NEW YORK — Ability does not imply accomplishment. And accomplishment is no prerequisite for fame.
This we know all too well from reality TV. (Hint: Snooki.) But today's viral sprawl of celebrity is explored in fresh fashion by a new series spawned from what some viewers might deem an unlikely source: comic books.
The series' 10-episode season is the latest blossoming of scripted TV fare from unexpected sources: Home base for "Powers" is the PlayStation network, where it arrives as that network's first original scripted series.
Starting Tuesday, "Powers" will be free to PlayStation subscribers, with the first episode free to anyone for streaming through the PlayStation Store web site (a PlayStation console is not required). Subsequent episodes will be available for purchase by non-subscribers.
"Powers" is set in a two-tier society where ordinary humans must coexist with a superior class who, thanks to random distribution, are endowed with any of a smorgasbord of superpowers which they employ for good or, just as often, for non-heroic purposes like crime, carousing or courting self-promotion.
Maintaining order among super-humans places a heavy burden on law enforcement. "Powers" focuses on a pair of homicide detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, who investigate cases involving those people of disruptive privilege known as Powers.
Such police work would be a challenging, often thankless assignment for anyone, but it's all the more so for Walker: He used to be a superstar superhero, with a super- bad-guy reputation adding spice to his renown. But then his powers went away.
Today he's remembered, even jeered, for his bygone spandex-clad identity, Diamond, as he plods through his workdays as a standard-issue gumshoe. The department's only cop who can identify with the Powers elite, he is haunted by memories of flying and other abilities he once possessed.
"Sometimes I forget I lost mine," says Walker (played by series star Sharlto Copley) in the premiere. "I can still feel 'em. Like a phantom limb."
But in the lingo of this star-centric society, Walker is a has-been, a washed-up idol, even as he demonstrates that heroes are by no means necessarily super-heroes.
"What's more heroic than 'I lost my super powers, but now I'm gonna speak for those who don't have them'?" says Brian Michael Bendis, who co-created the "Powers" comic and is an executive producer of the series. "That's massively heroic — probably the most heroic thing he's ever done!"
The first case for Walker and Pilgrim is investigating the death of a well-known superhero while tracking down Calista (Oleysa Rulin), a mysterious young woman who, like every wannabe star, is convinced she possesses something special (in her case, budding super powers) and will do whatever it takes to be discovered.
In the series' tangled mythology, there are many fraught relationships and much ugly business, including the underworld drug trade of an exotic hallucinogen.
"This is a complicated world," says Susan Heyward, who plays Detective Pilgrim. "It's not just heroes and villains."
"Many of the Powers are messed-up characters," adds Eddie Izzard. "Just because they have super powers doesn't mean they're excluded from very human foibles and vices. They're kind of rock stars, and a lot of time their flaws are BECAUSE of their powers."
Izzard should know. An acclaimed standup comic and a veteran of such series as "The Riches" and "Hannibal," he plays the monstrous Wolfe, who, driven to madness by his powers and obsessions, is being held in a high-security prison but was once the mentor of an up-and-coming Power protege — the former Diamond now reduced to Detective Walker.
"Powers" has been in development for the screen for 15 years, says Bendis, who created the comic in 2000 with Michael Avon Oeming. It was first adapted as a possible film project, then evolved into this series and was snapped up by PlayStation.
He acknowledges there might be a bit of confusion about the PlayStation venue.
"Some people think our show is webisodes," he says with a laugh. "But this is a fully budgeted, network-style show. And what I want for it isn't a faithful adaptation, word-for-word, of the comic, but almost like a parallel universe, with the same theme and characters, telling its own story and going its own way.
"Die-hard fans of the comic aren't going to be one step ahead of everybody else," he pledges. "They are going to be surprised and delighted by the TV show, too."
Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at [email protected] and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore