Review: ‘Powers’: Sony PlayStation’s superhero series has its allure, flaws

Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“Powers,” which bursts upon the world Tuesday — or, rather, upon a select portion of it — is the first series from, and available exclusively on, Sony PlayStation — yes, it’s another platform you’re going to have to take account of, television watchers, and I do share your pain. It’s worth noting that Sony, as recent events involving hacked emails and such may have reminded you, is already a producer of content for movies and television and not merely a maker of home entertainment gear.

Appropriate to a machine designed to play video games, “Powers” is both a science-fiction and a cop show, a procedural with fantastic elements. Based on a series of comics and graphic novels written by Brian Michael Bendis (who has since its inception become a bigwig at Marvel) and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming, it’s set in an alternate Los Angeles where superheroes and supervillains are part of the cultural mix, human police attempt to regulate superhuman behavior, and the Sony Vaio is the laptop of choice.

Sharlto Copley (he’s also Chappie in the movie “Chappie”) plays Det. Christian Walker, formerly the superhero known as Diamond. Having lost his powers in an epochal battle with a controversial charismatic madman philosopher supervillain called Wolfe (Eddie Izzard, naked, chained and repeatedly lobotomized), he now fights crime the old-fashioned way, with leg work, brains and coffee. But he does miss being able to fly.


Viewing superheroes and villains (partly) through the eyes of the mortals who toil in their shadows and clean up their messes — the messes the good guys leave as well as the bad — is novel enough, though it was more novel 15 years ago, when the comic launched. (NBC’s “Grimm,” for one later example, has been doing something similar with monsters since 2011.)

Still, “Powers” feels weighed down with the over-familiar: the tortured, rumpled veteran cop partnered with the too-eager rookie in the wake of the death of his last partner; the cop and the criminal who are former friends; the acerbic medical examiner in his windowless lair. (Though here he does get to say, “Forced to guess, I would have to assume that a portal from an alternate dimension briefly occupied the physical space that once contained this man’s head.”)

The series is overwrought or obvious at times, and here and there can look surprisingly cheap. But it’s generally quite watchable and not uninteresting, and the fact that it exists at all will be enough for some fans of the books, even with some reimagined characters and reshuffled story lines.

And it does sometimes catch the spirit of the original. (Certainly it reproduces its fulsome profanity.) One of Bendis’ inspirations was the VH1 series “Behind the Music” — the comic included elaborate parodies of gossip magazines — and the TV series preserves this playful superheroes-as-celebrities slant. The most successful have agents and groupies and product endorsements; they inspire cartoon series, appear on trading cards.

In his conventionally unconventional non-committal beard, Copley is fine. But both he and the appealing Susan Heyward as new partner Deena Pilgrim are boxed in by their parts.

Faring far better are a formidable Michelle Forbes as Retro Girl, a tough-minded superstar who lives in a Powerpuff Girl Dream House and has a complicated past with Walker/Diamond, and Noah Taylor as Johnny Royalle, an oddly tender villain who can disappear from here and appear over there. Their dialed-down performances help sell the world, make you feel, “Yes, this could happen, nearly.”




When: Debuts Wednesday

Rating: Not rated, but contains intense violence and strong language