Eulogy For a Crappy Show: Farewell to Heroes

With the networks announcing their 2010-2011 fall schedule, one thing is for certain: NBC has canceled Heroes. Finally. Thankfully. It’s about damned time.

There are a lot of reasons (both on screen and behind the scenes) for the collapse of this once good show, and while I won’t go through all of its many, many, many issues, I’ll try to highlight some of Heroes’ biggest failures (without even talking about Caitlin, the chick they wrote into non-existence).

Shrinking The Universe

Arguably the show’s biggest problem was that with each subsequent season the show’s universe kept shrinking.

Season 1 began with a pretty huge Heroesverse, which was one of the show’s biggest and most popular selling points. It began its series chock full of mysteries, seeds of storylines that could have blossomed, side characters, possible allies and villains, secret organizations, underground facilities for mutants, evil companies, a mutant mafia, an old generation of heroes that remained behind the scene, a newer generation of heroes just learning about their powers, etc.

For some reason, they scrapped all that. With each subsequent season, the Heroesverse got increasingly smaller. This is the opposite of what most comic books and most television shows do. Generally, you build up and add to what you have; you don’t raze it. Creating a fully formed world that exists independently of the 40 minutes per episode is what keeps people watching every week.

Every new volume, Heroes seemed to kill off or forget about characters that could have been useful or important or interesting. Overarching ideas and organizations that could have been a background (or foreground) storyline or threat for seasons in the future were often unceremoniously abandoned or destroyed in following seasons. Instead of maybe even giving these ideas or characters a way to return, they made sure to burn everything to the ground …. literally … several times.

By the end of the series, the paper companies that represented a danger to the heroes were destroyed (except I think the characters briefly talked about creating a new company and just as quickly forgot about it). The government threat was pretty much over. The mutant mob was gone. The older generation of heroes were practically dead. People forgot about Mohinder’s research and even Mohinder himself. New threats didn’t replace the old ones. New characters didn’t replace the dead ones. The series felt empty.

What might be considered a big reason for TPTB’s refusal to expand comes from…

Obsession with First Season


The show had a pathetic obsession with its first season. But who can blame them? It was the last time this show was successful- critically or fan-wise.

It’s been said that the show’s original plan was for each volume to feature new heroes rather than focusing on the old ones but the first season was so successful that they had no choice but to keep the old cast that the audience fell in love with. So instead of using a combination of the two schemes (i.e. use the old cast to build up a new cast and then watch the new heroes sink or swim on their own), they went the completely opposite direction and only kept the old cast (well, old main characters) except for a few forgettable stragglers each season. Hell, even when Nathan Petrelli died for the third time, they still felt compelled to keep Adrian Pasdar in last season’s stupid “mindrape Sylar into thinking he’s Nathan” plot. When Ali Larter’s first character(s) died, they brought her back as a second character from a set of never-heard-about-before triplets.

On top of that, they never let the characters grow from their season one roles. Much like the first season, at the start of each volume, each character spread to the four corners of the world stuck in their first season clique (Claire and HRG; Hiro and Ando; Peter and Nathan, etc.). They went on little side adventures, united to fight the threat at the end, then dispersed once more. It got redundant and disappointing for a show that was tailor made to have the characters be a cohesive fighting unit ready to take on threats wherever and whenever they emerge.

But a bigger problem was that the characters never grew emotionally either. Every season Claire WANTED A NORMAL LIFE before accepting she was different and then WANTING A NORMAL LIFE AGAIN. Noah Bennett was a morally grey guy who loved his family…but how can he balance life and work?!? Nathan Petrelli (this was most evident in the volume with the government going after the mutants)went from wanting to destroy/hating the mutants to wanting to save the mutants and back again nearly every volume. Every time Hiro seemed to grow up, he regressed right back to being a child.

And there’s always…

Sylar

You can’t talk about where this show failed without talking a good deal about Sylar. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) was the show’s break out star. Quinto was a good actor and Sylar was a good villain: dangerous but charismatic and fun. While it’s understandable why they wanted to keep Quinto on, the show didn’t really know what to do with Sylar after the first season ended. They couldn’t even explain how his powers worked consistently. How hard could it be to figure out what he does with other people’s brains?

Every volume he went through the exact same “I’m struggling to be GOOD! … Fuck it, I’m evil, let me wreak havoc” arc. They also tried to throw in some “Are you my mommy/daddy/real daddy?” issues that never lead anywhere either. (The answers were no to Angela Petrelli, no to Arthur Petrelli, yes to Lionel Luthor in one of the most wasted guest appearances this show ever had.)

Some think that Sylar should have died at the end of the first Volume. I disagree. Sylar didn’t need to die (where would comic books as a whole be if the villains always died?) but, just as not every X-Men comic book has Magneto, Sylar didn’t need to be in every volume. A surprise appearance every once in a while (especially after a long absence) by Sylar would have been a much better use of the character, retained his novelty and prevent viewer burn out (which many viewers had with Sylar).

He worked best as a wild card. An agent of chaos. A slightly less evil Harpo Marx. But when it came to being a true threat, he never evolved from where he was in the first season. Sure he became nigh-invulnerable but unless you had powers or got in his way, you seemed relatively safe. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance of him becoming an uncontrollable nuclear man again.

Which leads us to…

No New Villains

Every new season should have had a new threat, ever increasing in their threat potential. And while every volume started with a new bad guy, by the end of each volume the villain became impotent, lame and ended up being dispatched relatively easily before the show returned to SYLAR’s grasp.

When discussing this issue, I’ll focus mostly on Arthur Petrelli (Robert Forster). Arthur Petrelli, the presumably dead father of Nathan and Peter could have been a strong series-long villain that could spend the majority of his time in the background. Arthur was originally the shadowy head of a mutant mob. He was wiser and stronger than most mutants and his ability was to steal other’s powers, rather than just absorb them like Peter was able to do. Making him the puppet master behind people like Linderman (Malcolm McDowell) who could work as a “public face” for his criminal activities and his son Nathan, who as a Senator could easily affect whatever long-term goals Arthur had, could have turned him into an almost unbeatable villain. And, unlike Sylar, he wasn’t just primarily dangerous to mutants, he could be dangerous to mankind as a whole with far-reaching plans as well as government AND evil mutants resources at his disposal. (Compared to Sylar’s more self-centered/instant gratification/anarchy-ish schemes.) Arthur wouldn’t have just been powerful with powers but with powerful with prestige.

But then they have Sylar off him with a single bullet.

There’s plenty that can be said about the other villains (e.g. Samuel Sullivan being a cult-ish carnival leader who apparently didn’t even discover his powers until a couple of months before he appeared on the scene and was mostly obsessed with a high school crush whom he ranted in the lobby of her apartment complex of on a regular basis(?) and Doyle the rapist everyone seemed to love) but this is getting long winded so I’ll touch on some…

Odds and Ends- Ignoring Own History

The show never really got a firm grasp on what it was about or how things worked in the Heroesverse. What follows is some other specific problems the show never really managed to take care of.

What caused the mutations? We got several explanations but none completely worked. They tried linking it to the eclipse, but if so then how come last volume’s Emma didn’t discover her powers until long after the eclipse? Could it be something genetic? Plenty of mutant parents had mutant children. But in some episodes they tried to link the powers of even children from mutant parents like Nathan solely to genetic experimentation. The reasoning behind the abilities changed several times every season and no one answer fits.

There was also the catalyst plotline. Simply, a hero (Claire, then Hiro after some time travel stuff) had some glowy power inside of them that, when put in some formula, would be able to turn normal people into mutants. An entire volume was spent with the mutants in fear of this ‘catalyst’ and what it would do. What happened was one test Marine got super-strength, had his neck snapped relatively easily, and then the fluid was spilled, burned and lost forever. How exciting.

The reason why the catalyst seemed so dangerous was because a character saw the future of powered people and got scared since, shockingly, some regular people abused their new super abilities and did bad things with them.

Time traveling was another problem with this show- both in real and picture form. Time traveling is a tricky thing to pull off in fiction and there needs to be rules. The show took time traveling for granted, established no rules (not even threatening a collapse of the space-time continuum; adult Hiro hung out with little Hiro regularly), and never used it to solve problems even though they easily could have.

This show also had a hard on for having “prophets” paint pictures of a scary future, usually being some sort of explosion. What in the first season came across as a clever “ticking bomb” became a joke by the end because the bomb never went off. It lost its power.

Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) was a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his chest on national television. Then he’s he’s a cop again with no explanation. Then he attempts suicide by cop. Then he escapes from custody. And then he’s chilling at home, no worries, no one staking out the house, no police coming to his door to check if he’s at his own address.

Electro-Girl Elle (Kristen Bell) was an emotionally unstable killer practically tortured from a young age to become an amoral sociopath. When we first met her, she was frying up a pub full of people in Ireland with a smile on her face. But a year earlier (in a flashback episode), we see her as a simple happy-go-lucky agent with a heart of gold.

How did Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) become a Senator? He gets crookedly elected to the House of Representatives, loses his job after drinking heavily and growing a giant beard, gets shot in an assassination attempt, comes back to life with no explanation, talks about God and angels, and then gets offered (and takes) the position of US Senator (at which point he stops talking about God and angels). And, while in office, he disappears for very long period of times on crazy mutant assignments.

These were just some of the problems Heroes had during its run.

But What About a Wrap-Up?


Some people are asking for a wrap-up season for the show but to that I ask, what is there to wrap up? What plotlines are left open? What characters have a journey to complete?

There are no overarching mysteries left to answer since every storyline opened got closed hastily after it was muddied to a point of incoherence. Characters have been on the same hamster wheel since the first season.

For a sci-fi show about superheroes, you’d expect fanboys to raise hell over the cancellation of the show. Has there been any outrage of the cancellation of Heroes? Even Enterprise had like five guys holding protest signs outside of Paramount’s studios.

The show never appreciated its audience or itself. They reset every character. They reset every plotline. And when that happens you never even get to the next level, let alone finish the game. It’s no wonder why Heroes cancellation was met with rejoicing rather than grief.

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