Cape Creator: It's a Crime Drama With Costumes

NBC’s The Cape is ready to swing into action, giving viewers a rather intense, two-hour first look this Sunday at 9/8c, before settling into its Mondays-at-9 time slot starting January 17.

But how does this costumed crimefighter compare to his apparent brethren, including Batman and Daredevil?

The set-up: Policeman Vince Farady (ER‘s David Lyons) is framed for a wave of crimes committed by a figure known only as Chess (True Blood‘s James Frain). Left for dead, Vince gets a second chance, concealing his identity under the persona of his son Trip’s favorite comic-book hero, The Cape. With the help of a colorful band of “advisors” and a mysterious beauty named Orwell (Firefly‘s Summer Glau),Vince sets out to bring down Chess, get his good name back from a corrupt police force, and reunite with his family.

TVLine sat down with series creator Tom Wheeler to talk about this bold new TV venture — as well as address some early critiques.

TVLINE | Having seen the premiere, I have to wonder: Was it always conceived as a two-hour block?
We always knew that was a possibility, but a lot of those decisions aren’t made until late in the game. I knew [the two episodes] could work in concert but also separately.

TVLINE | I ask because it’s a lot to take in. I mean, first we meet Chess/Peter Fleming, who’s plenty imposing in his own right, and then bam! – there’s another big baddie, named Scales.
It’s a big ol’ bunch of Cape. [Chuckles] There are two adventures in there , for sure, but it gives you a good flavor for the show. There is separateness to that second hour — we’ve got the cape on and we explore themes in a different way. It’s a lot of story, but I’m proud of how it turned out.

Exclusive First Look: Meet The Cape‘s Real Caped Crusader

TVLINE | Of course you’re drawing some comparisons to Batman. How would you say the two stories diverge the most?
Obviously I’m a big comic book guy and the most recent stuff from (The Dark Knight writer/director) Chris Nolan, and Iron Man…. The stories couldn’t be more different in terms of the origin story and the catalyst and the family and the way he’s trained, but there’s no question he’s a pulp-style hero. The heroes I love are on the ground, not necessarily with galactic powers. I’ve always been drawn to Daredevil, stories like that. I want this to be a sort of costumed crime drama where it’s not always about the world blowing up.

TVLINE | Some critics have rolled their eyes at the circus-performer thieves who train Vince, but I like it. Heck, I’d even like to see more of that.
It’s going to be a huge part of it. I’m a Houdini fan, and I love the texture of characters from that world. Max Malini (played by Keith David, Spawn) is a huge mystery character with a lot of layers.

TVLINE | And Rollo, the strongman little person, is pretty badass.
Rollo (Martin Klebba) is awesome. We are working very hard to make sure that they’re not just the fun gang that follows him around. They’re basically crooks with a shtick, and we play that. Max has set in motion a relationship [with Vince] that can only end in collision, which is great. Nobody wants to collide with Keith David!

TVLINE | Orwell, the all-knowing blogger played by Summer Glau, seems to have a horse in this race. Is she related to Fleming?
I’m not saying anything. There have been some initial speculations…. She has a complicated history, let’s say.

TVLINE | It’d be a shame not to make good use of Jennifer Ferrin (Life On Mars). What sort of stories can you tell with Vince’s wife out there on the periphery?
Jennifer is just a star, and her performance has given Dana even more of a presence on the show. Vince’s wife and son will play a huge role, as they represent the heart and soul of Palm City. They ground it in a reality that helps the show’s emotional stakes. We are going to see that Dana has a journey that is as fraught and dangerous as Vince’s in a way, because she’s a single mom in a city that’s falling apart. She’s going to be trying to find out, “What happened to my husband?” — and in doing so, get pulled into this story in many ways.

TVLINE | And Peter Fleming’s overall agenda: Is it big, really big, or frighteningly big?
[Laughs] It is frighteningly big. There’s always a bigger dog down the line, and we’ll start to see more of Peter Fleming and a bit less of Chess. James [Frain] is such a great actor, and Peter Fleming is becoming such a favorite. He’s like a psychotic James Bond — you like him, but he’s so awful and horrible. He believes himself to be a world builder, and Palm City is a sort of nesting area. But there’s more than even he realizes at work.