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Archive for Monday, July 11, 2011

Strathairn elevates ‘Alphas’ from genre cliche

July 11, 2011

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They're gifted and driven and a little bit off. They're "Alphas" (9 p.m., Syfy). Acclaimed actor David Strathairn ("Temple Grandin," "Good Night and Good Luck," "The Sopranos") stars as Dr. Lee Rosen, the neurologist and scoutmaster for a team of special talents with complementary skills. Not to mention some issues.

Much like "Heroes," this series kicks off with a handsome character suffering what appears to be a psychotic breakdown. Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie) receives a strange phone call. Before you can say "Manchurian Candidate," he's beset with voices and images that tell him, "Pull the trigger," and "It's time to kill." It's a powerful and disturbing scene, culminating in an assassination.

This theme of psychological disturbance continues throughout the pilot. Rosen's team of Alphas includes Bill (Malik Yoba), whose adrenaline gives him Hulk-like strength and near-stroke conditions. Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) can read fine print several blocks away or hear distant conversations, but she can use only one super-sense at a time. This leaves her vulnerable, to say the least. Not unlike a Jedi Knight, Nina (Laura Mennell) can bend another's will to her own. So why does she seem so lonely and forlorn? Gary (Ryan Cartwright) can literally see the electrical waves and pulses around him, making him handy at tracing cell phone chatter. But his concentration comes at a cost. He may be an Alpha, but he's also autistic.

Gary's role in "Alphas" and the similarity of Strathairn's character to the mentor he played in "Temple Grandin" underscore the notion of these Alphas as gifted, yet well outside the social norm.

The scenes of Dr. Rosen as a referee between spatting proteges are far more interesting than the moments of cloak-and-dagger action. Is Rosen the Alphas' leader, their therapist or their captor? That's a question that should make many return. "Alphas" follows new episodes of "Eureka" (7 p.m., Syfy) and "Warehouse 13" (8 p.m., Syfy).

So many cable series are returning or debuting tonight, it seems like the first day of school.

• Brenda fends off lawsuits and department politics to focus on a mass murder at a rap music video party as the seventh season of "The Closer" (8 p.m., TNT) begins.

• Another New Jersey bakery gets ready for its close-up on "Tough Cookies" (9 p.m., Food).

• "Design Star" (8 p.m., HGTV) returns with a dozen new finalists.

• Actor Jake Gyllenhaal joins host Bear Grylls on an all-new "Man vs. Wild" (8 p.m., Discovery).

• Military training continues on "Surviving the Cut 2" (9 p.m., Discovery).

• Anthony Bourdain samples the cuisine of Cuba on "No Reservations" (8 p.m., Travel).

• Jane reunites with an old friend on "Rizzoli & Isles" (9 p.m., TNT).

Tonight’s other highlights

• The Home Run Derby (7 p.m., ESPN) anticipates Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game.

• Afghan women face trials for sexual activity on "Love Crimes of Kabul" (8 p.m., HBO).

• "Unsung" (9 p.m., TV One) profiles Evelyn "Champagne" King.

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