The tale of the American Ideal vs. the American Reality through superheroes.
In 1929, Sheldon Sampson (Josh Duhamel), his brother Walter (Ben Daniels), their friend George Hutchence (Matt Lanter), engineer genius Fitz Small (Mike Wade), journalist Grace Kennedy (Leslie Bibb), and doctor Richard Conrad (David Julian Hirsh) debut as the first superheroes and form the superteam the Union. 90 years later, Sheldon/The Utopian and his now-wife Grace/Lady Liberty are dealing with a crop of new heroes, including their children Brandon and Chloe (Andrew Horton/Elena Kampouris), that don’t believe that the Utopian’s lofty ideals are doing good in the modern age. It turns out that not everyone is powerful enough to be able to abide by the Union’s code, and the villains are proving that they know that. Another complication is that Hutchence’s son Hutch (Ian Quinlan) is acting as a villain-for-hire.
The comic book Jupiter’s Legacy, being only a 10 issue mini-series, progresses a lot faster in many ways than this show does, but the worldbuilding in the show naturally has to take longer than it does in the comic. After all, you can showcase a radically redesigned world and sneak in little differences from reality all throughout the background of comic panels and people can spend the time to look for them. In the show, we have to be more explicit and spend times to show the differences in how police work, how advertising works, and, most importantly, how endorsements work. After all, it carries more weight to buy a Mercedes when the person advertising them has to pick WHICH person they’re going to pull out of the way of a train. Also, the show diverges enough that even if you’ve read Jupiter’s Legacy, you’re still going to get a lot out of this show.
The theme of the series is largely about the conflict between the generations, which mashes up the real generation gap between the Baby Boomers and Millennials with the conflict between the Golden Age of comics and the Dark Age of comics. In the Golden Age, represented by the Utopian, heroes didn’t kill, the bad guys often tried to avoid a murder charge, and the crowds tried to live up to the symbol of the heroes. In the Dark Age, heroes kill bad guys, anti-heroes abound, and the bad guys are usually psychopaths who murder en masse. The Utopian, unfortunately, has lived long enough to watch the world change from one to the other. Now, all his code seems to do is get other heroes killed, because they have to hold back against villains who won’t. Other series have covered this idea and there really isn’t an agreed upon right answer. The closest I’ve seen to balancing “the code” with reality is probably the series Empowered which established that heroes don’t (usually) kill and villains don’t kill because, if they do, then an army of superheroes will hunt them down and either kill them or make the villains wish they did.
The performances in the show are excellent, particularly since most of the heroes have to play both their younger, optimistic selves and their older, more cynical and world-weary selves. I particularly like Leslie Bibb’s portrayal, because she conveys her frustration at the code without ever saying anything directly. The superpowers in the show range from standard to overpowered, and some of the characters here reveal that they are better at using their powers than others (with one character going in a single scene from a low-rank power to one of the most ridiculously dangerous characters in the show).
Overall, really well done so far, looking forward to seeing more of it.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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