After watching Alphas on SyFy last night, I feel like it’s a show that makes a lot of sense to watch alongside Misfits. They’re both shows about people with powers that are as inconvenient as they are helpful. And as Rowan Kaiser pointed out yesterday, Misfits is a show that reverses the polarity on traditional heroes and villains, because in the absence of people who will believe in the main characters’ powers, they seem dangerous and crazy. Alphas is the reverse of that, a show about people with superpowers that would be disastrous if they weren’t managed and protected by someone who can advocate for them within conventional heirarchies. Without someone to mediate between the human and the superpowered world, both shows suggest that things could get ugly, Misfits by showing that reality, Alphas by suggesting it.
Whereas the kids from Misfits face off with probation workers with good intentions and frightening levels of committment, the characters on Alphas are watched over by David Strathairn as Dr. Lee Rosen, a kindly psychiatrist and neurologist who mediates between his charges, swims a lot, eats “Asian pennywort. It increases the blood flow of oxygen to the brain,” and speculates about the skiffle origins of his favorite musicians. Both shows get that superpowers may interfere with characters’ abilities to function in the real world: Alisha on Misfits might not be able to have a regular sex life, Rachel on Alphas has parents who assume she’s unmarriageable because of her sensitivities (though they don’t know she knows they think that), and Alphas‘ Gary clearly is somewhere on the autism spectrum. And both shows get that superpowers make for an awfully tetchy group environment. On Alphas, Rosen is an escape valve for that pressure. In the five episodes of Misfits I’ve seen so far, it’s not so clear that the group will be able to stand together.
I tend to think that these kinds of shows in conjunction with efforts like FX’s adaptation of Powers, and things like the rise of the human characters in S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel movies, we’re reaching the second phase of superhero stories beyond the pages of comic books. The first was about how superheroes learn to live with themselves once they’ve attained great power or, in the case of Batman and Thor, taken on great quests. The second is how the rest of us learn to live with them in a society profoundly altered by their presence.