Heroes brings all the geeky boys to the television, and it’s all like “damn right we’re better than your crime/hospital show”
By Daniel Taylor
I don’t watch much television. When I do, I certainly don’t tune in for current shows that I’ll watch week to week. If you find me in front of the television, I’m probably watching an old Simpsons rerun I’ve seen a thousand times before, or seeing how our boys are doing overseas. I don’t follow programs consistently or with any great measure of interest, and if I see ads for shows like 24 or Lost, shows that I know I’d get sucked into if I only gave them the opening of one episode, I generally avoid them for fear of just that. So it’s a strange thing that I find myself here in MONDO’s television section, ranting and raving about one of this season’s big hits, boasting about how I never missed an episode and looked forward to it every week. But I did, and here I am.
God help me, I never had a chance. When previews and ads started coming out for NBC’s Heroes last fall, I made a point to watch the first episode and like a moth to a flame or a thirsty kitten to a toilet bowl, I was doomed from the first commercial and never looked back. From then on, I became dead to the outside world for an hour at nine o’clock every Monday evening.
You see, while I don’t care much for this modern television, I’ve always enjoyed the finer pleasures of a good comic book, and old time shows like Quantum Leap and Star Trek, of which I’ll admit I’ve seen most episodes. It’s a big tough world when you’re drawn by your very nature to stuff like that, because it’ll get your ass kicked every time. If you try to talk to someone about an issue of The Uncanny X-Men or a scene from an old Star Trek episode, you will be ridiculed and slapped around. If you force yourself through an episode of Grey’s Anatomy so you can chat it up with the cool kids, you’re denying part of who you are and starving your soul. Sometimes it is very hard when you like nerdy things.
Heroes did something very special for people like me who, despite being well-rounded individuals who have never been to a convention and have never felt the slightest urge to go, just so happen to have a couple of Star Wars action figures kicking around. Heroes gave us a show to watch that was cool to us, but was also a show that everyone else would be watching too.
Creator Tim Kring came up with a great idea for a 23-part comic series, then turned it into a slick, dynamic television series full of good-looking actors and cool camera tricks. Watching Heroes‘ debut season is exactly like reading a good comic series: small story arcs build upon one another week by week to produce the larger story that unfolds throughout the season. As the respective stories of the characters (each possessing their own unique super powers) develop, they eventually overlap and bring the entire story together. At long last, a sci-fi show to be proud of, a comic book you don’t have to tuck into your backpack when the cool kids walk by.
As I watched each week, I became certain that this is exactly what Heroes was supposed to be: a source of geeky pride. Spotting Marvel Comics super creator Stan Lee is a treat that I thought was reserved for Marvel movie adaptations. But his momentary cameo as a cheerful old driver beckoning Claire Bennet onto the bus gave me something to smirk knowingly about. As did George Tekei’s appearance as Hiro Nakamura’s father, Kaito (complete with vanity license plate “NCC-1701″). And when one of the show’s most menacing villains, the enigmatic and unseen Mr. Linderman, was finally revealed, who could it be but Malcolm McDowell? “The man who killed James T. Kirk!” I chortled while my friends looked on in confusion and annoyance.
Beyond the superpowers that many of the show’s characters possess, even plot itself is driven forwards by a comic book. When Hiro discovers 9th Wonders, a comic book that predicts his adventures that lead towards a nuclear disaster in the heart of New York City, he begins using it to determine what he should do next. In this way 9th Wonders not only predicts the heroes’ destinies but helps shape them as well. Heroes, cleverly enough, is a comic book show whose central plot device is actually a comic book.But while the Heroes‘ creators have tailored a show for comic book fans to enjoy, it has plenty of action and character development to keep it on the same level as the best dramatic action shows out there. Unlike many comics, the show’s characters rarely fall into tidy divisions of good and evil, and one of the great joys of the show is trying to discern the heroes from the villains. Even as the final four episodes arrived, I could only make a few certain statements:
Hiro Nakamura, a space-time manipulator led by a conviction to his own destiny and far and away the show’s most endearing character, was fighting on the side of good. Claire Bennet, whose accelerated healing factor makes her nearly invincible, is certain that she can save the world if only she can figure out her role. Sylar, who kills other heroes to gain their powers, is clearly evil. Beyond these few, it is nearly impossible to say for sure who’s on which side. Characters introduced as shadowy figures step in to save the day time and again, and even the central protagonists wander into darkness on a weekly basis. The translation of a comic book narrative into a weekly television programs wasn’t without its shortcomings, however. Trying to keep the respective quests of twelve main characters and a host of supporting roles straight became somewhat wearying at times, and the various subplots caused the overall story to lag at some points. With so many different stories going on at the same time, certain tangents seemed to be tacked in to draw out the plot, while other characters didn’t see enough stage time. It also meant that some characters were ignored for entire weeks at a time, and an episode without Hiro or the ever-more-powerful Peter Petrelli felt lacking.
The show was also plagued by two significant hiatuses in mid-season, which did nothing to help the plodding speed that the plot often took. The only thing harder than keeping a dozen stories straight is doing so after a six-week break. This can hardly be seen as a fault of the show, but it certainly made it harder to enjoy.
Despite this, Heroes saw an excellent season full of dark twists and touching moments. It’s a unique standout in a sea of crime and hospital dramas, and its success is a sign that television fans just might want to watch something they haven’t seen before a thousand times. What’s more, it took the best parts of comics and brought it to mainstream television with a fresh spin on old archetypes and abilities. And perhaps most importantly, it gave me at least one show to look forward to over the summer. That never happens.