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Friday, July 11, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  Fair
Arts

TELEVISION

Alphas solves crimes with strange brains
Super freaks

The Alphas have a neurological advantage.
The Alphas have a neurological advantage.
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The networks throw a lot of cop shows at the wall, and few of them stick. But Alphas (Monday, 9 p.m., SyFy) has extraordinary power - and why not, since it's about people with extraordinary power?

In this well-thought-out sci fi universe, "Alphas" are people with a neurological advantage. For example, Bill (Malik Yoba) is capable of remarkable strength, Nina (Laura Mennell) of controlling people's thoughts, Rachel (Azita Ghanizada) of intense sensory perception. These super freaks are brought together by Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn), who tends to their psychological well-being along with deploying them to solve crimes for the government. And not just any crimes, but those involving other Alphas.

The interactions among the misfit crew ring true, with each character given a credible persona. The filmmaking snaps and crackles, thanks to an expert use of music, editing and visual effects.

I predict you'll become a fan of Alphas. That's because I am gifted with the extraordinary power of knowing what you will like.

Masterpiece Mystery
Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)

The Miss Marple mysteries I've seen have a comic undertone, acknowledging the absurdity of a little old lady solving crimes out in the English countryside. But "The Pale Horse" takes a more serious approach to evil - indeed, it could give you nightmares. The episode begins with a chilling montage: a dying woman confessing her "wickedness" while a priest is beaten to death in a foggy London alley. Miss Marple, a friend of the murdered priest, springs into action after reading a mysterious letter from him. It quotes the book of Revelations: "And I looked and behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him."

I'm not saying there aren't a few droll moments in this spooky little mystery - it wouldn't be Miss Marple without them. For example, Miss Marple's housekeeper listens to the priest's creepy letter and murmurs, "I don't like the sound of that."

Miss Marple dryly responds: "Well, it's the Bible, dear. I'm not sure you're meant to."

True Blood
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)

Now in its fourth season, True Blood has a genius for mixing the ordinary and the extraordinary. This week's episode features gruesome murder and depraved sex in a world of witches, vampires and fairies. And yet the series' world also feels very much like our own. Vampire partners confess adultery: "I just fed on a guy." Blood addicts try to kick the habit: "I used once today." Members of a coven express outrage when a vampire tries to kill them simply for being who they are: "Last time I checked there was still freedom of religion in America!"

In the episode's central plotline, vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) has lost his memory as the result of a spell. Sookie (Anna Paquin), the beleaguered Louisiana waitress, is forced to take care of him. Where some of us might be horrified to have a vampire in the house, Sookie is merely exasperated. She sets a few ground rules: "You do not touch me. And you most certainly do not bite me."

I won't reveal whether Eric follows her rules, but I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that, in general, fans of vampire bites will not walk away from the episode disappointed.

Unnecessary Roughness
Wednesday, 9 pm (USA)

Dani (Callie Thorne) is a brilliant psychotherapist and hot-to-trot single mom who takes a job as a football team's shrink.

If you think that sounds silly, just wait. This new series specializes in unlikely scenarios - for example, Dani leaving her kids alone in the middle of the night to administer therapy to a football player in a strip club. To me, the most jarring moments find the Ph.D.toting professional using bad grammar, as when she tells a patient to "lay down" rather than "lie down."

I'd overlook such false notes if Necessary Roughness were as charming as other USA fantasies, like Monk and Psych. But Dani is an unsympathetic heroine, loudly proclaiming her ethical standards one minute and violating them the next. In fact, everything she does is loud. She has a fit of pique in almost every scene, and it's not much fun waiting for the next explosion.

Will Necessary Roughness find an audience? I wouldn't lay odds on it. Or lie odds, either.

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