With the news that we are to imminently expect a belated (and possibly unnecessary) follow up series, Heroes is back on the radar! Having recently rewatched all of Heroes on Netflix, I thought I’d write up my thoughts and feelings on the show. Not so much a review because of its breadth, but certainly a look at the good, the bad, and the confused?
Like everyone else, I thought season one of Heroes was pretty much amazing. The premise, taken at face value, sounded like it might be an X-Men rip off of sorts, which could get old very quickly. And despite its comic book style harking back to every superhero genre ever, it still managed to be fresh, original and gripping. Season one was critically acclaimed and garnered an average of 14.3 million viewers in the United States, receiving the highest rating for an NBC drama premiere in five years. It was a hit.
The “Save the Cheerleader – Save the World” storyline that ran throughout most of the first season, was a great hook that kept many coming back for more. The characters were interesting and well rounded (for the most part), each possessing their own power (amazing or mundane) and dealing with it in the way that best suited their personal beliefs and moral codes. It’s a show that managed to gain a reasonable audience and had quite a wide appeal – my Japanese friend who isn’t especially into the genre, loved it! In fact, I remember a distant time when it was the first thing we talked about at work the day after a new episode aired.
But I, like so many others, struggled after season one, and then gave up altogether from season three onwards. Season one had been amazing, though the ending was not the event television many of us were expecting – some excellent points made here. Giving up on a show is something I hate doing, I usually see things through to the bitter end even if I don’t like it, because I need to just be sure it wasn’t just in a funk. The only other show I have done this with was Agents of Shield – I think I made it through about three episodes.
Surprisingly when I rewatched it all on Netflix (both episodes I had seen and those I had not) I didn’t hate it. I went in with the knowledge that it went off in a poor direction and so I was prepared for that. On second viewing, a lot of it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, though much of it wasn’t great.
Season two was where the decline had begun for me, and many others. The pacing was slower, and it was over all less engaging. Season three tumbled into madness. Following off on some of the weaker points of season two, such as the time travel, it lost its way. Although the Shanti Virus storyline was interesting, it became insular in some ways and the time travelling, which could have been really effectively used, started to get confusing and leaving plot holes – whatever did happen to Peter’s Irish girlfriend? And in how many different futures does Sylar believe he is a Petrelli even though the viewer (and he) discovers he is not?
Season four changed the game a little. The feel of the show definitely altered and although it didn’t get back to essential viewing it was enjoyable enough. At first I didn’t know what to make of the Carnival storyline, but as it became clear that it was yet again just another “will their powers be revealed” plot, it lost me for a while, but then I just kind of accepted it, like one does the smell of an elderly and sickly dog.
I think my biggest bug bear with the show is demonstrated through the story of Sylar. He was an amazing and actually coldly terrifying villain, but as time marched on they began to backtrack, to give him his humanity (he would have been fine had the Company not driven him to it!), and eventually, to redemption. Quinto is outstanding in the role and was a fan favourite so it’s not hard to see why they wanted to keep him around. But in many ways it’s indicative of some of the problems with the show – one of which being not wanting to lose characters by finding new and interesting ways to curtail death (Nathan kind of living in Sylar’s body, Sylar living in Matt’s head, HRG being revived by Claire’s blood…). I personally thought Sylar was a great character, and actually quite liked the storyline with him and Elle, which in a way ended up proving he was just fighting the monster he really was. But I started to feel robbed of one of television’s greatest villains when he stopped being pure evil and they started to let a little wiggle room creep in, not because I don’t feel people can’t be redeemed – but because it felt like the writers had been reading too much fanfic.
One thing on which I had mixed thoughts, is the fact that every single season has exactly the same premise. Someone, for some reason (usually self-serving) wants to either end the world and/or by consequence “out” those with superpowers. For, you’ know, “reasons” (often involving or fortold through time travel) this would turn out to be catastrophic and so has to be ended before it can begin. In ending this scenario, they cause the exact same thing to happen – their revelation – via a different scenario instead. Initially I thought that this is truly the height of lazy story telling – each season’s threat, one way or another, is exactly the same. But then it occurred to me that it’s actually kind of genius – they are doomed to rinse and repeat because they cannot escape their fate!
The final episode of Season 4, just as I was becoming fatigued with the “oh, they’re trying not to get revealed… again” situation, turned that around for me. Because Claire did reveal their powers, and then the show ended. So, whether intentional on the part of the show runners (which I really suspect was not the case), it could be interpreted that the whole story of Heroes is that the revelation is inevitable from the moment they get their powers, and no matter what they do it cannot be avoided. They had just better hope that some of the future shit that was meant to go down if they revealed doesn’t happen after all (Claire can’t you remember all the warnings about what would happen in the future if the public knew!!!??!?)!
What adds some complexity to this (and again, I don’t believe this is intentional at all!), is that whilst staying true to the ethos of their characters, many of the Heroes (and villains) change their minds and/or allegiances – often to the point of confusion. In one version of events they might be for or against something, and then switch in a different version where they have lived different experiences and formed different opinions to get them to that point. Confusing though it may have been, it was interesting to see how the same people would make different choices and choose different sides if their experiences were different – it was cause and effect in practice. Just unfortunately not as well done as it could have been.
That said, the time travel element on first viewing (and it doesn’t stand up that much better on repeat viewings), is the weak link in this show and it’s amazing that it got green-lit past season two! Heroes is a show well known for being a victim of the Writer’s Strike, and if I’m honest, this kind of annoys me. I know they aren’t alone, and that many shows struggled as a result of the strike – but some didn’t do half as bad. Battlestar Galactica stands out as a show that, despite a wobble here and there, made it through comparatively unscathed, and continued to be one of the best realised, written and executed television shows of the modern era. And surely it must always be a concern when the creator of a show feels the need to continually apologise for it.
This is all quite negative
It can be hard to be positive about something that becomes so disappointing. However, I can’t deny that by the end, I enjoyed it. Sure, I had to try and wipe from my mind how good it could be, and just concentrate on what was in front of me. There were characters I had grown attached to, new and interesting powers, and through it all there were some very good individual moments. Certainly much of the time Quinto is on screen is fantastic, a lesser actor would have made his back and forth stories much less convincing. He is absolutely at his best when interacting with other characters – Parkman and Peter for example, with some brilliant dialogue and chemistry. Although some of his storyline also gets the confusion makeover, Masi Oka’s Hiro is a constant delight. I still shout “Yatta!” when I succeed at something.
My problem is I find it hard to totally dislike things, there are so many movies and shows out there that have been completely panned that I still have affection for. The reason for this is because I fall in love with the world they create, and no matter how baffling or bizarre a story needlessly gets, I enjoy spending time there. This was certainly the case for Heroes, and I found that the final episode actually came too soon.
Although we can hope that Heroes Reborn will learn from the mistakes of the past, it cannot be guaranteed. So perhaps we should watch it with as little expectation as possible. When viewing Heroes in general the best thing to remember is that it doesn’t maintain, and never returns, to the high standards set in the first season and as long as you don’t expect it to, then it can be fairly entertaining. Like a popcorn movie, you must treat it as such – you go into the cinema not expecting much from, say, The Expendables 2, and what you’ll get is some fluffy (if violent) fun. You go in expecting Oscar winning stuff, you’ll be disappointed. Maybe the problem with Heroes, is that season one was just too good for it’s own good.
Either way, I will be excitedly tuning in and hoping to be taken back to that world I fell in love with!