Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Wandering Series That Started High And Floundered Fast: Heroes Ends Up Average!

The Good: DVD Bonus features, Sense of story, Some acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Very plot-driven, Problematic plots, Sense of repetition.
The Good: Despite having a first season that starts pretty incredibly, Heroes quickly went off-course by repeating too many of its own ideas and taking too much from The 4400.

Sometimes, there is a television series that I encounter after the hype and I have the chance to view it more objectively than when it initially aired. That was not the case with Heroes, the NBC series which lasted for four seasons and is now available in a complete series bundle pack which allows viewers to get the entire experience in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, even as the show aired, I saw fundamental problems with the show and watching the entire series all over again, I was struck by how many problems the show had and when it bowed out, how little interest I still had in the show. From the very beginning, I saw that Heroes was using a number of plot and character elements from the Universal/NBC program The 4400 which had a short run on cable and I DID come to after it was over.

That said, Heroes is a television program that seeks to mimic comic books in the sense of serialization and style for presenting episodes in chapters and the seasons, mostly, as volumes. There is narration (which is particularly annoying) but what the show has that few programs manage to do well is present a story with a true sense of world scope. The characters in Heroes are from all over the world and in the course of the show, characters do more than simply sit around the United States Of America solving problems. Unfortunately, because the show is so insular with the American characters, there are scope issues that are unfortunately minimized.

Heroes The Complete Series is a bundle pack which has all 24 of the original discs of Heroes repackaged in slimmer, newer, packaging. Even so, this is essentially what one would find in:
Heroes Season 1 - "Genesis"
Heroes Season 2 - "Generations"
Heroes Season 3 – “Villains” and “Fugitives”
Heroes Season 4 – “Redemption” with no new bonus features.

Heroes is basically the story of several characters around the world who awaken after an eclipse to realize they have tremendous superpowers.

In "Genesis," Mohinder Suresh, scientist and student, is dismayed when his father, philosopher and geneticist Chandra Suresh is murdered in New York City. Mohinder soon realizes that the murder is related to Chandra's theory that extraordinary abilities are manifesting in seemingly ordinary people around the world and his father was searching for those people. And Chandra was correct, pinpointing the locations of several individuals who do have superhuman abilities. They include a teenager who can regenerate from virtually any wound, a man who can fly, a cop who can read the thoughts of others, and a young man who can time travel and teleport. But in addition to those figuring out how to use their powers in vague, general terms they can cope with, there are others who are exploiting their powers for nefarious purposes.

Soon, there comes an ominous prophecy about New York City being virtually destroyed by an explosion only months away. The warning comes from Hiro Nakamura, or at least a future version of him, and is soon confirmed by works of a prophetic artist who seems to be able to paint the future. The race then becomes to save the regenerating cheerleader, find the individuals with the superpowers and ultimately to save New York City (and the world) from the destructive forces represented by those villainous enough to use their powers for evil!

Four months after the events that climaxed in Kirby Plaza, “Generations“ begins with Mohinder Suresh and Matt Parkman having taken legal custody of Molly as they work (quietly) to find others with extraordinary abilities. Mohinder is also working with Noah Bennet to try to destroy the Company that has long been manipulating events in regards to the various extraordinary people who are sprouting up in the world. The remnants of Linderman's organization are not the only problems, though, as Sylar both survived the Kirby Plaza incident, but has taken company with a young woman who carries a plague within her. As well, Mohinder is approached by Bob, a man from the Company who has an interest in a viral plague.

All of this is well and good for those who are involved in the conspiracies of the world; Claire Bennet is compelled to lay low and in the process, she meets a classmate who is able to fly. As well, Micah discovers that he is not the only one in his family with an extraordinary talent when Niki/Jessica leaves him with his grandmother and cousins. And poor Peter Petreli; having survived the potential destruction of New York, he wakes up in a crate with no memory.

As Peter searches for clues to his identity by taking up with a band of Irish thieves, Hiro Nakamura finds himself in 17th Century Japan where he meets up with his hero, Takezo Kensei, who is both less than he thought and far greater. As Hiro struggles to regain use and control of his time-traveling abilities, events in the present conspire to put most of the major players on course for a viral outbreak which will decimate the world's population.

In “Villains,” a rival Company to Primatech emerges. After a breakout of prisoners at Primatech’s infamous Level 5, Peter finds himself imperiled and soon Peter and Nathan discover their dead father is very much alive. Arthur Petrelli is, in fact, alive and running Pinehearst, an evil company looking to make an army of people with superhuman abilities. To that end, they require a formula, which Hiro loses to a super-fast thief named Daphne. With Sylar being used by Angela Petrelli in the quest to get villains back into Level 5, Claire finds herself trying to make a difference as a freelance agent on her own and Mohinder Suresh discovers the horrible consequences that come with having powers when he artificially gives himself abilities which begin to transform him.

Following an eclipse which temporarily robs those with abilities of their powers, Nathan Petrelli raises his status as the junior Senator from New York by beginning a covert government organization that hunts down those with abilities, which is where “Fugitives” starts. Teamed with the brutal Emile Danko, Nathan begins hunting down those with abilities. Even as he tries to keep Claire off the radar of his workers at Building 26, Noah conspires with Angela to rebuild Primatech and finds himself compelled to work for the new organization. And as Sylar searches for his father, Peter tries to defend his family and learn how everything got so screwed up in the first place.

The series winds down with “Redemption,” which finds Nathan struggling with his identity and most of the rest of the specials just happy the government is no longer hunting them. While Claire goes off to college, Hiro learns his talent is killing him and he prepares to die. Even as Noah tries to reconcile a past relationship and keep Claire safe, he struggles to find his place in live now that he is not hunting individuals with special abilities. But Noah’s retirement is short-lived as Tracy resurfaces with a grudge and she learns about Samuel, a special who lives with others in a travelling carnival. As Samuel approaches others, Sylar resurfaces and the manipulations of the two adversaries soon threaten the world once again.

The problem is, we've seen this before. Anyone who has seen X-Men or has read a comic book understands the concept of mutants with powers and television audiences who were captivated by The 4400 have an even more recent example. This is The 4400 recast such that there is some excitement and intrigue in finding out who has the powers and what they are. But ultimately, at the end of the day, many of the powers possessed by the "Heroes" are even strikingly similar to those possessed by people on The 4400.

Part of the problem is that the show starts with the novelty of the heroes, but then soon becomes increasingly plot intensive. The last seven episodes (from "Company Man" on) sacrifice almost any sense of character to advance the convoluted plot and bring the various heroes from around the world together. The plot serves to advance the convergence of the plot lines and the heroes who become more embodiments of their super power than actually . . . actualized characters.

Still, it's worth it to see who the show is about because some of the characters are neat and the plot (it is heavily serialized, which I like quite a bit) is engaging, if not original. For the bulk of the series, the characters presented and explored in depth are:

Mohinder Suresh - A scholarly detective of sorts who is investigating his father's murder, legacy and work and soon discovers that his father was accurately assessing the locations and identities of individuals who had superhuman abilities,

Claire Bennet - The cheerleader who is a normal enough girl, yet is severely depressed. Her suicide attempts yield the understanding that she is virtually indestructible, possessing an ability to regenerate wounds to her body with extreme speed. Daughter of the mysterious Mr. Bennet, she comes to understand her ability is a gift but that she is a potential target to those who would exploit or harm her,

Hiro Nakamura - A young Japanese man who discovers that his geeky obsession with time travel has practical applications when he learns to focus and manipulate time and his position in space. Hiro soon translates himself to the United States where he seeks to fulfill a prophecy to save the cheerleader and the world,

Ando - Hiro's best friend, a sobering influence who has no superhuman powers save to put up with Hiro. But the more their adventures go on, the more he begins to covet and be guarded about powers,

Mr. Bennet - A menacing man and father to Claire who works exceptionally hard to keep her safe. While Claire hides her abilities from him, Bennet works for a secret institution that is responsible for hunting down those with the abilities, an organization whose goals may not be entirely beneficial to humanity or the heroes,

Nathan Petrelli - Congressional candidate from New York City whose sudden ability to fly is kept a closely guarded secret. Working to win an election takes its toll on him, especially when it becomes clear that his part in the designs of the organization Bennet works for might lead to disaster for everyone,

Peter Petrelli - Disturbed by dreams that he can fly, Peter's control of his brother's campaign begins to slip until he comes to term with his own unique ability; he absorbs the powers of superhumans in his vicinity,

Niki/Jessica Sanders - A split personality whose power seems to be that she is a split personality (I know of several people who find this to be a mental illness, but here it's trumpeted as a great superhuman ability). Niki is submerged to a more aggressive Jessica personality who works to protect her son, Micah,

Micah Sanders - A child, son of Niki, who has the ability to manipulate electrical fields, notably computers and whose skills as a result bring him to the attention of people who would use his powers for their own gain,

Matt Parkman - A police officer who suddenly discovers he has the ability to read the thoughts of others, his problems with his wife and his dyslexia soon become sublimated to his problems with an organization that his hunting him and those like him,

Isaac Mendez - A talented artist who has disturbing incidents that result in his ability to paint future events whether he wants to or not,

D.L. Hawkins - Micah's father, a man who can pass through solid objects, he returns to Micah's life determined to keep Jessica from harming him,

and Sylar - A student of Chandra's work who believed he was touched by the same gift as others Chandra predicted. Unfortunately, his mental instability combined well with his ability to steal the superhuman abilities of others by killing them and removing their brains, making him a powerful villain, one set on a collision course with destiny in New York City and beyond.

It does not take long before it becomes clear that Sylar is the Alpha villain, though there are others who arise and have a presence or agenda that is not beneficial either for the world or the lives of the individuals blessed (or cursed, depending on one's position) with the superhuman powers. Matt, Mr. Bennet and Peter all become interested in the existence of Sylar and obsessed with how to stop him. Indeed, one of the few true character journeys of the series comes in the form of Hiro, who is led to the conclusion that Sylar is indisputably evil and must be stopped at any cost, even if it means killing him, something which the young man never considered himself capable of before. And as his health is put in jeopardy by the use of his abilities, Hiro is the one who has the greatest consequences for his success or failure!

Part of what makes Heroes remarkably average is the characters are very much "types" instead of actualized characters with their own genuinely distinct personalities. The other problem is that because the cast is so large, there are several characters that have very little airtime (I expected the series to feature Greg Grunberg as Matt quite a bit more than it does) and a lot of the acting is shaky at best. It is strangely easy for guest cast members like George Takei and Malcolm McDowell to sweep in and overwhelm the show even when they have limited screentime. Some of the actors who have the most time on screen like Hayden Panettiere (Claire) and Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder) become overwhelmed by the end of the first season by actors whose early performances clearly gave the creative staff more to work with, like Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet).

What pushes the series up on DVD are the DVD bonus features. The DVD sets feature extensive commentaries from many members of the cast. Some of the episode are more engaging with the commentaries on! As well the boxed set features an extensive featurette on each of the seasons which is informative and entertaining. There are hundreds of deleted scenes which flesh out the episodes nicely and the original cut of the pilot that frankly makes more of an event out of the beginning than the slightly more lackluster one that aired.

But ultimately, Heroes is average and I had the “you’ve seen it once, you’ve got it” problem with the series. In other words, once I saw the show, I felt I gained nothing by rewatching episodes and at the end of the day, that makes it impossible for me to recommend the series, even if component parts of it are above average and the DVD bonus features are phenomenal.

For other science fiction television, please check out my reviews of:
V- Season 1


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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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