REASON TO WATCH: No contest in this season's family-friendly superhero series showdown - "The Cape" has both the fantasy-reality muscles and the emotional chops to charge past "No Ordinary Family."
WHEN/WHERE: Premieres Sunday 9-11 p.m. on NBC/4, then airs Mondays at 9.
What kid wouldn't want a superhero dad? That's what ex-"ER" doc David Lyons becomes, as clean cop Vince Faraday, battling corrupt forces in a dark metropolis. When he's presumed dead in an assassination frame engineered by corporate privatizing baddie Peter Fleming ("True Blood" nut James Frain), Vince goes underground among a literal Carnival of Crime. Battling Fleming's double life as CEO/supervillain Chess, he's aided by a lair-ful of illusionists, dwarfs and cute-costumed babes, as well as lone-wolf cyber-heroine Orwell (TV "Terminator" fave Summer Glau). It's all so Vince can get back his spunky wife (Jennifer Ferrin, "Life on Mars") and loyal son (Ryan Wynott, "Flash Forward"), whose thing for comic books inspires dad's secret reincarnation.
MY SAY This is one smart, stylishly produced show. The family setting gives Vince something to sacrifice, and sacrifice for. The corporate angle is pseudo-topical, placing evil among efforts to privatize public services for greedy gain, while allowing evildoers unlimited resources and access. The story even gets inspirational: "One man can still make a difference," as Vince preaches to new mentor Max Malini, an illusionist imbued by towering Keith David with authority both physical and vocal.
And with panache. "The Cape" demonstrates lots of that Sunday, when Vince trains among colorful carnival folk in fight styles, magic and medical miracles. As Max quips while vanishing from villains' clutches, "Doesn't anyone value showmanship anymore?" So there's humor here, too. But Vince's wit can be weak. His scheming doesn't always make sense. And his fanciful show's high-wire act - balanced between graphic-styled realism ("Heroes") and inflated camp ("Batman") - sometimes wobbles precariously.
BOTTOM LINE While critics like me count quibbles, kids of all ages should share my husband's assessment: "It's a superhero show. Superman flies. Give The Cape a little space."