Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heroes: Hell if I know

Spoilers for "Heroes" coming up just as soon as I find a non-English speaker I can monologue to...

It's a measure of how low a bar "Heroes" has set for itself this season that I could come to the end of an episode with so much wrong with it like "The Line" and think that it was actually one of the better installments they've done.

The bad parts are obvious: Mohinder remains little more than a writer's tool who inevitably chooses the path of least intelligence to suit the needs of a story, Maya and Alejandro are just as dull and repetitive with Sylar as they were without him, every story moves at a glacial pace (arguably this week's worst offender: Peter and his bonnie wee lass in Montreal), and promised huge moments never quite materialize (the legendary battle between Kensei and an army that Hiro kept describing turned out to be two or three guys chasing them through a tent maze).

And yet, in the middle of this mess were a few great scenes in which Jack Coleman and the writers re-embraced the dark side of the Force when it comes to HRG. Threatening a man with the loss of his most treasured memories is a lot more entertaining than seeing Jack Bauer shoot people in the leg -- though the fact that HRG later killed the guy (in another pleasant surprise) sort of rendered that punishment moot.

But the problems remain huge. Scott Collins from the LA Times did a brief interview with Tim Kring the other day in which Kring sounded mystified about all the complaints about this season:
"People tend to look at last season and see things in it that were not in it," Kring told me by phone. "We haven't deviated that much" from last year's formula.
Actually, I agree with both of those statements. I think the novelty and forward momentum of the first season often made it seem more interesting than it actually was, and I think by far the biggest miscalculation of season two has been Kring's refusal to deviate from last year's formula. We already did the whole "heroes across the globe slowly converge on New York to prevent an apocalypse" arc last year (and my guess is that it's New York again because the "Heroes" FX team already had the CGI code for Times Square and it made their lives easier). Why are we just repeating that? Why not have more of the characters together from the start of this year, if only to reduce the number of storylines and therefore help them all progress more quickly?

It's strange how Kring and company have no problem borrowing liberally from comic books when it suits their purposes (the various stories lifted from Watchmen, Monica's powers, the entirety of "Five Years Later") and yet they're reluctant to copy such an obvious theme as the formation and dysfunction of a super-team. I'm not saying they should have broken out the spandex and codenames, but a season where, say, the Petrelli and Bennet families were living in close proximity and struggling to define their relationships and how they should use their powers seems a hell of a lot more interesting than anything that's been done with these characters spread across the globe.

Maybe it's a failure of nerve. The season one denouement showed that Kring and company are going to struggle with the big epic payoffs (though "Five Years Later" did just fine as a mostly standalone epic), so rather than try something more ambitious that they might have even more trouble pulling off, the writers have retreated back to the formula that served them so well back when the show and its characters were new and we didn't know how the magic tricks worked. And if that's the reason, then I doubt a significant improvement's going to come anytime soon. Like Kring says, this is what "Heroes" is, like it or not. At the moment, I don't like it very much.

What did everybody else think?


Chris Littmann said...

Alan, is it just me or does some of the CG background stuff look horrid this season? The stuff with the Haitian and HRG walking around in the Ukraine, plus the Time Square stuff. I'm not sure if they're actually going for something sort of goofy looking, but they both looked bad and really disappointed me.

All that being said,I got a laugh out of the masked man/flying snatch-and-grab scene. I like the abuse of powers. Maybe a little dark side coming out in Claire.

I actually like the idea that Sylar could be training Maya to be a bad girl.

Here's what bugs me: I thought Parkman's dad was pretty awesome in the last episode, then we go an entire episode without Nathan, Parkman OR his dad. BOOOOO!

Anonymous said...

I am in agreement- this week seemed like a throwaway episode... hardly any plot advancement at all.

Are we sure the writers of Heroes haven't already gone on strike?

Anonymous said...

What a waste. Another season where the heros have some premonition about something bad happening in NYC and they have to save it? Yawn. At this point, I might as well be watching reruns.

And Claire, usually a bit more sensitive, literally traumatizes a young teenager just so she can get on the cheerleading squad? That's far more petty than anything the cheerleader stereotype character did; some people suffer from PTSD for things far less than that but we as viewers are supposed to accept it because it is a revenge fantasy not dissimilar from some we have no doubt had in the past.

Rand said...

I'm just sad at the series, I've tried to put up a brave face, but I no longer can say this is one of my favorite series or even necessarily a series where I'm going to try to watch every episode. I dunno, maybe I'll pick up an episode every now and then and start watching regularly again once I hear the series is coming to an actual end.

K J Gillenwater said...

This week was the closest I came to cancelling my Season Pass on my TiVO. Most disappointing episode yet. Most of the stories seemed pointless and went nowhere...or, if they did go somewhere, it was like a retread of last season. Yet another calamity in NY city? Come on. They couldn't do better than that?

Lord, if it weren't for the scenes for next week, I think I might have bailed permanently. I'm giving it another shot.

The forward momentum has slowed to a snail's pace. If it was the same last year, I guess I don't remember it because there was enough newness and interest going on with all the new heroes figuring out their powers.

Anonymous said...

I think the novelty and forward momentum of the first season often made it seem more interesting than it actually was.

I think this is exactly right, Alan. Last season's plots weren't inherently interesting or smart, but things happened quickly and the fast pace kept us on our toes and excited about what would happen next. Whereas with this season I find myself wondering if anything will happen at all. So far, the only events of note are Hiro's dad dying, Papa Parkman being evil, and Mr. Bennett searching for Isaac's paintings. I've accepted that Heroes is not an intellectual show, but they need to keep the storylines moving in order to maintain audience interest.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched last night's episode yet, and unless I end up home sick one day this week with nothing to do but watch TV, I don't think that I need to spend 45 minutes catching up with this. I guess that's my modus operandi with Heroes for the rest of this season (which was my MO for most of last season)-- watch only if the episode has good blog buzz, spoilers be damned.

memphish said...

The only reason I'm still watching this show is to be able to gripe about it on the message board I frequent. I'll give the show until episode 2.11 (assuming the Colts aren't on Monday Night Football) but if there are not vast improvements that will be it for me and Heroes. 6 episodes to get us from "You saved NYC from exploding in Nov. 2006, what are you going to do now?" to "I'm going to save NYC in June 2008." This is the big idea?

Oh and in the meantime I'm going to make you hate your favorite character by sending him to 1671 Japan. How little could I care about keeping guns out of Japan in the 17th century? What's the smallest thing you can think of?

Everyone else, especially creepy West, just kill them all.

Anonymous said...

This week was the closest I came to cancelling my Season Pass on my TiVO.

Same here. I literally had the menu up to cancel it, but I changed my mind at the last minute. One more episode like this and I am done.

Anonymous said...

So I just check out the link you sent of the Kring interview.

Unlike last season, in which all 23 episodes built to an end-of-the-season climax, the producers this year split up the storytelling, with the first "volume" due to be wrapped in the 11th episode. Plot strands that viewers have found tantalizing or just frustrating... will be explained, Kring promises. "It will all be paid off by episode 11," Kring said. "From seven to 11 are the best episodes we've ever done."

That will be my light at the end of the tunnel and mantra for getting through the slow episodes.

Andrew Dignan said...

Going to offer a slightly differing opinion than most of the commenters in that I think this was the most promising episode of the season. Not to say good of course, but seem to be laying the groundwork for something to actually happen down the road.

So, yeah, saving NYC from a killer virus isn't all that different or more imaginative than saving it from a bomb, but at least it's you, know, ACTUAL CONFLICT. Something to rally around. And yes, the wonder twins continue to suck, but everything is adding up to Alejandro being killed off in short order (half the free world, including Dania Ramirez, is now in the main cast crawl yet Shalim Ortiz remains in the guess star ghetto. Hmm...) So at least we can anticipate Sylar will be killing him and eating his brain (and probably keeping Maya around as his evil love interest/co-conspirator ) which would be a fun wrinkle. In fact Sylar laying out his evil plan to the non-English speaking Alejandro was the first moment of this season that actually reminded me of how much twisted fun the show used to be.

Also the Hiro through time storyline finally has begun to payoff and lends some weight to my Kensei killed Sulu theory from a few weeks back.

Plus HRG as cold-blooded assassin, using his instincts as a father to interrogate and torture a former friend was great.

Still so much of this show remains just awful though. The decision to turn the show into Heroes: Coupling has been without exception a disaster. Claire has never been less interesting and West is essentially Peter's haircut from season one with less personality. Speaking of which, every second Peter spends with his biddy lass makes my bowels tremble. If the show ever places Pete and West in the same scene together it's gonna resemble that scene from Scanners in my apartment.

Lack of forward progress is a drag and that we're already 1/3 of the way done with the season underlines how poorly planned out this plot-line has been but I'm holding out hope that the next 8 episode arc will be more focused.

Phil said...

Except for the HRG stuff, last night was simply crappy, and Alan, your analysis is dead on. What the writers haven't learned from last year is that we don't want to wait for an action packed episode. Entertain us. Don't tell us to wait for episode 7.

plus too many storylines. Please, writers, we got interested in the characters last year. Breaking up the storylines so much and adding new characters just makes it look like you don't know what you're doing and are trying to string us along. Or saving the best shows until after the strike or whatever. I'm not canceling the season pass yet, but good Lord, I'm going to bitch a lot about the failures of the show for a while.

A.H. said...

Sylar stroking Maya's hair and basically acting like he wanted to lick her face? Super creepy!

Sylar then giving a big obvious villain speech about his eeeeevil plans for Maya? Super boring and stupid.

I've been trying not to have second season let-down, but it's getting hard.

I hope Claire's poor judgment in agreeing to use her powers to terrorize a school rival was an intended parallel to her father's resumption of his dark ways, but perhaps I am giving the writers too much credit? After all, they think I'm too stupid to not get why Sylar is hanging with the Black Oil Twins.

XWL said...

What did everybody else think?

Did the writers' strike start early?

Kring: Oh damn, no writers, what are we going to do for next season?

NBC Exec: Don't worry, just recycle last, season.

Kring: Brilliant!

NBC Exec: Brilliant!!

Kring: And Guinness Stout comes in a bottle, too?!?

(woops, how did that product placement get in this comment?)

Anonymous said...

Entertainment Weekly had a GREAT review of the show a couple of weeks ago:


Anonymous said...

"What did everybody else think?

Did the writers' strike start early?

Kring: Oh damn, no writers, what are we going to do for next season?

NBC Exec: Don't worry, just recycle last, season.

Kring: Brilliant!

NBC Exec: Brilliant!!

Kring: And Guinness Stout comes in a bottle, too?!?"


I wish the Haitian could take my memory of s2 so far.

Anonymous said...

I wish the Haitian could take my memory of s2 so far.

Now that is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Ordinarily, this kind of episode is my favorite type of episode: character turning points.

So I disagree that nothing happened in this episode.

The title of the episode was "The Line" and almost all of the characters crossed over to the dark side of it. Claire with her not-so-petty tormenting of the cheerleader bitca, Maya with her murder of the border posse, Hiro with his betrayal of Kensei and vice versa, Peter with his implicit agreement to help Irish girl kill Veronica Mars. HRG's gunshot was the most explicit line-crossing -- except that he's no doubt done it before., so his line is probably a dotted one.

Mohinder's storyline looks to be the exception - but I can't go into much detail because I'm not much interested in him except when he's competing with Parkman and Molly on who gets to be the Mommy of the household. (So far, I think it's a 3-way tie.)

That said, this show gives such short shrift to character that it all felt more like plot development than character development.


I miss Joss Whedon.

Anonymous said...

Can someone wake me up when Season 2 of Heroes starts?

HRG -- pretty good (though as Chris noted, the CG backgrounds he's been in front of have been bad).

Everything else -- snore. I'm even tired of Hiro in ancient Japan.

I keep thinking of that line from Batman -- "This town needs an enema!" I mean, Heroes needs something. I mean, when Reaper is better in a given week, it's time to be afraid.

Anonymous said...

Damn it Andrew, even though it's just a theory, it sure as fuck comes across as a spoiler to the rest of us, especially when you give it a moment's thought and realize it's correct.

dark tyler said...

In fairness to Andrew, this prediction just made me want to see the rest of this volume, because so far nothing else has.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of all those episodes of Lost last season--glacial pace, almost gave up on it, but somehow stuck with it and was rewarded with the season finale. Unfortunately, this isn't Lost we're talking about...

Larry said...

Alan, I think the loss of Bryan Fuller to PUSHING DAISIES has really hurt this show. I think he was the collaborative showrunner who brought the fresh, forward momentum to the first season. By the way, the first season - with the exception of the "eh" finale wears exceptionally well on DVD. This season blows so far.

Andrew Dignan said...

Sorry anonymous. I did a whole song and dance of "not a spoiler just a thought I'd been working on" a few episodes back in this space and I probably should have repeated it just out of courtesy. At the time it was based on a lot of circumstantial evidence and a few storytelling tropes (why make Anders a regular only to have him be stuck in the feudal Japan, the killer has to be someone we're familiar with otherwise what's the point, etc...) with no real motive or reasoning behind it. But now that we're seeing this side of the character (and know he could walk away from a nose dive off of a building) it does seem to lend a little credence my pet theory. Hopefully I didn't catch on to the writer's game plan too early and ruin it for everyone (and in the event I did, I should petition the writers of the show to get onto the staff).

Anonymous said...

Money, marbles, or chalk says Bryan Fuller was the creative force behind "Heroes" last season no matter what anyone says. All you have to do is look at the last 2 seasons of "Heroes" and this current one of "Pushing Daisies" which is quickly turning into my favorite show of the year.

Anonymous said...

I have been a defender on the feudal Japan story arc in the past, mainly because it had one of our favorite characters, Hiro and the show's best guest actor, David Anders. But the storyline is dull and really silly now.

Yes, the great epic battle was 3 guys chasing them through tents? I watched that in dull amazement.

But overall, the criticism of Tim Kring is completely justified. This show is hard to watch but the truth is, with the pending WGA strike, I am sticking with shows longer than normal now - but no show is testing my patience worse than frakking "Heroes".

Toby O'B said...

I'm intrigued by a line that was basically a throwaway - Ivan said that the paintings were stored in a warehouse "where we tagged the liquid man".

Now that sounds like a cool power to show up before the end of the season! Probably expensive with CGI, I'll bet!

The Pale Writer said...

i'm with andrew; there were developments this week that have a whiff of interesting, and I liked the episode as a whole: everyone crossing a line into darker territory is a unique, star wars-ian approach; i like it. can they pull it off, though…

most promising, aside from sylar having a hot, evil partner, is that it looks like hiro may have gone all marty mcfly and screwed with the space/time continuum.

what's been striking thus far is that none one seems to know each other and so far as I can remember, other than nathan, not a single character has mentioned nyc city being saved. case in point: parkman and nathan teamed up last week, and matt never said, "oh hey, btw, last time i saw you, weren't you rocketing into space with your brother in order to save the planet? yeah, how'd that work out?" instead, they acted like they had little or no idea who the other guy was.

so my guess is that hiro has altered the timeline and set everyone on a different course.

i also suspect nikki is going to kill suresh, btw. random guess.

Anonymous said...

HRG's gunshot was the most explicit line-crossing -- except that he's no doubt done it before., so his line is probably a dotted one.

I'm not entirely sure we've seen HRG's line yet.

This ep was a little dull, but I did find things about it that I liked, such as Claire maybe seeing a glimpse of West not being such a nice guy after all (and I don't think the evil cheerleader will be traumatized since since it's easy to rationalize it to being completely hammered), or seeing HRG back in his glory. But yeah, the Hiro thing didn't get interesting to me until he said he screwed up the space-time continuum and then we saw Peter in the effed-up future. Except that Ando seems to remember more stuff than anyone else...hmmm....

BTW, damn those spammers for causing you to have to go back to the word verification thang!

Andrew Dignan said...


If memory serves, Parkman was slowly bleeding out in a near-death state by the time Nathan showed up to save the day. He's forgiven for being less than aware.

But in general I agree with the sentiment. It annoys me that we have to wait till the inevitable "Four Months Ago" flashback episode to find out why Nathan isn't a Congressman (you'd think *that* would have come up at some point).

The Pale Writer said...

good point, andrew - although, to that end: could parkman be up and policing 4 months after a shot to his gut?

i realize it wouldn't exactly be scintillating TV if the characters all set around and pulled farley shows on us for 60 minutes every week (remember that time we saved the world? that was AWESOME!), but at the same time, thus far, nathan is the only one to make ANY mention of it, and that was during the dream/fight sequence last week. oh, and i guess DL is dead, too. that's the only other tie to the finale that i can recall so far this year.

hiro is going to blow the continuum; i'm feeling more and more convinced of it.