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Monday, May 24, 2010

Heroes without a Clue

I somehow missed this news from last week:

'Heroes' Canceled

"NBC is no longer holding out for 'Heroes.'According to the Live Feed, the network has officially axed the series, about ordinary people with extraordinary powers, after four seasons.The news ends a rocky ride for 'Heroes,' which premiered in 2006 to a staggering 14.3 million viewers and a 5.9 rating among adults 18-49, making it NBC's highest-rated fall drama premiere in five years. The show continued to hit ratings gold in subsequent episodes, including its season 2 premiere, which attracted 14.1 million viewers."

The show attracted viewers because the first season was astounding, although low-key in a "Unbreakable" way, which was its main strength. It was a super-hero show, or was supposed to be, and its first season did a masterful job in building the reality of a world where super-heroes could actually exist. It was not easy taking what could easily seem like a silly premise of men and woman dressed up in tights flying around with flaming fists, and turn it into a eerie, haunting and fascinating journey into the realm of what just might be, if only things were a little more strange in our reality.

It was also a great time for such a show, seemingly with the stars aligned, as our real world seemed to tumble out of control. What better salve than seeing a weekly show where empowered individuals could set things right. Super-hero movies like Spiderman, Batman, X-Men had all done very well at the box office, with other titles doing decent business.

So, it seemed like the perfect time, and the perfect start, for a super-hero television series.

And, of course, they pissed it all away:

"But numbers fell sharply by season 3, due in part to a messy second season and the now-famous writers guild strike of 2007-08 that kept it off the air for months. Only 9.9 million viewers tuned in to watch 'Heroes'' third-season premiere, marking a 25 percent drop from season 2.And that was just the beginning: Season 4 averaged just 6.5 million episodes, with 4.4 million viewers tuning in to its season finale, on Feb. 8."

I may do a larger post on this, because it deserves a more detailed examination and explanation, but for now, a mini-rant.

I stopped watching Heroes I think around the last part of the second season. The writer's strike did indeed make for a little confusion in the series progression, but to blame its ultimate demise on it is frankly bullshit. The blame rests squarely on the writers, and ultimately on the creators, who failed to keep a steady hand on the production.

I LOVED the show in its first season, and even my wife found it fascinating and watched every week. I was astounded at how well done it was, amazed that network TV was still capable of delivering something like it. To have two demographics like me and wife watching it says alot about why it had so many viewers initially.

In the second season, however, the show began to run off the rails, alternating from meandering aimlessly, to making jarring transitions for plot, character nature and motivations, and recycling certain devices to the point of inanity.

Case in point was the threatening future premise, where a character would go to the future, find it was all *#&$* up, and then had to try and prevent it. Once, interesting. Twice, well, okay. Three times, ZZZZZzzzzz.

There is plenty to cite, and maybe I will go back to it, but let me get to the core problem of the show, because it speaks to a larger issue with a LOT of Hollywood fair.

The show was called HEROES, but what was lacking in most all of it was the HEROIC. The characters were doing pretty much everything BUT being heroes in the series, from out-maneuvering one another, to continually questioning and/or tentatively testing their powers to the point of OCD, to following any number of small quests to solve the riddle of why they were what they were.

Now, don't get me wrong, ALL of this would have been fine grist for the story-line mill, and entertaining. However, what was lacking was almost ANY super-hero like action, of one or a small group of these people using their powers to help someone, even while they were running around with the various other subplots.

NOT doing this for the first season was fine, as it set the tableau, but what looked like atmosphere and mythos building turned to apparent uncertainty about where the show was going and even what it was about. It got tedious as not only all the characters had this continuing existential crisis, but the entire show seemed to develop one as things went on.

As I said to my wife as my frustration grew, "All this background and mood-setting is great, but at SOME point the audience wants to watch some Heroes kick some bad guy ass!" It was about this time she stopped watching.

All of the characters, except maybe Hiro, were absolutely self-centered and narcissistic when it came to their powers, with very brief and fleeting exceptions.

Hiro seemed to be the idealistic core around which the series would be based, the nerd who in his heart understand what it meant to be a hero, which had little to do with your abilities, and in large part depended on WHAT YOU DID WITH THEM! I thought, I think many did, that Hiro would eventually pull the heroes together, remind them and convince them that what they possessed was a responsibility.

Instead, Hiro became a bumbling joke, the comic relief to break up the dreary angst fest all the other heroes were wallowing in.

I think I really got aggravated during the plot line where Peter gets trapped in the body of a super-villain who escapes with two others as they go on a crime and killing spree. The suspense builds as Peter can't use his range of powers, on the villains, and goes along with the gang for the moment.

Now, a true Hero, limited as he was, would try to do something anyway, but let's give the benefit of the doubt to the writers and Peter, in that he thought he could nothing and maybe is the most reluctant of the heroes.

However, at one point Peter GETS HIS POWERS BACK while in the midst of bank robbery, but instead of allowing us even a minute of him kicking some major bad guy ass to punish them, stop them, and protect the innocent, someone stops time (I forget who) and whisks Peter away so Sylar can stop them.

DIS-SATISFYING to say the least.

About the only character who was somewhat immune to this, and thus the most interesting, was that of Sylar, the lead villain in the series, played by Zachary Quinto. His character, evil though he was, as complex as they managed to make him, seemed to know what he wanted. It was clear what drove him, and he did not vacillate too much, even with his doubts. HERE was the guy who was not afraid to use his powers.

I say somewhat immune because even Sylar got the wishy-washy treatment as they had him turn to a good guy, then a bad guy again, then a good guy (in the future), then bad, then in love and good, and then bad at a flick of a switch, killing his love interest.

"So what?" one might say, "It's bad writing. Happens all the time."

Well, that explains part of it. As I understand it, the creator and original team of writers left the show, and the new crop were either incompetent, or really did not have a good grasp of the show, which may be the same thing. So, fair enough.

However, I think the bigger issue is that Hollywood is uncomfortable with the concept of heroes. To be a hero means you have to stand for something, have to declare lines of right and wrong, good and evil, and ACT of them, accepting the consequences.

They were afraid to take any stances on anything as writers, and so left their characters helpless and timid when courage and conviction were needed.

In a scene in season 2, when Peter and Nathan are down in Haiti, confronting the evil brother of the Haitian who has become a super-powered warlord, Nathan sees a young girl in the prison with him. He realizes that at some point she will be forced to be a soldier prostitute, and gives a speech about those unable to protect themselves, and the role of others to be the protectors.

FINALLY, I thought, the series will get some firm grounding, and how nice a twist that Nathan, potentially a villain in Season One, will be one of the first to recognize it.

What does he then do?

Returns to Washington DC and rats out the other super-heroes to the President, who then begins rounding them up and putting them in a Gitmo style prison.

WHAT. THE. ****?

Now, one could argue that this set up an interesting dynamic where Nathan comes to view the super-powered as being the victimizers, or the threat, but it would have been nice to have seen some balance to this with the super-powered defeating some regular criminals. It would have been a nice ongoing conflict, and one suitable to the genre; is a super-hero a hero or vigilante?

However, we were not really GIVEN the opposing view, shown the positive side of being a super-hero, of helping defend the weak. It was almost all inter-supers intrigue and combat and hand-wringing.

Again, this is just one TV show, but the fact that writers whose success depends on the success of a show CANNOT understand or so ideologically driven that they can't supply the basics of a comic book story, speaks volumes.

I will maybe come back to this and better organize my thoughts on it, but I am a little too disgusted at the ruin of so much potential to think clearly.

RIP, Heroes, we hardly knew you...the way we wanted to.

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