Why Syfy's Alphas is more than just another superhero show

Contributed by
Dec 15, 2012

Remember The 4400 and Heroes? Well, Syfy's newest series, Alphas, isn't anything like them, promises executive producer Ira Steven Behr and castmates Ryan Cartwright and Azita Ghanizada.

Instead the series—about a disparate group of people with special abilities who work for the government—takes on subjects like autism and extreme science, but mixes in humor and some very real characters.

"We don't consider ourselves a superhero show by any means," said Behr, who also executive-produced The 4400. "We're trying to take what's already going on or what can already go on within the human brain and just up it a little bit more to extreme science. So I think that is interesting, the fact that the characters themselves are not exactly suited to the position that they're in."

These are not your typical heroes, according to Behr. "This is a group of people who are not really your first choice to be an investigative unit or to be going out into the field and getting shot [at]," he added. "They are working for the government, but the government doesn't totally know whether to trust them. They don't know whether to trust the government. They're working against this organization of Alphas called Red Flag, and Red Flag keeps telling them that they're on the wrong side. And it's a very precarious position to be in."

Perhaps the most non-typical person in the group is Gary Bell, an autistic man who is a "transducer," meaning he's a human antennae with the ability to read a wide range of frequencies. Gary is played by English actor Ryan Cartwright, who played the recently deceased Vincent Nigel-Murray on Bones.

"It was really good piecing together Gary to the point where I could actually give him a good sense of humor and lift him like all actors say, you want to lift the guy off the page," said Cartwright. "You don't want to play the syndrome. You want to play the character and the person. And the way it was written, as well, was really good. He had a voice already there. So yes, it was a really good challenge but a fun challenge, and now he's up and running. It's really good to be Gary every day."

Of course, playing an autistic man who often finds himself in tense situations, even Gary begins to wonder if he should be apart of the Alphas team. "There's just a ton of action and it's gotten seriously dangerous and it's at a certain point now for Gary where he is having to decide himself, and also those around him are having to decide, whether it's even right to put a person like Gary in these dangerous, life threatening situations," said Cartwright.

"And it's very interesting because it seems like it actually is the best thing for him, in a way, because he is his own person. And even though he is making decisions within a limited capacity, it's still his decision. So it's a very trying time, I guess, for little old Gary. But he seems to be having fun. So let him get shot at," he added.

As for the other character in the group, Rachel Pirzad, who also may not be quite equipped to handle the action-packed adventure she's found herself in, she'll end up gaining more confidence thanks to her situation, said Ghanizada (Castle), who's from Afghanistan. Her character, a timid, sheltered girl, is a "synesthete," who can enhance one sense while losing the ability to use her other senses. In essence it makes her a human forensics lab.

"I think Rachel is all heart. I think she's extremely emotional and very sensitive," said Ghanizada. "In the pilot you see her, she's not very confident in that fact because she has been told her whole life that this is a condition. If anything it's a disease, it's a curse. And it's created a lot of fear for her to be able to communicate that she has these abilities and she's seen them as nothing but a curse for her entire life.

"You definitely feel her struggle the most with her family as the series progresses and [she tries] to make these choices to become confident and to become the authority. She's extremely bright and with Dr. Rosen and the rest of the Alphas she really learns that she's an integral part in solving these cases," said Ghanizada.

Through her work with the Alphas, "you see her finding her balance and finding her way through that stuff and blossoming and becoming more confident and becoming more eager to be utilized and becoming proud of herself. It's a really awesome journey. And they have done a really good job in giving her this arc to break free. She's just so special, you know? She's really pure. There's a purity to her heart and I'm really privileged to be playing her."

The other members of the Alphas include: Dr. Lee Rosen (David Strathairn), who leads the group and works to help them deal with their special abilities; former FBI agent Bill Harken (Malik Yoba), who has super strength; the beautiful and manipulative Nina Theroux (Laura Mennell), who can influence most people to do whatever she wants; and we'll also meet Cameron Hicks (Warren Christie), who has a condition called "hyperkinesis," which allows his mind and body to be in perfect sync and do things like take an impossible shot.

"The show evolves every week and the show is different every week. I mean we could have a really [tense] dark episode," said Behr. "And then we do an episode which has the title 'Bill & Gary's Excellent Adventure,' which gives you an idea that it might not be the darkest show in the history of television, where Bill and Gary go off on an assignment or not even an assignment and get to work together."

According to Behr, "there is a real honest and true humor to the show and humor to the situations these people find themselves in. I mean the stories can get extremely dark. Don't get me wrong. They can be dark," said Behr. "They can be violent at times. But we try to remain true to what would ordinary people ... how would they react to being in those situations? And there is a lot of humor in extreme situations as protection just to get through them because people yearn for the normal. And to get them there they will depend at times on their relationships and the humor within those relationships."

Alphas is not a "cookie cutter series where every episode is exactly the same and plays out basically as the episode the week before and the episode the week after." Things will change for the dysfunctional created family and the characters over time, said Behr.

"As we like to say in the writers office, the center cannot hold," said Behr. "Eventually you know, things are going to start cracking. Cracks are going to appear on the surface and, I think, by the end of season one there will be cracks appearing all over the surface."

Alphas premieres on Syfy on Monday, July 11 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Will you tune in?

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker