Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Much like Marshall Sam Gerard, "I Don't Care"

Heroes: A Clear and Present Danger
Season 3, Episode 14

After a few weeks on hiatus, Heroes returned last night to start Volume 4: Fugitives. Besides the volume title giving me recollections of a great movie and television show (I'm not talking about the Tim Daly version), this is the continuation of their wildly... well the word disappointing somewhat infers having positive anticipation to start with, so let's just stick with "third season." This episode at least attempts to address the situation - that being how the show's ratings and critical response have reached a point best described as: calamity. Since season one, the ratings have dropped by approximately half. Let me repeat that, half the people that once followed no longer give a damn.

For my take on the problems of this once interesting show and their obvious attempts to right the ship, read below the cut.

I have to admit it's hilarious how the people in charge of this show act. They know ratings are down, seldom does a week go by without a few critics ripping into them and still they let each and every chance slip through their fingers. The common complaint of the characters needing real lives and jobs is quickly ripped apart so they can be on the run... during which time they better explain how these fugitives afford food and shelter. Here's a hint, go rent a season of the Fugitive with David Janssen, like right now. Remember the idea that people latched onto, "ordinary people with extraordinary abilities?" These people don't live ordinary lives with jobs, or really any type of life outside of the one their abilities and the show's not so epic plots.

So what are the problems? Did anything get better this week? The answer is kinda, sorta, not really.


We need to be worried about the characters if there's ever going to be any attachment to them. The most certain way to do this is killing a few (for longer than 15 seconds). All of the shows deaths shouldn't just be new or recurring characters in their first half-dozen episodes, killing any member of the core cast might quickly reinvigorate a sense of urgency and consequence into the show. But it's unlikely any combination of Claire, Peter, Hiro, Noah Bennett or Sylar will ever be killed or even out of the audience's attention for even a single episode. Perhaps they just like the actors too much. I mean Ali Larter's character died and she was back within three or four scenes. But if the entire original cast continues to float along cheating death at every turn, dying multiple times only to be brought back within minutes each and every time, the writers encourage the idea of, "Why watch? Nothing happens."

It's the same reason they need to fire Tim Sale as the Hand of God, a.k.a. the artist of the future. It's long past time to axe him as they did his oft-times comic book partner, the former co-exec Jeph "Where'd my talent go?" Loeb. Consequences need to be real and long-lasting. First, Isaac painted the future, when he died they found a mysterious additional set of his paintings from some time ago (of course Isaac never recognized meeting the various people he painted), this is on top of Peter and Sylar occasionally taking up the ability.

Then in just the first 13 episodes this year, previously unheard of issues of Isaac's comic are found, Sylar paints, Arthur Petrelli paints, even the African bushman Usutu paints for a few episodes before his death. After all this, now they decide to have Matt Parkman spontaneously gain the power to paint without any explanation besides the ghost of Usutu appearing and saying the equivalent of It Is Needed. No It Isn't. The ability to paint the future belonged to one hero and he died, another borrowed the ability and has lost it, a third had it and died. As long as Sale is around to solve the writer's problem of having to move the plot forward through any other storytelling device, death has no meaning. And if we don't care if the characters die, why should we care if they live?


So far in the first HALF of this season, Sylar went from being a maniacal villain to a anti-hero to a hero to a villain to an uncommitted villain to pretty much where he started to a possibly not-as-bad villain. Bennett's allegiance seems to float to wherever he the writers think he could be the biggest badass. Nathan has made the bad-good-bad triple jump in single episodes... multiple times! The only seemingly certain things are that Peter is a moron, and regardless of whether he is being mind-wiped or not, Hiro is a child and Hayden Panettiere is a terrible actress. I suppose we can only blame the writers for the first two points and the few people continuing to enjoy the show can live with the third.

The writing staff needs to commit with these characters. Either Sylar is a psychopathic killer of innocents, an ultra-violent anti-hero in the Clint Eastwood mold or a reformed hero. He cannot be all three! He should not be any two! In this episode he resists killing the watchmaker adopted father that abandoned him, but took out one of Nathan's goon squads in short order. Welcome to being an anti-hero... please do not adjust... at all... for any reason whatsoever.

Likewise, Nathan can be conflicted about what he is doing, but can NOT go against the government operation that he is currently running. If this is reversed in short order like so much else in the history of the show has been, it continues to destroy any credibility that these are normal people. There needs to be a rock to each character's personalities and their actions should always be true to that.


More than anything else, the plot, even the smaller details, needs to be run past an Executive of Common Sense. I volunteer to take this job for Heroes starting immediately if they want. I would point out things like, why is the American government abducting Hiro from Japan (ever heard of the term: international incident, Senator Petrelli?) then transport him all the way to New York just to transport him to their prison. Perhaps we could solve that by having Hiro and Ando living in New York to begin with. I mean they were there at the end of the last episode. And why isn't every person with abilities immediately sent tho the prison from wherever they are abducted and instead brought together on one single plane? And your excuse can NOT be, "So they can escape."

And having Noah capture Mohinder hurts the story in a couple different ways only to see him do something quote-unquote cool. That he is needed for the capture at all completely cuts the legs out from under them in trying to establish their new malicious government agent (played by Zeljko Ivanek, who is continually promoted as an actor from Damages, but will always be Andre Drazen to me) as capable. Why are we supposed to be afraid of him catching all the heroes if he and five of his soldiers can't even get one of them? And it took away a significant possible emotional impact from a reveal towards the end. Nobody would be more hurt by Bennett being involved in this as Claire, so why not have her arrival in the cockpit be the first time he is seen so the audience can possibly experience it from her point of view.


Some of the shows problems are addressed, I will give them that. And hey as long as they have superpowers, I'll be back most weeks... even if I've written off collecting anymore of the DVDs. What can I say, I'm easy. But it's frustrating that so many of the potential improvements are diluted in one way or another. The most concerning is the powering down of some heroes. Limiting the god-like powers of Hiro and Peter were necessary and logically consistent with the events of last season. But each attempt is goofed like a Charlie Brown field goal attempt with the writers yanking the ball out of place.

If Hiro has no powers and is still going to be prominently involved, he needs to carry his own weight and to do that he needs to start acting like an adult, not a kid with lots of toys. He is the richest member of the cast and years of reading stories about heroes should give him ideas to what the others might need to operate. But he needs to effectively apply those in a mature manner, not just buying a spandex outfit for the defenseless Ando and telling him to go fight crime. Think about it for a second!

Peter losing his powers and having them returned artificially is an excuse to limit him, so he can be still be involved in the story, but be placed in danger. Perhaps then the audience can actually relate to and be concerned for him. But the show should let the audience know this upfront. They shouldn't have to piece it together during the climatic fight. It can be pieced together by wondering why he doesn't have super-strength until he touches Mohinder and that changes to freezing abilities when he touches Tracy (who he probably thinks is Nikki) and then he's worried about falling out of the plane. In the climatic battle of the episode, half the audience shouldn't be piecing the mystery together while the other half yells, "You can fly, just let go!" One line of dialogue is all it would take, he can't get free Claire ask him if anyone there has super-strength he can copy. He just says, "It's not like that anymore. I can only have one power." And then the audience worries and cares about the lead character again. Think about it for a second!

The problem with is in virtually every instance, they don't. But I suppose they deserve something for the effort.

Final score: 1 star out of 5

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