly acquainted pair takes on their first case: a dead superhero whose heart exploded while having sex with a girl hoping to get superpowers. That’s right, in this universe ‘exchanging bodily fluids’ can sometimes lead to temporary superpowers. Needless to say, this is not a show for the children.
Getting things started, and introducing a massive amount of information, the first episode of the series does show a few cracks. Forgoing any heavy-handed narration, Powers throws you into the world and starts off at a run, expecting you to latch on to the pieces of information it gives you, and simultaneously be okay with the pieces it doesn’t have time for yet. While keeping up with the thundering pace can be a challenge, other shows have certainly handled pilots worse. In just the opening hour the framework is set-up for the world as a whole, Walker’s former superhero identity, the other heroes he fought with (this world’s version of a Justice League), the place of powers in society, the celebrity status of powers, the powers kids (teenagers who recently discovered their powers and figure becoming viral video sensations is the best use of their time), and even the ground work for the conflicts in the show going forward. It’s a lot to fit in.
Thankfully, once all of that is taken care of, the show lets it self take a breath in the second a third episodes, and really starts to show off some of the depth in its characters, most notably Walker and his former superhero partner Retro Girl (Battlestar Galactica’s Michelle Forbes). The most interesting aspect of the show is not the cop drama or even the normal people versus powers dynamic, it is the psychology of the superheroes themselves, each a delightful twist on the archetypes and clichés of superhero stories. The look of complete helplessness, and near agony, on Walker’s face every time he sees a superhero fly overheard (something he can no longer do), and the little character quarks, like Retro Girl explaining she only ever wore a skimpy costume once, and then never did again because her breast popped out during a fight, are the moments that make Powers unique and worth watching.
Beyond that, there is a lot of potential in the partnership of Walker and Pilgrim, but so far only hints of their awesome back-and-forth have appeared. As the show moves forward, it will be interesting to see if the two characters can manage to play off each other more, as their jibes to one another worked as some of the only great moments of characterization for them both.
So far, the show’s only weak point seems to be its villains. While it is entirely possible this will change as more of their motivations and devious deeds are exposed in episodes to come, it felt, in these opening episodes, more that they were villains not because I saw them as such, but because I was told they were. To start out, that is fine. But as the story continues it would be nice to hear less about the bad things they did and to start seeing more of the bad things they are doing. Was the Joker in The Dark Knight great because we were told he was crazy, or was he great because we saw him make a pencil disappear into a man’s head? While some of the backstory did eventually start being worked in for one of the villains, it felt kind of hollow. The good news is though: a reveal at the end of the third episode gives me fairly substantial hope that I won’t have to wait much longer for my wish to be answered.
More than anything, the most striking elements of the three first episodes of Powers aren’t the big things. There is enough characterization, drama, chemistry, and intrigue to carry the show forward. The setting is solid, and the conflicts are well on their way to developing. What stands out however are the odd moments, the things you can’t find anywhere else, like the peculiar feeling of tiny insignificance every time one of the characters looks up and sees a high-flying super-powered duel being fought in the sky above them, the stunning heroes of any other story about super powers nothing more than indistinct figures and fireballs in the distance.
Though it gets off to a rushed and uneven initial landing, Powers quickly finds its feet and starts chipping away at perhaps being something special. Propelled by an intriguing world of powers, just different enough from the usual superhero fair to still be interesting, Powers leaves room for its characters to grow in the coming episodes and, best of all, makes me definitely want to come back for more. As the first outing of PlayStation Originals programing, it’s not too shabby at all. If you have PS Plus, Powers is definitely worth a try.
Oh, and by the way, I won’t spoil it, but a certain reskinned, super powered Playstation homage totally made my night.
- Great world
- Unique take of super heroes
- Intriguing plot
- Villains need more development/explanation