A big part of the reason that Alphas is cooking along so well is because all of its characters are at once remarkable and grounded. Even better, the show’s not afraid to let them be funny, even when they’re stuck in very serious situations, like the midst of a kidnapping case. Tonight’s episode, “Bill And Gary’s Excellent Adventure,” was yet another that didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the episodes that came before (the case-of-the-week stuff is much more interesting to the show at present than its incipient mythology). But it was invaluable in terms of developing a couple of characters who haven’t gotten as much of interest to do since the show began: the two guys right there in the title.
If there’s one recurring TV character type that isn’t as interesting to me as some of the others but one that keeps popping up in recent years, it’s the Asperger’s guy, the one who’s socially awkward but a genius and gets stuff done because of his laser-minded focus. It’s gone from a character that’s barely seen to a cliché in rapid time, and it all too often is a way to make a serious condition seem like party tricks. Alphas has struggled with what to do with Gary from the first, often sidelining him, and in tonight’s episode, they hit on a simple solution that more or less works: He really, really, really wants to be like Bill, the guy who’s out there solving the cases and getting stuff done. So when he and Bill pretty much accidentally end up working on a kidnapping case (via a construction that is one of my least favorites on procedurals, the “Hey, while you’re here, there’s also a case that will require your skills” construction), he ends up getting to live that dream out for a little while, as the other Alphas are mostly sidelined. It’s a neat idea, and I’m impressed by the kind of chemistry Ryan Cartwright and Malik Yoba display here.
I’m also impressed with how the episode is essentially a very character-driven story about how Bill’s not sure he fits in on the DCIS team anymore. Granted, this is the kind of story that can quickly become grating if it’s turned to too often (that’s two characters in as many weeks who have wondered if they fit at DCIS), but like last week’s episode did with Rachel, it’s important to let Bill know that he belongs with these people. When he and Hicks are executing the plan to save the kidnapped girl at the end and he bursts through a wall like Kool-Aid Man, that’s a great moment for his character, and I was impressed that the show was able to build a believable arc where he was sorely tempted by his old life at the start and pretty sure DCIS was the place for him at the end. So long as Alphas doesn’t keep telling these types of stories, there’s probably room to tell one or two about everybody on the team. It is a pretty weird idea that they’d all just be tossed together like this.
Another bonus: This episode was surprisingly, legitimately funny. From Hicks going over to Nina and Rachel’s place and discovering that Nina pushed Bill Murray to pretty much every scene where Gary was cracking the case, there were solid laughs aplenty this week, and almost all of them came from character-based interactions. It’s tough to do this kind of character stuff and make it funny this short into a sci-fi drama’s run, so it’s a good sign that all involved are able to play both the humor and the pathos of these scenes. The episode also turned on a dime to become far more about Bill and Gary’s struggles in the closing acts, and that final scene where Bill and Rosen had their little chat was a good one. (David Strathairn largely sat this week out, and that’s a good choice, too. For as much as he’s the face of the show and its strongest single actor, he needs to be the head of an ensemble of interesting characters, not the sole compelling dude out there.)
If I have a quibble about this week’s episode, it’s that the case of the week is a little too standard. Last week’s solution was so clever that it’s a little disappointing to return to the world of kidnapped girls and double-crosses and burner cell phones. That said, I did like the gradual reveal that Sarah was in on the whole thing (and particularly liked the moment where she knocked out the GPS and blinded Gary), and I thought the final shootout, with Hicks running up the wall and the bullet-time effects, was nicely done as well. The cases on the show don’t have to be all flash-bang excitement when the character stuff is as solid as it was this week, but last week’s episode combined good character work with a genuinely compelling mystery that boasted a cool solution I didn’t really see coming. This week wasn’t quite as creative in that regard, even if it wasn’t horrible or anything. (That said, the show could definitely look into a new guest actor casting agent. The quality of the guests this season has been pretty hit or miss, and the poor ones this week—especially our kidnapping victim—took me out of those scenes more often than not.)
I always feel kind of insane to be enjoying Alphas as much as I am. At this point, it kind of feels like it’s just out there, without people really talking about it (even if the numbers are pretty good). Honestly, the cancellation of Eureka was a bigger story, and that’s a show that’s been barely clinging to life for years now. For whatever reason, Alphas doesn’t seem to have attracted the kind of epic fan interest that all of these other SyFy shows attract, and I’m hoping that’s just because people are catching up with it. Because this isn’t just a show that’s getting steadily better; it’s a show that’s figuring out how best to put all of the pieces together to make itself truly great. I don’t know if we’re going to get more off-format episodes like this one in the future, but the fact that the show is trying one like this so early in its run is a sign that it’s willing to try just about anything to become the best possible version of itself. And that almost always means good things are ahead.
- In general, this series looks very Canadian, as opposed to anything approaching New York City in reality, but I do think it’s found a pretty nice alt-universe version of New York, if that makes any sense. The locations the show visits in this episode don’t really look anything like New York, but they do look like the idea of New York a science fiction author might have in their head while writing this sort of story. (Again, I’m pretty sure that makes no sense, but it has to be said.)
- Hicks moves fast, doesn’t he?
- I did love the way the episode just dropped us into the thick of things after that scene between Bill and his wife. On the other hand, I’d rather not have his wife turn into the fun-killing girl, something the show skews uncomfortably close to from time to time.
- “So he should be out in, like, 15 years.”
- “You pushed Bill Murray?”
- “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, science.”