Four years ago, pop culture writer Nathan Rabin fell down at a Phish show and contracted a bizarre medical condition that forces the sufferer to perceive every television show they encounter as a new and miraculous phenomenon sweeping the world. Random Nerds then decided to callously exploit this unfortunate and totally real medical condition by forcing him to watch every episode of The Cape, followed by an episode-by-episode jaunt through Baywatch Nights.


The Cape

We are all familiar with works of art so brutally intense that they drive their creators to the brink of madness and beyond. Think of Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, and Martin Sheen on the set of Apocalypse Now (though when it came to going mad, Brando had a head start on everyone). Or think of Werner Herzog in everything he’s ever been a part of, including Jack Reacher and that one episode of Parks and Recreation he was on, and that mockumentary where he and the guy who writes all the superhero movies go looking for the Loch Ness Monster. Or even contemplate Kevin James, sweaty and out of his mind on hallucinogens during the press tour for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

To this distinguished roster you may add the author of this very column. I have become so wrapped up in the all-immersive world of The Cape (a world so addictive, it should be legally classified as a drug and sold only to adults who can handle it) that, as a preemptive gesture, I have assumed the identity of a dead man, assumed the alias of fictional superhero “The Cape” and fled my family home in an effort to protect my loved ones from the many nefarious super-villains who would want to murder them if only they knew my true identity.

It pains me deeply to say that my wife hasn’t been at all supportive of me during this process. She keeps insisting that we don’t have any enemies, real or imagined, let alone enemies who would want to murder us, and that by only seeing my eleventh-month-old son in two minute increments during which I lurk creepily outside his home whispering enigmatic clues about my superhero identity I’m actually being a super-shitty father, not a heroic one. I’ve tried leaving the discs for The Cape in my son’s crib along with its poorly received comic book tie-in, to give him a more overt idea of what his dad is up to. But since he hasn’t started talking yet, let alone reading or watching DVDs, that has turned out to be a hugely pointless gesture.

And that’s not even the worst of it. I have been hearing dark rumors that The Cape isn’t the hottest contemporary TV show, as I have posited, but rather a failed show from a few years back that no one is actually talking about. To this I can only counter: who is the crazy one now? The person who thinks The Cape is the hottest thing in entertainment, or some delusional lunatic who inexplicably perceives it as a “failed” show despite being maybe the most self-evidently brilliant work of art since a time-traveling William Shakespeare did that album with the Beatles (I think it was called Chinese Democracy, confusingly enough)?

We are now halfway through the first of what I can only imagine will be dozens of seasons of The Cape and oh but things are heating up, Buster Poindexter style. The fifth episode of the first season, “Chess,” opens with a flashback to ten years earlier. Nefarious bad guy Peter Fleming (a.k.a. Chess) creepily supervises studies involving a little girl named Tracy who is able to see the world in computer-style grids, not unlike the Terminator from Terminator: Gynysys. Also, she can see the future.

Tracy is a savant with an ability to break down the world into “quantum mechanics,” which I don’t understand at all, but which sounds like something smart people probably do. Tracy’s dad is certainly one of these smarties, though he’s not quite smart enough, because when Tracy illustrates her remarkable gifts of prognostication by telling Peter Fleming that he is going to kill her father, and then, after a suspiciously long break, she is going to kill him, he just chuckles good-humoredly, the way one does when informed by your clairvoyant daughter that you are going to be murdered by your boss.

Peter Fleming enjoys a nice larf, and counters that he’ll only kill Tracy’s dad if he “goes over budget”. Which is funny, because it’s actually a sincere threat to murder a child’s parent! Creepily enough, it also seems to be the first volley in an ongoing flirtation between a deranged murderer and a little girl whose dad was killed by said bad guy.

Sure enough, Tracy grows up to be an intense young sociopath with supernatural powers of prognostication played by Mena Suvari, star of Americans both Pie and Beauty.

Tracy now calls herself Dice, and let me cut right in to clarify one matter: it is for reasons having to do with fate and chance and gambling and similar nonsense that she takes on the Dice moniker, and not as a tribute to the one true Dice, truth-teller and national treasure Andrew “Dice” Clay. So while we are privy to all sorts of not-at-all creepy flirting between a crazy young woman and the dude who killed her dad#, we are sadly spared a scene where Tracy tells Peter Fleming, “Hickory Dickory Dock/This crazed campaign of super-villainy has got to stop” or “Jack and Jill Went Up The Hill To Fetch A Pail Of Water/But the evil industrialist Peter Fleming is down to instigate mass slaughter.”

Peter and Tracy enjoy a very unusual form of sexually-charged banter; in the scene where Tracy sidles up to Peter and tries to seduce him, their stilted eroticism suggests a seduction in a James Bond casino scene as recreated by Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic robots. Only Tracy, whose unusual brain was apparently reproduced and purchased by Peter’s company, could coquettishly tell her possible object of desire/vengeance, “I’m disappointed you don’t remember me, considering you patented my brain.”

Like Peter, I too am bad with names as well as faces, but I can honestly say that I recognize all seven of the people whose brains I have patented. That’s a unique bond, not unlike the one you share with the revenge-crazed progeny of the people you murdered a decade earlier. Not to be outdone, Peter favors the direct approach, when he tells Tracy, “Yes, Tracy. I killed your father. How can we get past that?”

To use the noxious terminology of pick-up artists and Neil Strauss’ The Game, this is the ultimate act of “negging.” And sure enough, Tracy is sufficiently intrigued and impressed. You can tell by Tracy’s expression that she is thinking, “Well, I am still a little upset about my father being murdered by en enigmatic super villain but I do love a bad boy, and this deranged mass murderer is Tommy Lee-level naughty!”

The interplay between Dice and Chess makes this episode of The Cape the best and most goofily fun to date. The rest of the episode seems largely devoted to testing to see how little you can use a character named The Cape in a television show about a superhero named The Cape. The answer turns out to be “surprisingly sparingly.”

I have a theory: the rest of The Cape is so mind-blowingly entertaining that they deliberately told The Cape star David Lyons that he needed to tone down the hurricane-force of his incredible charisma or audiences would die of over-entertainment en masse — that between the Cape, and Chess, and also the Cape, audiences would be literally entertained to death.

 At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Nobody dies of being overly entertained!” Oh yeah? Tell that to the millions of Americans who are so overly entertained by the films of Michael Bay that their fragile brains literally explode with joy, Scanners-style! #boom #suckit #yeahIamusinghashtagsinregularwriting #noIdontthinkthatsasignofmentalillness #oralackofprofessionalism.

The Cape has the same goal as Mac of Mac & Me fame and, to a lesser extent, E.T. of E.T. fame: he wants to achieve his overarching mission so that he can go home to his family, which means keeping Dice from killing Peter Fleming so he can expose Fleming’s crimes and identity himself, all in the process of clearing his name and being reunited with his family.

The Cape refuses to do anything even remotely interesting or charismatic until he’s once again with his wife and adoring son. I admire the hell out of that. That is the mark of a true hero, an unwillingness to stop being agonizingly dull and bland until you’ve accomplished your goals and made the city safe again. With “Dice” finally out of the way, we are now officially one half of the way through the first season of The Cape. I think our goal, and our mission, is to try to make it through this ecstatic gauntlet of pure entertainment without our brains exploding with happiness.

Can we make it? I’m gonna roll the dice and say, eh, I dunno, probably.