There aren't any tights or costumes in sight, but many of the familiar building blocks are put in place by the drama's series premiere: The unusually powerful team that sometimes held back by bickering and interpersonal issues; the abrupt government agent with the ambiguous agenda; the thoughtful, professorial leader of the team who is not named Professor Charles Xavier but who might as well be. (At least 'Alphas' comes by its 'X-Men' connections honestly: Co-creator Zak Penn was one of the writers on a couple of 'X-Men' movies.)
As an origin story, 'Alphas' hits some notes too hard and lacks a certain subtlety, yet there's potential in this tale, especially if it delves into the psychological cost of being extraordinary.
The least interesting thing that 'Alphas' could do would be to devolve into a superhero-flavored police procedural, which is one obvious way the show could go. In the pilot, Dr. Lee Rosen (David Straithairn) leads his motley team as it investigates an odd murder, and though the twists and turns of the investigation provides an efficient way of sketching out the relationships on the team, the most interesting moments of the pilot don't have anything to do with cracking the case.
In one scene, a patient Rosen helps a potential new member of the team understand the range of his abilities, and in another, two Alphas in a dingy apartment have a conversation that is loaded with intriguing subtext. These are really the most interesting parts of this show: Rosen's fatherly, borderline-obsessive interest in his disparate, socially awkward charges, and the ways that the Alphas themselves relate to each other as members of a very strange tribe.
Less interesting are the ways in which the show repeats certain character beats so many times that you may be tempted to shout, "OK, I get it! The Hulk and the autistic guy who is a whiz at processing electronic data don't get along!" Malik Yoba doesn't exactly play the Hulk, but his character, former FBI agent Bill Harken, has "enhanced strength from [his] fight or flight response," according to the show's press notes. So far Harken is the most grating member of the team, given that as a former member of "real" law enforcement, he thinks the Alpha team's membership and methods are beneath him.
Other members of the team include a slick "influencer" who can get people to do her will, a shy young woman whose super-senses allow to her examine crime scenes in an intense way, and a man with "hyperkinesis," which means, I think, that he can do whatever the show needs him to do. As the aforementioned autistic man, Gary Bell, Ryan Cartwright is the cast's early standout; he manages to make Bell not just a collection of predictable behaviors but a real person with a prickly, individual intelligence.
Of course, Straithairn, one of Hollywood's most valuable character actors, is reason enough to tune in. His nicely observed portrait of the slightly eccentric Rosen is compelling, but Straithairn never goes for the hammy, scenery-chewing approach, which makes his low-key charisma all the more effective.
In the pilot, which was direct by 'Lost' veteran Jack Bender, there are some good action sequences, but the pilot script also contains its share of convenient plot turns and coincidences. The agenda of the bad guy that the team is hunting is unclear and the role of the government handler played by Callum Keith Rennie is also murky, but there is time for 'Alphas' to make those aspects of the show interesting parts of the mythology rather than mildly irritating mysteries.
The good news is that 'Alphas' appears to have more grit and dramatic potential than the network's lighter 'Warehouse 13' and 'Eureka,' which also return Monday. Don't get me wrong, I have soft spots for those shows (and 'Warehouse 13' is worth checking out for Aaron Ashmore's arrival as the new guy on the team), but Syfy hasn't shown much ambition in the way of scripted drama since 'Battlestar Galactica' went off the air.
The pilot for 'Alphas' may not be perfect, but it's not necessarily originality I'm looking for here. The "band of outsiders" concept has proven sturdy enough to anchor everything from 'Buffy' to the enduring 'X-Men' franchise, and I'm willing to give 'Alphas' a chance to prove that this particular collection of misfits can mine this familiar territory for compelling stories about loneliness, connection and identity.
If nothing else, there are no vampires. So there's that.
Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.