So the Pilot Episode of Powers premiered yesterday, and Lauren Davis was kind enough to share her thoughts on it.
Pilots have enough obstacles standing in the way of being great television. You generally have to introduce your characters and your premise fast, which in an hour means doing a lot of telling, not showing.
Most of my problems stem from differences with the Powers Comic, which is pretty damned great already.
Explaining those differences will involve a lot of SPOILERS, so consider yourselves warned.
Walker's Late Partner Was An Idiot
The comic and the pilot both see the start of Walker's partnership with Deena Pilgrim, from whom we can expect great things. The downside is we have to make room for her. In the comic, this was simple: nobody could stand Walker, and he didn't have a partner at the time.
Here he already has a partner (whose name I refuse to remember), suffering from a fatal case of plot-induced stupidity. Yes, answering your phone is precisely the thing to do when marching a suspect into a cage. A suspect who is a foot taller than you and built like a tree. A suspect who is visibly charging up his powers, despite the numerous tranquilizers / power suppressants injected into his neck.
The brute gets loose, kills this guy and other cops before Walker returns and shoots him dead. I feel no sympathy at all for Walker's late partner, because his gross negligence got himself and other, possibly smarter, officers killed.
Things Are Happening Out Of Order, Which Didn't Need Fixing
So this could have been avoided quite neatly if the police had access to Dampeners, green light power-suckers that cancel out any Powers in range. They're standard issue in the light fixtures at the precinct, and even get weaponized for field use in the fullness of time. Here, they haven't even been invented yet. (A trailer for the rest of the series does mention their introduction.)
Here's the thing: You're introducing a new universe, with its own set of rules. It's absolutely fine to set up at the beginning that these Dampeners already exist. They haven't been around long, but they ARE useful, and even their backstory is relevant. Or at least, it would have been.
Walker's Backstory And Personality Have Gotten A Complete(ly Unnecessary) Overhaul
In the comics: Christian Walker is an Ex-Power, who used to go by the name 'Diamond'. Back in the day, he was superhero royalty, but he was getting tired of it. An accident with the prototype of the Dampeners left him and Wolf without their powers, seemingly for good.
Thing is, Comics!Walker was okay with this. There's a distinct possibility he made the accident happen, in the hopes that he'd be stripped of his powers. His contact on the Force owed him some favors, and next thing we know, Christian Walker's a police officer.
Here, that's all shot to hell. Diamond got into a fight with a villain named Wolf a while back, and Wolf 'ate' his powers. This version of Walker is still bitter and angsty over it. It's more dramatic, but I wouldn't say it makes for better television.
[Seriously big comic spoilers below. You've been warned.]
More to the point, this version of Walker is, for all intents and purposes, a normal guy who hasn't been around that long. Comics!Walker is tens of thousands of years old, since the dawn of Man. Problem is, his head can only hold so many memories, and anything more than several decades back is a blur. That Walker is an intensely private person, he's serious, he doesn't have much of a sense of humor.
This Walker grew up, went to high school, and has personal history as a teen with other characters. So it's either an elaborate lie, or the Playstation series has thrown out whole millennia of character development. Which sucks.
Walker's Identity Is Already Public
Speaking of things that suck: it's already public knowledge that Christian Walker and Diamond are one in the same. It's perfectly well and good for characters to have backstory (unless you delete most of it), but giving away this much in the pilot is a mistake. Twice.
For one thing, at this point there's virtually nothing for the audience to learn about the character. There is no mystery, no suspense, no curiosity to know more. He's an open book.
For another, there's a point in the comics where Walker's history as Diamond provides valuable leverage. He dangles his personal story as currency to the showrunner of a crass tabloid show, Powers That Be. It's seen as a sacrifice— Walker is intensely private— and it pays off big time. Here, there's none of that tension, and apparently to the world at large, he's already a punchline. So to hell with that.
The Problems With Retro Girl
Of the problems with the new Powers show, Power Girl's a big part of it. Comics!Retro Girl was nostalgia personified, an insanely popular hero... before her untimely murder. (Vol. 1 of Powers is called 'Who Killed Retro Girl?') She was supposed to be the embodiment of a hero doing good. She didn't get caught up in scandal (which isn't to say she didn't have a sex life), and her character was more or less unimpeachable. After her death, she was practically beatified.
Then there's Callista. A precocious pre-teen at the start of the comic, she grew into her own and was surprised (but not alarmed) to find she had inherited Power Girl's legacy. She got her powers, some of her memories, and a strong drive to use her powers for Good. She's been one of the most interesting comic book heroines to read, and a stand out personality in Powers.
Then there's the live-action series.
Michelle Forbes is a fine actress, but I'm struggling to think of worse casting for Power Girl. She's dour. Granted, we've only seen her in action for ten seconds, but for all of those ten seconds, she's completely joyless. Not the best first impression for a character that's supposed to be a superhero and a role model.
Then there's live-action Callista. Where to begin. This version is a homeless Wannabe, 100% convinced that she's a Power who simply hasn't gotten her powers yet. The fact that she's probably right about her destiny doesn't make her sound any less pathetic, entitled, or impatient.
She's been reduced to the spandex equivalent of a star-fucker, willing to prostitute herself for the chance to receive temporary powers via fluid exchange. It hasn't worked yet, but she's admitted she's willing to try again. I am not making this up.
It's the difference between a hard working young woman who's surprised by an inheritance she was never expecting... and a spoiled heiress waiting for her predecessor to die so she can get her legacy, despite there being no in-story indicators that she's entitled to a damn thing.
Johnny Royale Is Pretty Much The Worst
With the Wolf still in prison (here they call it 'The Shaft'), the series apparently needs a main antagonist for the foreseeable future. That could work, I guess.
Never mind that a Police Procedural would naturally shift from case to case, dealing with new mysteries every week. Never mind that in the comics, Johnny Royale is a nuisance and a constant thorn in the side of the cops, without the delusions of grandeur.
The police are convinced Royale is dead, despite any evidence whatsoever that it's the case. The guy's a teleporter. Vanishing without a trace is his MO.
The faked death thing, coupled with Royale's delusion that he IS Walker's nemesis, combine for a very mixed bag. He demonstrates that his powers CAN kill, when he telefrags a man's head off. Unfortunately, his power is accompanied by a sound effect like something out of a cartoon. The result is that it's an uphill battle to take him seriously. This is likely deliberate. How that will pan out... remains to be seen.
I'm aware that my view of the Pilot is heavily colored by my preference for the comic. On the other hand, it doesn't make the pilot any less bad. Our hero is an angst-ridden misappropriation of his comic book counterpart, Deena Pilgrim is a sidekick instead of a partner, we're following a young homeless wannabe whose only redeeming quality so far is her hope to achieve greatness... somehow.
It's not good. Maybe it will be. But it has a long way to go.
Casey Jones is a screenwriter, author, and voiceover artist with a day job. He did not lose his powers in a freak accident; but he did need to have that pesky third arm removed.