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My Farewell to Heroes

December 4th, 2008
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I suppose I have high standards for the TV shows that I watch.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t watch TV casually.  I don’t sit down and flip around to find something that looks interesting.  There are a bunch of shows that I watch, and I watch them religiously — every week, every episode.  That’s how I watch TV.

Why am I talking about this?

Well, I decided last week that I think I’m done with Heroes.

Much has been written in the past few months about the show’s creative decline.  Entertainment Weekly wrote a scathing cover story about the show’s woeful third season, and (possibly in response) two of the show’s head writers (co-executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander) were unceremoniously canned

I certainly agree that the third season has been dreadful.  But let’s be honest with ourselves — the show was never really that good to begin with.

I resisted watching Heroes throughout its entire smash-hit first season.  There was something about the show, from all that I had seen and read, that just seemed off to me.  I got the sense that the show’s creators were a little embarrassed that the show was about super-heroes.  Sort of the way J.J. Abrams seems to be trying to get non-Star Trek fans to go to his new Star Trek movie by proclaiming to everyone that he’s not a Star Trek fan, I read a lot of interviews and articles where the Heroes cast and crew kept saying, “come watch us, we’re not just about tights and spandex, we’re really a drama!” or “we’re really a character study!” or “we’re really a mystery!” or something else like that.  

But when the first season came out on DVD, after so many people I knew encouraged me to give it a try, I finally gave in.  And I must admit there was something there in that first year.  The show was silly and astoundingly derivative (of other movies, of other TV shows, and especially of LOTS of great comic book stories), but there was still a goodly amount of entertainment to be found.  I enjoyed the continuity — the cliffhangers that ended each episode were fun, and it was neat how the season really attempted to tell one long, interlocking story.  And the production values were, for the most part, pretty impressive for a weekly TV series.  We got to see a lot more super-hero action than I had expected.

But the holes started to show even towards the end of that season.  Much has been made of the first season finale, which many felt was anticlimactic after all that had been built up over the year.  Characters who had spent many episodes working their way towards the confrontation in Kirby Plaza got taken out of the action almost immediately (like the time-traveling Hiro, who got zapped away to feudal Japan).  And the tragic ending that should have been the culmination to the year’s worth of stories was undercut by an ENORMOUS plot hole.  The heroic Peter Petrelli, who has absorbed everyone else’s powers, needs to be flown out of the plaza by his brother, Nathan, before he loses control of the atomic energy he’s absorbed and explodes.  Except, um, if Peter has absorbed everyone’s abilities then that should include his brother Nathan’s flying ability, so why didn’t he just fly himself out of there??

Things went further south quickly in the strike-shortened second season.  The writers tried to turn back the clock, narratively, once again scattering all the characters (who had spent most of the first season finding one another) and introducing a LOT of new characters who were confused by their powers just like everyone else had been at the start of the first season.  Fans complained about the slow pace, and the way all the new characters meant that many of the popular characters from the first season got little-to-no screen time.  Series creator and show-runner Tim Kring actually issued an apology to fans that pretty clearly pinpointed all of the second season’s flaws and stated that, once the strike ended, season three was going to fix all that.

Unfortunately, things have gotten much worse.  Yes, the third season started in a much more exciting way than the slow second season did.  There was a prison break that set a lot of super-powered villains loose on the world, and we soon found out that they’re being lead by the long-thought-dead Arthur Petrelli (father to Nathan and Peter, two of the show’s main characters).

But hoo boy has the show gotten ridiculous.

Once again popular character are, for reasons that I cannot fathom, taken out of the main story on seemingly irrelevant digressions that seem like Kim-Bauer-caught-in-a-cougar-trap type time-wasters.  (Mind-reader Matt Parkman, one of the show’s most lovable characters, is banished to Africa.  Hiro, the show’s most notable break-out character from the first season, suffers amnesia and regresses mentally to a ten-year-old state.  And in the last two episodes Nathan, Peter, and the Haitian are for some reason involved in a conflict in South America???)

Characters are acting completely out of character for no other reason than to give us shocking twists.  Mohinder, probably the most morally centered character on the show, has become a vicious maniac.  The self-obsessed Nathan suddenly became a devout Christian (and then after about five or six episodes that new character trait suddenly vanished…) and, last week, abandoned his brother Peter in the jungle.  The lightning-wielding Elle gets herself captured and locked in a dungeon by Arthur Petrelli and his super-villain gang, then the next episode suddenly decides to join their group.  And I can’t forget Sylar, so creepy as the show’s main villain in the first season, suddenly becoming a good guy Company Man this season — and being ACCEPTED AS SUCH by pretty much every character except HRG!!

I could go on and on.  I could talk about the way that Peter forgetting he could fly in the season one finale was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of characters constantly acting stupid or forgetting things clearly established in previous episodes just to move the story forward.  (Like how Elle conveniently forgets that Sylar brutally murdered her father so they could make out in the last few episodes.)  I could talk about how the show constantly recycles its own plot devices.  (HOW many times has the show tried to wring some drama out of Claire being dead and then coming back to life??  HOW many times has a warning from a terrible future set story-lines in motion?  HOW many times have the characters had to track down a piece of Isaac Mendez’s prophetic art in order to discover a vital clue?)  

But while all of that makes my head explode, none of it is what has prompted me to drop the show.

Let me explain.  One of the many many new characters introduced in the second season was an Irish girl named Caitlin, who befriended the amnesiac hero Peter.  (And please don’t get me started on how much I hate amnesia as a plot device…)  Towards the end of the season, Peter accidentally teleported himself and Caitlin into a terrible dystopic future (have I mentioned there are a LOT of those on this show?), and accidentally abandoned Caitlin there when he lost control of his powers and snapped back to the present.  Since then, we have neither seen nor heard from Caitlin again, nor has she been mentioned by anyone.  By the way, that includes Peter, who was in love with her and who, you would think, would be pretty distraught at having lost her and, worst yet, abandoned her in such dire straits.

Now comes word from Heroes creator and show-runner Tim Kring that we will never see any resolution to that story.  Here is the excerpt from his recent interview:

After the long hiatus during which Heroes was off the air, Kring said, “We realized that going back to [Caitlin] nine and a half months later would have been insanity.” He felt that while there would “be some people asking about it, for most people it would have been a hard left [in the story].” When the fan asked if Peter would ever acknowledge Caitlin or express any grief over what seems to be her dire fate, Kring replied, “No, we passed it. We leapfrogged it.” He added that when the idea of returning to Caitlin was brought up, they asked, “Really? Are we going to risk that? We have enough stuff to [deal with].” 

You can read the full story here.

I can’t put into words how crazy this makes me.  The show asked us to spend an entire season investing in characters like Caitlin — and it’s not bad enough that we had to sit through the boring second season in order to do so — but now those stories are just being abandoned without any resolution??  Not only does this demonstrate an appalling lack of respect in the audience, it also shows a staggering lack of creativity.  OK, you don’t want to spent five episodes resolving a left-over plot thread from a second season that is best left forgotten?  Fine!  Just give Peter a few lines in one scene where he says that he tried to find Caitlin but, because the terrible future where he left her was averted at the end of season 2, he tried traveling forward but, because that future no longer exists, he couldn’t find her.  Or maybe have a scene where Hiro, the show’s main time-traveler, tells Peter that he tried traveling forward to find Caitlin, but he couldn’t for the reasons just mentioned.  Or something else like that!  I’m sure it can’t be that hard to write in some sort of resolution to this massive dangling thread, without having to use multiple episodes of story.  That the writers can’t be bothered to do so tells me that I shouldn’t bother spending time investing in their show.

By the way, in case I had any doubt about the buffoonery of the writers, Mr. Kring last week had to issue yet another public apology to Heroes fans, this time because, elsewhere in the interview that I excerpted above, he called many of the fans of the show dipshits.  I am not kidding.

Good luck with your show, fella!  Me, I’ll be clearing some time in my TV-watching schedule for the soon-to-be-returning Lost and Battlestar Galactica.

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