Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Like Alphas

 “Alphas” is a new program on the Syfy channel that features five people who are “alphas” – “persons with extraordinary abilities.”  Their job is to find other alphas who use their extreme mental and physical abilities for wrongdoing (i.e. destroy the world).   So every week the” good guy” alphas fight the” bad guy” alphas – as my son, James, would say. 
One woman, the soft spoken, repressed Rachel, can shut out four of her five senses and use her remaining sense to hear heartbeats, see dust patterns, etc.  She fights alphas by day and by night battles her traditional family’s embarrassment by her abilities and, of course, her unmarried status. 

Another woman, Nina, is the token hottie (is that word still used?).  She’s a poor man’s Samantha Fox and when she’s not battling bad-guy alphas with her enhanced powers of suggestion, she wrestling with her own sexy bad girl demons.  My husband, Don lights up when she answers a post of his on her Facebook page.  I haven’t had the heart to tell him that more likely her publicist team is responding to all of the horny, drooling men who post.  But, I digress…

One man, Bill, is a family man with super strength, and another, Cameron, is a loner who has hyperkinetic abilities.  Like every man on an action show, they are both dealing with their own macho issues.

And then there is Gary.

Gary is young man who has high-functioning autism (“32 on the CARS scale” as he tells people) and who can see and read electromagnetic waves.  Gary is in his mid 20s and lives with his mother, who isn’t sure how she feels about her son’s work.
Each character brings to the team his or her own extraordinary ability.  They also bring their own baggage – some of which is already apparent and some which is slowly unfolding.  Except Gary. 

Gary’s baggage is his autism and it’s right there.  No secrets.   It’s there when he moves his arms and fingers and looks around like he’s reading something (because he is).  It’s there in his mother’s worn and worried face.  It’s there in how he speaks, in his obsessions, and in his unashamed honesty.
It’s hard for television to portray a person with autism without showcasing the characteristics that work for the plot.  Very often the character is low functioning and has some sort of breakthrough because the protagonist performed one final, larger than human, life-saving act.  Lost autistic boy is found and gives the hero his first hug ever as the parents stand by smiling and weeping at the same time. 

Gary has savant abilities and to some people in the autism community that in itself is a stereotypical portrayal.  But all of the main characters in Alphas have savant abilities so that makes Gary an equal member of the team.  And, in a sense, these characters are as different from each other as Gary is from them.  They would hardly be acquaintances if they didn’t share their alpha abilities.  So not only do they have to navigate Gary’s perspective, they have to navigate each other’s – because they all need each other.   
The show artfully sprinkles some subtle glimpses into Gary’s inner life so that we can compare how the world sees Gary versus what he sees.  When Gary is seemingly flicking his fingers, he’s reading radio waves.  Or when Gary notes that there is a roaming security camera (he can see the waves) in the building next door that can look into their office and that’s why he won’t go to the bathroom at certain times during the hour.

Ultimately – like in all action shows – they are all tortured souls who want something and are dealing with whatever it is sitting inside of them holding them back.  Gary’s wants may be more concrete – he wants friends, he wants to drive a car, he wants people to listen to him – but his autism is holding him back.  Rachel wants to speak her mind like Gary does but her upbringing holds her back.  Nina wants love but doesn’t believe she deserves it (because she’s such a hot sexy bad girl with a past).  The men…well you get the picture.   

In the end, they are all different – different from us, different from each other.  They fight bad guys and, like us, they wrestle with their issues – together and on equal footing. 

And that’s why I like Alphas.

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