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How To Save NBC’s Heroes

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So the new fall TV season is upon us. Well, sort of anyway. Much of the really good stuff that a lot of us tube-tubbies have been waiting for — can you say Lost anyone? — is actually still weeks, if not months away.

In the meantime, the new shows offered up by the networks so far seem to be a pretty mixed bag. ABC's FlashForward is probably the most promising of a lot that otherwise includes Courtney Cox's Cougar Town, a new batch of witches from Eastwick, and the jacked-up, joy-riding EMT's of NBC's Trauma (warning: look before you open a car door anywhere in their immediate vicinity).

And then there is Heroes.

Few shows in recent memory have fallen so far, and so fast as this once promising series from NBC and producer Tim Kring. The first season was pretty much a knockout (save for a less-than-satisfying ending). In each of its subsequent seasons however, Heroes has played itself out in such a way as to suggest that the writers never expected to make it past season one, and that once they did so, had no idea of what to do next or how to otherwise move forward.

If there has ever been a television series where it seemed the writers and producers were making things up on the fly as they go, Heroes is it. Characters dying and coming back to life are such a regular occurrence on Heroes that the sort of shock value that television deaths are intended to produce has been pretty much stripped clean away.

Once-strong characters like the deliciously evil Sylar (the still superb Zachary Quinto) and shadowy government spook Noah "HRG" Bennett (Jack Coleman) have had their "good guy/bad guy" roles flipped so many times, you'd think this was the WWE's Monday Night Raw. Of the other characters, Ali Larter's Tracy Strauss replaced an earlier character she played when the writers apparently couldn't figure out how to advance her original storyline.

In short, after the promising start of season one, Heroes has pretty much been a complete mess, and by most accounts this season will be a make-or-break one. So the question is, two episodes into this new season, just how super are these Heroes really looking?

And the answer is — they look surprisingly good. But there are also a few lingering reservations.

The parts of the Heroes story left over from last season — such as the dead/alive Sylar character who inhabits both the mind of detective Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and the body of politician Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) — are still a frustrating, unmitigated clusterfuck. Resolve this, or drop it already.

Ditto for the daddy-dearest babyface they inexplicably want to hang on HRG's glasses. I mean, screw all this "Claire Bear" crap, and let's see more of HRG as the sort of G. Gordon Liddy black-ops plotting government shithead we all came to know and hate in season one.

Where these storylines go is anyone's guess, and quite frankly the sooner they are either resolved or blown to all kryptonite kingdom-come the better.

Why? Because, the new storylines are soooo much more promising. For one thing, if you need a shot of good old-fashioned pure strangeness, there is nothing quite like a carnival troupe to up the creep factor.

Make it a time-traveling band of carnies with gifts like being able to alter the properties of ink in such a way as to produce tattoos that predict the future, and you've hit pay dirt, baby! Even HBO's sorely missed Carnavale couldn't muster that trick. Heroes also scored a nice coup in getting Robert Knepper to play chief carnie creep Samuel — a role he plays with all of the juicy relish, mixed in with just enough ambiguity, that such a truly evil character requires.

Another promising new development is the introduction of the newest hero, Emma (Deanne Bray), a deaf woman who "sees" sound. Her scenes with a cello in this past week's "Ink" episode were among the most interesting to come out of this series in awhile. A promising new storyline with potential love interest Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) — one of the Heroes who is in the most need of exactly that — could be just the sort of jumpstart this franchise so sorely needs.

So in the meantime, what do we about the rest of these Heroes?

Characters like Mohinder Suresh, the female Flash (check your DC comic books for reference), and the girl who cries the black tears of death appear to be gone forever and should probably stay that way. I also wouldn't be too heartbroken if the cheerleader we were all supposed to save in season one went away for good (so Daddy Horn-Rims can get back to his dastardly cloak-and-dagger ways as a government spook).

Take Ali Larter's Tracy character with them while you're at it. I mean, I like the eye-candy as much as the next horny old man, but her current character is only marginally more interesting than the one she used to play on the series. You know, the one they shit-canned.

Although the team of Hiro (Masa Oka) and Ando (James Kyson Lee) were once the heart and soul of this series, they have likewise outlived their usefulness. Still, they should probably be kept around to provide comedic relief and the occasional handkerchief moment. Ditto for Angela Petrelli (Cristine Rose), but only as long as there is a significant re-upping of her once so delightfully repugnant bitch factor. Maybe more plotting between her and HRG…yeah, that's the ticket.

Beyond that, the new storylines on Heroes look very promising, and for now at least, will have me waiting in anticipation each week to see what happens next. We'll just have to wait, watch, and see if anything interesting actually does.

I'll be rooting for them. Let's hope they don't blow it.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.


  • Jordan Richardson

    The girl with the black tears of death was frickin’ hot and, therefore, made for great TV.

    I still enjoy this show and have since the beginning. I see it as kind of a messy guilty pleasure to tune out to. I didn’t mind the character flip-flops all that much, as I saw them as logical extensions of confused, complex characters.

    Noah hasn’t ever turned back on what his prime motivation is (protecting his daughter), which causes him to have to make some interesting choices. Same with Sylar, as I believe he also acts in direct concert with his motivations for power.

    I think the reason Heroes proves to be so strange to some is that we’re used to black-and-white characters on TV. Heroes provides more of the middle ground, with a lot of messy complications along the way. Whether that makes for good TV remains to be seen, but I appreciate not knowing what someone could do next and have never found any of the actions of the characters to go against their prime motivators.

  • All I know is that I have enjoyed these episodes of Heroes more than any episode of Heroes since Eclipse, and they show the most promise since the first season.

  • Heroes did start out so great and just never recaptured that momentum. I think the writers, or maybe the network, who knows, lost their way and never expected it to become the hit that it became during its first season, and then tried too hard without a clear showrunner who had a clear vion for the whole show. Now it’s like they’re shooting into the wind and hoping something sticks.

  • Stuart Green

    No offense, but I’m a bit tired of everyone saying that “Heroes” was only great for the first season. A lot of the stuff they’ve tried to do in the seasons since then has had some promise, but the writing has just been so off and so much has happened that we never got a chance for any of the changes to really sink in and develop.

    Remember Sylar being paired up with Bennet in season three? Yeah, most fans don’t either. It happened way too quick. His role got changed so much in season three from possible hero back to villain, to going on a road trip when he wanted to find out his real dad and ultimately being made to think he’s Nathan Petrelli, Sylar was given too many storylines for one season to have the necessary impact. Also, season three had a legitimately big “Holy cow!” reveal of Angela Petrelli saying she was really Sylar’s mother, but even that fell flat and didn’t have much of an impact when we learned later that season that Angela lied a few episodes later.

    Remember Caitlin, Peter’s girlfriend from Ireland? Nope, because she’s been stuck in an alternate 2008 since season two and she hasn’t been heard from again. It also makes Peter look a bit like a jerk and a moron that he hasn’t tried to save her, or even mention her, since season two. Sure, that’s because of the writers, but still, just say something about it to resolve this plot.

    Speaking of Peter, remember how he was the most powerful (and coolest) hero of all with his empathic mimicry, how he could absorb the abilities of anyone around him? Or how Hiro was the master of time and space? Well, both are in real trouble in terms of writing AND powers. Instead, both lost their powers to the overhyped (and woodenly acted) Arthur Petrelli, Peter got a weaker “I can only hold one power at a time” absorption ability of his past power, and Hiro is now dying and finally started time travelling again with this season. I thought both would’ve had their original powers back by now. Then again, season four has just started, so with any luck, both characters could (and should) be fixed this season. I want the empathic Peter back, since I don’t like the “one-at-a-time” current power he has and I also don’t buy he’d cut off being around everyone he cares about (Nathan, his mother Angela, Claire). But as I said, that could be fixed this season.

    Also, keep Hiro and Ando. They, like Peter, are some of the best and most important characters this show has.

    Also, Nathan Petrelli’s death at the end of season three? Seriously, Nathan is the Kenny of “South Park” on this show. He’s “died” so many times that I’m pretty sure the writers will bring back the real Nathan and let Sylar act like Sylar again instead of the whole “Sylar and Nathan share the same body a la Jekyll and Hyde” angle they’re going with, and that story isn’t very appealing to me. Nathan was starting to be cool in season two, but then when season three rolled around, they just ruined it just when the character was getting interesting.

    I love Noah Bennet, a.k.a. H.R.G., but I don’t buy that he’s not with the Company right now, or that he doesn’t know how to cook and has been eating out food and cereal for meals like we saw in the first episodes of season four. So the guy can go out and hunt down people with abilities, but he’s never learned how to use a microwave, a stove or an oven? Looks like they DON’T teach you everything at that Company. I know he’s going back to the Company this season, so maybe he’ll act more like he did in season one again.

    I also didn’t buy the way they resolved season three, with Matt using his powers to make Nathan think he’s Sylar. Why didn’t they go get Claire, take a sample of her blood, and give it to Nathan to heal him? Mohinder Suresh used a sample of Claire’s blood to resurrect Noah, so why didn’t he think of using Claire to bring Nathan back from the dead to begin with?

    I also wish they’d keep their new characters and stop killing off or getting rid of the female characters for once. Remember Niki Sanders? Elle Bishop? Daphne? Caitlin? Monica? What about FBI Agent Audrey Hanson. They were all cool, and yet none of them are on the show now because they’re either six feet under or M.I.A. Instead, Ali Larter’s been given a new character Tracy Strauss, and while she has her ice/water powers, the character isn’t as interesting as Niki was.

    Claire being in college doesn’t bother me so much, and the Matt being haunted by Sylar angle is surprisingly affective. The only problem is, except for old H.R.G., everyone else on this show is super-powered. I don’t mind Ando having his powers, but Mohinder never should’ve gotten an ability. He is supposed to be the normal one, the brilliant scientist, and since he got an ability in season three, the character’s gone downhill and hasn’t even popped up in season four yet. I like Mohinder, but when he returns, I hope he’s handled better than he was last season.

    We also need Claude Rains back. I loved Claude. I wish the Invisible Man was back on the show. He was so cool.

    Finally, this show really needs to have some fight scenes for once, and I mean actual punches, kicks and super-powers flying on screen. The season three finale episode promised a Peter and Nathan vs. Sylar fight, but it happened off-screen? What a let down.

    So far, season four of “Heroes” seems to be going in the right direction. The carnival characters are well written and I’m actually wondering what happens with these guys next. Besides, who doesn’t love Ray (Darth Maul) Park being on “Heroes”? I just hope that this new season doesn’t end up disappointing me as much as season three did. I don’t mean to sound rude or mean or anything with these comments, but I love “Heroes”. It’s one of my favorite shows right now. I just want the writers to fix it so that we can get more seasons of Peter, Hiro, Claire, Noah and company. I don’t want “Heroes” to get cancelled just when it’s starting to get interesting again.

  • Steve Klemetti

    It was a cello not a violin.

  • Corrected. Thanks for pointing it out Steve.

  • @Stuart Green I too would love to see Claude return but I’m still enjoying this show, even though I miss Claude terribly. This season has been great so far.

  • Stuart,

    No offense taken. Like you, I’m a fan of the show and just want to see it find its footing again.

    Interestingly your comment — which is more like an article itself — pretty much attempts to do the same thing I did, which is offer up ideas on how to save the show, while acknowledging the disjointedness of the past few seasons.

    Whether you realize it or not, I think that generally speaking anyway, we are in complete agreement. So far this season, I think they are moving in the right direction. I’ve got my fingers crossed.


  • Stuart Green

    To Glen: Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad to see a fellow Heroes fan that agrees with me. I, too, have my fingers crossed for this season. So far, so good. Have a good night, everybody.

  • My wife and I enjoyed Heroes during the first season and well into the second. But it kept getting more and more bizarre and much more difficult to follow to the point that one needed a program, as it were, to know who was who and when was when. We haven’t watched it since year two.

    If you recall, midway through season one the show’s promos included invitations to viewers to guess – or more accurately – suggest how the plot(s) should progress. Both my wife and I figured that the writers and producers had no idea, and they were getting desparate. As has been suggested here a couple of times, they apparently did not anticipate success.

    A good fiction writer generally knows how his story is going to end before pen ever hits paper – or fingers ever tickle the keys. The production team of Heroes obviously had no clue where they were going with the show. Perhaps they still don’t.


  • Michelle

    Actually I didnt like season 1 and still to this day don’t get how so many people say it was the best season. To me it just dragged on and on. It didn’t get interesting til episode 8. I’m enjoying season 4 so far and hope it stays on air. I think the show still has alot of potential and all the talent on the show are interesting and entertaining.

  • Baritone,

    To me the biggest clue that Heroes at least occasionally seems to be written on the fly is the Ali Larter character — which is the second character written for her (actually the third if you count the whole evil twin Niki thing). Its like they just dropped her original character to make way for a new one, played by the same actress. As if the show wasn’t already confusing enough…

    You might want to peak in on this season though. So far, they seem to be fixing things pretty well, and the whole carny troupe story looks like its gonna get good.

    I heard they did pretty bad in the ratings for the premiere though, so my only hope is that its not a case of too little, too late….


  • tanya

    give peter and claire more screen time together.

  • Sue

    I’m still not thrilled with this new season. Sylar is the only thing they have going for them that keeps the show going in my opinion. Season 1 WAS perfect because it was so different; there had never been a series like it before. It has fallen apart since and I’m not seeing it get much better so far. I am not a fan of the new carnies. I wish they’d just stick with some characters for once and quit introducing all these new characters. I have my fingers crossed because I believe there is a lot of hope for this show…let’s hope they do something soon to make it great again.