Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Heroes & 24: The not-so-big reveal

I'm combining my thoughts on "Heroes" and "24" because both shows did something that's increasingly driving me nuts of late. I'll deal with that up top, then deal with specific spoilers for "Heroes" and then "24" after.

The newspaper business is in a constant state of hand-wringing over how to survive in the age of instant news on the Internet. If a big story happens at 10 a.m. on Monday, for instance, why would anyone wait to read a standard account of it until Tuesday morning? So the focus in a lot of places is shifting more towards analysis and looking forward.

I mention this because the TV business still needs to learn some lessons from the Information Age. We live in a time when every major casting announcement is hyped weeks or months in advance, especially for geek obsessive shows like "Heroes." Is there a fanboy worth his salt who didn't know Mr. Sulu was going to pop up as Hiro's dad? Especially since the NBC PR team arranged for a new series of stories and other promotion about it to run yesterday to make it clear that this would be George Takei's first episode? So why wait nearly the length of the episode to introduce the guy? Why waste one of his episodes on a single, brief scene when we've all been waiting a while to see Takei and Masi Oka work together? And why try to string out the suspense of who the kidnappers' boss was when it absolutely had to be Papa Nakamura?

The "24" audience isn't as inherently nerdy (a good chunk of the fanbase is made up of middle-aged white guys who used to go to Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies), but every single promo for this episode featured James Cromwell as Jack's dad, and yet again we had to wait nearly the entire hour for him to show up. His arrival wasn't treated as quite the surprise as Takei's was supposed to be -- after all, Jack had spent the length of two episodes looking for his old man -- and he got more to do than Takei, but given all the hype, it still felt like bad pacing.

Shows like "Heroes" and "24" that live and die on shocking the audience with what happens next need to keep in mind what that audience already knows, and devote the last act or two to the real surprises.

Moving on to specifics...

On "Heroes," I will never complain about getting a chance to watch Christopher Eccleston work, but I shouldn't be rooting for him to throw the show's main character off a roof, should I? It does occur to me that the last time I enjoyed Peter's presence was when they paired him off with someone (in that case, Mohinder) who spent all his time making fun of Peter's pushy whininess, so this could work.

I remain baffled that anyone on that writing staff could possibly think that anyone gives a damn about the Parkman marriage. I remember the first season of "Law & Order: SVU," which began with a mission statement as the "L&O" show where you actually learned about the character's home lives, only the veteran "L&O" writers didn't know how to do that, so you got these pointless scenes of Chris Meloni fixing the kitchen sink. This was worse, because at least Stabler was interesting when he was at work, where Parkman has become this show's biggest drag. (At least Simone has the decency to disappear for a few episodes at a time, though the previews make it look like we'll be forced to endure a lot of her next week.)

The comic book geek in me finds it interesting that the children of people with abilities have completely different powers. Micah's machine-talking has nothing in common with intangibility or super-strength, and Claire's mom is a firestarter. (And, based on the previews, I'm guessing her dad is Nathan.) Beyond that, though, not my favorite episode of the series. Even Sylar's escape and confrontation with HRG felt more inevitable than stunning.

"24," meanwhile, suffered from keeping Jack off-camera for the episode's middle chunk. I understand that the producers have to pay lip service to the real time conceit by having Jack take at least 15 minutes to drive anywhere (though how LA isn't one big parking lot as people panic and try to escape the nuke's fallout is beyond me), and I also understand that they have to give the rest of the cast enough to do that Kiefer doesn't collapse from exhaustion, but this is the least inspiring collection of supporting characters and subplots that they've had in a while. Outside of watching Peter MacNichol casually give Karen Hayes a career beat-down, I didn't care about anything that happened when Jack was off-screen.

And getting back to the promo issue again, this was the first episode all season I watched live on Fox. (The first four were DVD review screeners, and I downloaded last week's on iTunes.) Have the promos this season consistently given away this much of the plot? I know Jack's going to find a way to escape his brother's goons, but they showed exactly how, and then they showed what's going to happen next with this wacky sibling rivalry. Felt as bad as a Robert Zemeckis movie trailer.

What did everybody else think?


Louis said...

Jack Bauer is the only interesting character on 24 so far this season. You're right; when he's not on screen, the show is nothing but boring.

I've noticed that every season, there's some element of 24 that brings the show to a screeching halt. This year, it's the plotline involving President Palmer's sister -- flat-out terrible. I like the idea of exploring the question of civil rights abuses, but the whole thing just feels like a lecture, delivered by an excruciatingly bad actress.

Anonymous said...

I am not a fanboy, so I didn't know this episode was Mr Sulu's debut. However, I did catch Takei in the Special Guest List in the beginning, so I was expecting him at the end of the van ride. Yay!

As for next week's reveal of Claire's birth dad, I thought it was Nathan. But, now I'm wondering if it isn't HRG? But the watch and shirt looked too fancy. Hmm... I really hope HRG doesn't get killed. He's one of the more interesting characters.

I actually don't mind the Parkmans too much. I find Mrs. Parkman easier to bear than Simone. Of course, that really isn't saying much.

CM said...

I didn't know about George Takei either, but good point about promotions -- I've definitely seen that happen on other shows.

As for the Parkman marriage, not only is it boring, but it's also inconsistent. They seem to have forgotten all about her affair, which was so convenient as the impetus for Parkman to punch the guy, get kicked off the police force, and start working with the FBI. (And I wouldn't be so thrilled about the kid if I were him -- what are the odds it's his?)

The best current plotline on "Heroes" is the mind games going on between Claire and HRG -- it's one of the few relationships on the show that's compelling enough to care about.

Anonymous said...

I said the same thing about the 24 promo. We assume Jack will survive anything, but they didn't have to show him in another beat-down of his brother. That seemed to give away too much.

Anonymous said...

I had the same thoughts as cm regarding the Parkman marriage. Also, I didn't buy that the wife thought it was cute that he could read her mind. I think pretty much any spouse would be really freaked out. How long before that marriage goes south?

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Parkman marriage -- snore. The only reason I can think of for spending so much time on Matt and Janice is that the writers are planning to kill her off and want to make it poignant.

Alan, how much control do a show's executive producers have over things like the promos? I was under the impression that they don't have a lot of say (I remember a Rob Thomas interview where he complained about a UPN preview spoiling the episode's big twist). I would imagine that the writers and producers have the same complaint we do, that the promos and PR are giving too much away. How much do we blame the show, and how much do we blame the network?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sulu and Dr. Who in the same episode? You'd think they were going after the geek demographic.

More plumbing subplots! Plumbing is fascinating! He asked his wife for a wrench, but what kind of wrench did she bring him?! The drama's in the details!

Anonymous said...

The promo-monkeys are giving away too much (I blame PeeBeeOne, hee hee!). For "24," the commercials since last week have trumpeted "the biggest surprise of all--Jack's father!" and then showed James Cromwell. C'mon! And for "Heroes," I knew Takei was on this ep because the TV listings mentioned him playing Hiro's dad in its ep synopsis (it also said some stuff about Isaac--gonna have to assume that's *next* week's ep, jeez). The show's promo people could have at least said Takei plays a "mysterious character" or "international big shot whose storylne impacts Hiro and Ando's quest" and let us be surprised that he's Hiro's father, but nooooo! DAMN!

Anyway, I agree that "24" was a little droopy without Jack, though I was more interested in Walid's fate than it seems others were. I like that Graem is such a sneaky bastard, too.

And on "Heroes," I'm starting to like Nikki a lot more now, though someone needs to teach Micah that stealing is bad. I also think that might be Nathan who's Claire's dad (making any flirting between Peter and her reaaaaly creepy), but the promos make it seem like Claire's dad knew he had powers when Claire was born. Didn't Nathan first discover his power the night of the car accident that crippled his wife? And God knows why, but I like Officer Parkman and I'm looking forward to him joining up with the other heroes (especially if he reads Hiro's mind and "hears" only Japanese) :-)

Anonymous said...

Claire's father is Linderman. She needs her connection to him, and it explains why HRG adopted her and is so hyperprotective of her, as well as why Claire's mom faked her own death...

K J Gillenwater said...

I think the guess that Linderman is Claire's father is a good one. As another commenter said, Nathan seemingly didn't know about his powers until the night of the accident.

Did everyone forget that Parkman's wife said she was pregnant? That is the reason we've been stuck with their boring relationship. The writers needed to reveal the pregnancy, but it was too soon in the season to do so and they, apparently, couldn't think of anything more interesting to do with Parkman and his wife until they were ready to let the cat out of the bag. It's the baby angle that's important to Parkman's story now.

Once the HRG and his cohorts find out about the baby it's going to be another Claire scenario maybe...kill the mom, take the baby.

One thing I want to know, does HRG not know about Nikki's son? Why haven't they tried taking him away? I don't get why Claire was stolen from her parents and raised by HRG, but Nikki's son was left alone.

I'm waiting for Jessica to come out during the sessions with the psychiatrist and then tearing some more people to shreds during her escape out of prison!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, how much control do a show's executive producers have over things like the promos? ... How much do we blame the show, and how much do we blame the network?

The network is the one crafting the promos, but at the same time, this sort of thing has been going on for years, and you would think producers would get smarter about it. When you cast a nerd icon like Takei as the father of Hiro, you know it's going to be publicized heavily, so don't treat his first appearance like a big shock -- and don't waste one of the episodes you signed him for on a single, brief scene.

Linderman had occurred to me, too, though I'm starting to wonder if we'll see him anytime soon. Again, we knew that Takei, and Christopher Eccleston and Rena Sofer were all going to be appearing on the show, and even some sense of who they'd be playing, long before they actually showed up. So either Linderman will be played by someone lower on the fame scale than Sofer (and therefore isn't worthy of a publicity push) or they haven't cast the part yet because they're going to keep him as the Maris/Vera/Carlton for a while yet.

Heather K said...

Giant war going on at my house over whether Claire's dad is Nathan or HRG, and I am firmly on the side of it being Nathan. Nathan is so the kind of jerk would have that kind of indiscretion in his past? And since the baby died, he wouldn't even worry about it again.

Also, Nathan is the one who told us when he first 'discovered' his powers, and I feel it is pretty clear that he will tell pretty much anyone pretty much any story that sounds good and keeps him sounding good--truth, schmooth.

Marty McKee said...

"The "24" audience isn't as inherently nerdy (a good chunk of the fanbase is made up of middle-aged white guys who used to go to Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies)"

Uh, snobby much?

Anonymous said...

I thought we "saw" Nathan's discovery of his powers in Peter's dream (wasn't that a dream Peter had?)? Stupid hiatuses make my brain go poof.

I didn't think Alan's comment about "24"'s audience was snobby. Other critics/TV writers have mentioned the heavy male, NeoCon audience for "24" in the past [shrug].

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Rather few supers in the world, and yet at least one couple (Nikki and DL) have produced a child, and maybe another? Here's a guess: Linderman is manipulating them into meeting and breeding, and for no benign reason either, so he's the anti-HRG.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Uh, snobby much?

Not really, no. Last season, at least, it was by far the oldest-skewing show on Fox, and as Dez said, many articles have been written about the show's popularity among people who just want to watch a hero kick ass free of any legal restrictions. I work with an ex-cop who loves the show for precisely those reasons.

And, hey, I own several Charles Bronson movies on DVD.

Anonymous said...

24 is sagging. I can feel it as much as anyone. For once, I do agree that there is nothing remotely interesting going on with the supporting cast. I love Chloe, even Bill, but there just doesn't seem like shit is going on at CTU and that is a real problem. And this is really the corker as far as Prez Palmer goes. I just don't see any life in that. The Prez is usually the second lead in the show but this one os coming wrong, but i'll hope for the best.

Ted Frank said...

Judging by conversations with peers, I think I'm above average in keeping up with pop culture events, and I had no idea that George Takei was playing Hiro's dad. So there's still surprise value for the bottom three quartiles of awareness at some cost to people like TV critics who are in the top percentile.

The comic book geek in me finds it interesting that the children of people with abilities have completely different powers.

Because all it takes is a tweak of DNA to make one's clothing invisible, right? I think it's somewhere on Chromosome 17. (Fortunately, DNA mutations are predictable and trackable in an international database that also identifies the geographic locations of those mutations.) Part of the problem with the Mohinder-and-his-dad part of the show is that they're trying to impart a scientific basis to this fundamentally unscientific thing, and only succeeding in pointing out how silly it is. (Just call it supernatural magic from Hogwarts, and let us suspend our disbelief.)

Anonymous said...

For me, what often ruins twists is the "Guest Starring" credits that run at the top of a lot of shows.

The most consistent example I can think of is The OC. Whenever a surprise character was returning, you knew because the credits told you.

We all knew Kevin Sorbo was Julie's secret guy because we saw that he was guest starring at the top of the show, so the reveal was wasted on anyone who can read and knows who Kevin Sorbo is.

What's interesting to me is that Tim Kiring has specifically stated that they don't want to cast someone big in the role of Linderman because it'll come across as cheesy.

This is coming from the guy who just jerked off all the trekkies by giving Takei this role.

How do you feel about the role of Linderman? Should it be an unknown or someone big?

Anonymous said...

The promo problem seems to be part of a wider issue in the entertainment industry. Movie trailers almost routinely disclose the entire plot these days. Premiere magazine had an article complaining about it.

My problem with 24 is twofold. First, we're getting lectures on civil rights on a show where it's unusual if a character isn't tortured at some point during the day? I sense a practice/preach sort of thing here.

Second, a lot of the subplots aren't that interesting because we've seen them so many times before. The Karen Hughes plot has been done many times before. In fact, how many manipulative chiefs of staff have we seen? And the promos make me fear we may see another "the president isn't up to it" plot like we had on day 2.

That said, watching Jack do his thing has always been the attraction of this show. As long as that remains fun, I'll keep tuning in every week. I may wonder why I did it the next morning, but I'll be back the next Monday.

Anonymous said...

If Linderman is going to be dispatched the season, might as well have him played by someone big for its fun quotient. If his character is going to stick around for awhile, then they should cast an unknown so we don't know what to expect. It's riskier, but it can really pay off. E.g., casting Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in "Superman Returns" was fun, and getting the largely unknown Brandon Routh (largely unknown except to us soap opera fans) was a risk that paid off, IMHO. I don't know where he'll take the character and that makes me excited for future Supes releases.

Anonymous said...

According to Ausiello, Linderman will be played by Malcom McDowell. A fitting choice, I'd say.

Taleena said...

I thought Linderman was Claire's dad and the reason we do not see him is that he is this Season's "Big Bad". As to Claire's Mom hiding, she called Claire's dad, that doesn't sound like she was hiding to me.

I postulate that HRG is government and Linderman (remember he's a mob boss) is the Lex Luthor-y character.

Anonymous said...

I assumed Claire's dad was Linderman. There's no way it's Nathan. Peter/Claire are the only people on the show who have a lick of chemistry* - not that I'm particularly shipping them but as soon as I heard that they've got all 5 years plotted I realized that ship is inevitable.

*aside from Hiro and Ando

Anonymous said...

I usually try to avoid spoilers, including casting ones, but even I had heard about Hiro/Jack's dad showing up. 24 hadn't been that bad about their promos yet this season, but this week was an annoying giveaway. And as for Heroes, Masi mentioned it in a Golden Globe interview.

The Parkman marriage? Yawn. It is the one part of the show that doesn't make sense. It seems to change every week and Matt doesn't seem to understand anything. Greg Grunberg should go back to working on JJ Abrams shows.