"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

We Could Be “Heroes”

******Here be spoilers******
for Heroes Episodes 1-8

“This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a cheerleader”*

Hoorah! You say in expectation of the obligatory lionization of Heroes. Ha! I say as I confound you! I have heard the hype, read the reviews and watched 8 episodes of the show… and so far I have to admit that I just don’t get it. What’s all the fuss about and perhaps more importantly what’s the show all about? So far I have nothing against the show but on the other hand I can’t find anything pro the show either. I’ve found so many irritants with the programme that I’ve starting forgetting before I find the next. These are just some of them.

  1. Each episode starts off irritating me with ‘chapter headings’. I presume this is a comic book reference but it’s still irritating. (Don’t get me started on how I dislike the term ‘Act’… it’s film and TV not theatre… surely after a century we should have created film into the entirely new form it so deserves to be, free from encumbering orthodoxy of a theatrical tradition…?)
  2. Each episode starts and ends with a voice-over. These give us, the humble viewer, a lesson in ‘deep meaningful wisdom’ which would work if it wasn’t for the fact that these come across as trite, downright bemusing or both. This tone carries through the episodes to the extent that the show comes across as very portentous and humourless.
  3. The look of this show is the standard American high gloss and is therefore indistinguishable from everything from The OC to Smallville to Charmed. Not bad, not good just rather average.
  4. Eight episodes in and nothing much has actually happened: a bunch of disparate people have discovered some heretofore unknown mysterious superhuman powers and are experimenting with them. Meanwhile a possibly sinister organization is possibly taking an interest in them. And everybody seems to be concerned about the possibility a cheerleader who can’t die might die. Where are the twists, where are the turns. So, in 8 episodes, more than two-thirds of the way through, little has really happened: that’s the equivalent of 40 minutes of a 2 hour feature film. If little more than character introductions and build-up had happened in the first 40 minutes of a feature would you be considering the exit yet?
  5. Anything that does happen seems to be left off the screen: we have serial killer who eats brains (or something) and we have a psycho hooker but we’re not allowed to see what she actually does. And that’s just cruel!
  6. Each individual episode is not overly encumbered by it’s own individual structure. Something like The X-Files had long multi-episode storylines but each episode had a formal structuring with a cliff-hanger ending to keep you watching. The same goes for chapters in books and comics.
  7. The eclipse was surely important but seems to have been thus far ignored.
  8. The superpowers are a little dull: no webs, no fire-breathing? Presumably, as they all have very human based superpowers they are part of some sort of genetic experiment to create new superior hybrid people… (just guessing actually!).
  9. The amount of coincidence and randomness is just plain odd: there are 6.5 billion people in the world, 300 million of them in the US and very few of these are ‘gifted’ yet all of the gifted special types seem to be perpetually bumping into each… I know there’s that whole ‘universal lattice of coincidence’ thing (see Repo Man) but Heroes is really pushing it to the limit of credibility…
  10. The characters themselves aren’t coming across as particularly individual defined solely by about one, often stereotyped, trait: sensitive nurse, oleaginous philandering politician, down-on-luck stripper, moping geneticist (who seems to have little grasp of science), lovably bumbling nerdy office worker, tortured artist (are there no other kinds of artist) on heroin, dumbish cop and the irritatingly chirpy cheerleader. Save the children, save the world? At the moment I’m voting kill the cheerleader, screw the world!
  11. …this leads to the next problem: the characters being created with such broad strokes has given me little to latch onto to make me care (or empathize with) about what’s happening or potentially going to happen to them.
  12. …this then leads to the next big problem: much has been made of the necessity of saving the cheerleader who all the characters say is going to get killed. However, it’s already been established that the cheerleader can’t be killed. She gets spikes through her head, part dissected and still gets to go home! If I know she can’t be killed, how can I fear for her safety?
  13. Quite a bit has been made of the daring use of subtitles in a mainstream US show and this should be applauded and yet I have a caveat for the Hiro character. While he is ‘cute’ (as the waitress put it) he is also the most humourous character… the bumbling comic relief. To me, he keeps drawing a comparison with Kato in The Pink Panther.
  14. Out of around 9-10 major characters only 2 are female. These two women are an internet stripper and possibly part-time prostitute and the other a nubile cheerleader seemingly surgically attached to her never ending supply of outfits. (Or maybe her Mom launders them and sews them back up… but wouldn’t that lead to so many awkward questions about all those blood and bone fragments?) In comparison, the men get to be Nurse, Politician, Artist, Geneticist, Cop and so on. Apparently, in the writer’s thinking, men do man’s jobs and women are either ‘virgins or whores’. Indeed, the cheerleader has fiercely defended her virginity to the point of killing. This has lead to my wondering about the age of the creators. Is stripper and high school cheerleader the best they could have come up with for the women? Presumably, the stay at home Mom who does a little temping was left out for being too outré.

Does this all seem too harsh? I envy the programme’s success and critical praise. I keep feeling I’ve missed some episodes but I'm pretty sure I haven't. I keep creating bits of story to fill out the whole: my new stories include the genetic experiment storyline, the eclipse-trigger storyline, the alien-DNA storyline and, my favourite, that they’re all part of one entity who all just have to get together so they can all meld into a super-monster. I can’t tell where all this build-up is going and that’s a problem because it doesn’t raise any expectations to either be thwarted or fulfilled.

Despite all of this I’ll be sticking with the show for at least another couple of episodes because greater minds than mine assure me it is ‘very good’. If nothing else that cheerleader’s date with brain-eating serial killer seems to be looming large and I really want to see how they get around her indestructibility.

Now, please, tell me where I’m wrong.

“The Maestro says it’s Mozart but it sounds like bubble gum when you’re waiting for the miracle to come.” –Waiting For The Miracle, Leonard Cohen

*Apologies to T.S. Eliot.


Chip Smith said...

The one thing that winds me up above anything else in Heroes is the tousled, romantic, misunderstood artist (as you say, is there any other sort?). Every time the guy comes on screen, I just groan.

Also, aren't there 23 episodes in the Season 1? That's a lot of time to invest in a TV show, especially one that features an 'artist' who is in desperate need of a good slap!

h said...

I think around 22 eps is kind of standard for an American tv season, isn't it? 22 to 24 or something.

But otherwise I’d totally have to agree with everything you've said. Having heard many good things about the series, I was looking forward to it – but it’s just not doing it for me. Nothing has hooked me yet, made me want to tune in every week. Where’s the humour? The character development? The cheerleader in the first episode kept claiming to be depressed – what happened with that? The psycho stripper character isn’t heroic, just clearly suffers from MPD. Sitting here trying to comment about it, half the characters aren’t even coming back to me. Clearly memorable. It feels like it's trying to be smart yet still cater for the lowest common denominator.

Although I’d love to see what someone like Joss Whedon would do with the show.

PS. As for female characters, don't forget the you-think-she's-good-but-is-actually-working-for-the-apparent-bad-guy chick with the pixie crop, who's friends with the geneticist's son. Something about females as traitors? And as if we didn't see that coming.

Jon Peacey said...

I have the sneaking suspicion that the tortured artist/novelist character is often a shorthand in dramas because, firstly, the writers want to hint that creating art is rather hard and, secondly, I suspect they have a limited idea of what jobs people actually do! ;-)

The 22-24 part series is an American staple from what I understand (X-Files, Simpsons, 24); presumably the networks operate on 2 seasons of 22-24 weeks with 4-8 weeks for High Days and Holidays. But that's just my assumption.

I think over everything else, the two things that most kill this show for me are the lack of rounded characters and the somewat sparse narrative. I have wondered if they may have been better concentrating more on a smaller number of characters.

...I had completely forgotten the pixie-cropped double agent ('memorable characters') but following the treacherous female theme: even the cop's wife is having an affair!

Thank you kindly for reading what turned out to be a far longer post than I set out to do.

Danny Stack said...

Great post, Jon. But it's being a bit harsh, I think. As with anything that receives a lot of praise, anyone coming to the show from the hype will inevitably feel short changed, pretty much in the manner of the aforementioned comments and your well argued post. But Heroes is a lot of fun. It has its dodgy moments but it's great entertainment.

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