ABC Family has been promoting the new season of Kyle XY with the teaser, “Did Jessi survive?” For fans of the show, the question is absurd. Of course she did. She’s Jessi XX (Jaimie Alexander), with superhuman strength and incredible powers. The real question is, “What havoc will she wreak when she comes back?”
Those unfamiliar with the series won’t understand the implications of Jessi’s survival. At the end of Kyle XY‘s mini-season last summer, Jessi had betrayed Kyle (Matt Dallas) and stolen the secrets implanted in his subconscious, thereby fulfilling her mission for evil corporation Madacorp. Guilt-ridden over double-crossing the one person to show her compassion, Jessi leapt off a dam to her presumed death.
This scenario certainly sounds convoluted, but the melodrama is framed—and possibly explained—by the fact that both protagonist and nemesis are teenagers. They’re not even “normal” teenagers, but the results of lab experiments. Both have escaped their lab “homes,” becoming socially awkward, intellectually advanced wunderkids, on opposite ends of the moral spectrum.
Herein lays the focus of the show: identity. However, Kyle XY goes beyond the usual formula of teen fare, tracking the (super)hero’s efforts to blend in with normal society. Instead, identity is an issue for almost all characters on the show. Only Foss (Nicholas Lea), Kyle’s mentor, and Adam (J. Eddie Peck), Kyle’s creator, are sure of who they are and what they want; all others are in a state of doubt. If it’s typical that the adolescents—both normal and super—are yearning to find their places in the world, here adults also struggle with such issues. Kyle’s adopted mother Nicole (Marguerite MacIntyre) questions her parenting skills after Kyle’s presence puts her other children in jeopardy, while his adopted father Stephen (Bruce Thomas) wonders about his ability to provide for the family after being played for a dupe by Madacorp.
The focus on this theme in various forms elevates the series above typical SF-fantasy family fare, which tends to follow formulaic expectations. Often, the genre aims low to appeal to children (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) or includes adults as role models for their kids (Sky High, Spy Kids). Kyle‘s appeal lies largely in its mixing and matching of genres and storylines (domestic drama, sci-fi, espionage), all while examining concerns both puerile (young love, high school cliques) and mature (unemployment, cancer). And while the show is often amusing, it doesn’t opt for broad humor, like this season’s new “offbeat” shows (Chuck, Reaper).
The most recent episode, a return for Season Two that aired last Monday, succinctly tied up numerous story arcs while redirecting the series’ focus, in a tightly written and suspenseful hour. On the family front, Nicole and Stephen learned the truth about his past, his adopted sister Lori (April Matson) and her boyfriend Declan (Chris Olivero) kissed and made up, and his brother Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), previously convinced that Kyle was an alien, became his biggest supporter. Outside the home, Adam’s (J. Eddie Peck) mysterious resurrection was explained and the evil Ballantine (Conrad Coats) got his due.
Even with all this going on, most of the episode was devoted to Stephen and Kyle’s adventure, as they were held captive in Madacorp. Ballantine planned to extract information from Jessi using technology that erases and replaces memories. Stephen and Kyle broke in to the company headquarters, Kyle stole back the information Jessi had taken from him, and she then helped to destroy the technology Ballantine had planned to use against them. Alongside the mind-probing and genetic manipulation plotlines, the episode attended to Josh’s dealing with a rebellious girlfriend who has cancer and Lori’s newfound understanding of Declan’s motives. Even Kyle had romance problems, as his girlfriend Amanda (Kirsten Prout) prepared to leave town for a semester of study in New York.
Such domestic dilemmas ground Kyle XY in familiar details, even as humor and witty topical references leaven the action. In this episode, Lori referred to Jessi as “she who will not be named,” Josh’s girlfriend Andy (Magda Apanowicz), awaiting the start of chemo the next day, ate as much as possible, and poor Josh ‘s efforts to keep up left him puking in the bushes. When not providing such comic relief, Josh led the family to consider Kyle’s predicament, not to mention why so many people connected with him were ending up dead. Still, Josh argued, they were a “family” and needed to stick with Kyle, not matter who or what he is.
But even as they accept Kyle as following a familiar arc of maturation and identification, his family also faces specific, exacerbated sorts of insecurity and fear. Kyle XY highlights such feelings in taut and creative storytelling.