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Is Sony's First PSN Show, Powers, Worth Watching?

by Ben Reeves on Mar 09, 2015 at 06:00 AM

In April of 2000, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming scraped together enough free time and money to release their own privately-owned comic called Powers. It was a passion project, and a small group of comic fans quickly became equally passionate about it. Powers was a smart police procedural that took place before a backdrop of corrupt superheroes. Nearly 15 years after its debut, Sony has adapted this cult classic into a full-blown web series debuting on PSN, but does Sony's first foray into serialized drama have what it takes to compete with Netflix, Amazon, or even YouTube? We offer up our impressions of the first three episodes.

The Powers comic was about as successful as any independently funded book could expect to be. It turned its creators into comic superstars nearly overnight. Bendis himself has become an important member of Marvel Comic's brain trust, has written video games, and even consulted on Marvel's TV and film universe. Meanwhile, Oeming went on to work on the award-winning The Mice Templar comic before finding a job at Valve Software and producing a series of Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and Portal 2 web comics. However, these creators haven't forgotten about the little comic that launched their careers and have teamed up with Sony to turn Powers into a live-action serial drama. Unfortunately – much like the superheroes it portrays – this series is full of flaws.

Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team) plays Christian Walker, a grim, burnt-out superhero who started wearing a police badge after losing his powers in a mysterious superhero clash. After Walker's partner is brutally murdered on the job, he teams up with a young, take-no-guff rookie named Deena Pilgrim, played by Susan Heyward (The Following). At first glance, these two characters feel about as deep as a two-sentence character bio, and even though Copley and Heyward have decent acting chops, we're rarely given a look into their personal lives or backgrounds, so their characters remain thin even by episode three. 

When one of Walker's super-powered friends turns up dead in a nightclub, the detectives uncover a market of designer drugs being distributed among the Powers community. Enter Johnny Royalle, played by Noah Taylor (Almost Famous, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), a criminal Power and nightclub owner with the ability to teleport from place to place with a Looney Tunes pop. Royalle has been distributing his drugs among fledgling Powers, and while his motivations are never entirely clear, this black hat acts so sinister that he might as well be twirling his mustache.

Powers' scripting has its highs and lows, but its production values are mostly low. All of the super-powered heroes in the series have costumes that look like they were bought off a rack at a thrift store, and I've seen better CG effects in a Freddie Wong video. In an age where YouTube clips look more and more like the big-budget content that networks push onto our television sets, Powers falls short.

The most disappointing aspect of Powers is that it fails to do justice to its beloved source material. I love the "people with super powers are rock stars" analogy, and there are moments where the show plays with the concept that even super heroes fail to be heroic sometimes, but I would have preferred a more faithful interpretation of Bendis' original, nearly cinematic script. Plot points that the original creators spent several issues building up to in the comic are quickly laid out before the first episode's opening title shot, which strips them of all their punch.

While some fans of the comic will be mildly entertained by the show's unique take on this beloved series, the under-edited narrative, slightly hammy acting, and a meager production budget won't help bring in new fans. For those people, I'd like to suggest the original source material, which remains a fresh take on police procedurals and superhero theatrics even 15 years after its initial release.

Even if you don’t have a PSN subscription, you can still watch the first episode of Powers for free on Sony’s official site starting March 10. PSN subscribers can watch the entire show free of charge. Everyone else can buy each episode for $1.99/per SD episode and $2.99/per HD episode.