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The Post-Game Show » heroes

Posts Tagged ‘heroes’

That Was The Geek That Was

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Idol is a day later this week, so in the meantime, some thoughts on the past few days’ geek TV highlights. Spoilers follow for Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes.

doll-house

Dollhouse: It has been pre-ordained that episode six was ‘the good one’. The Dollhouse press tour has been assuring us, “We know this is a programme only a blinkered Browncoat could love, but we promise we’ll give you legitimate cause to like it if we last until episode six”.

It’s a weaselly strategy to rely on the indiscrimate dedication of die-hards to excuse a show’s creative failure. It’s also a doomed strategy, especially when your ‘game changer’ episode goes up against the Battlestar Galactica finale.

Inevitably all the people who were saying that Dollhouse was awesome from the get-go are now shifting their positions slightly to say that Dollhouse is awesome as of now. But did episode six really push Dollhouse from ‘joyless vanity project’ to ‘entertaining genre show’?

Honestly? Not yet, no. But there were two elements that helped elevate episode six. First of all, it was an ‘arc’ episode, dedicated to giving some much-needed context to the show’s unpalatable sex-puppet premise. Second, it balanced out Eliza Dushku’s glossily varnished wood with a few more interesting textures. Most of the characters are still so loathsome that the show remains a tough taste to acquire, and it’s a bad sign when the comic relief character with all the Joss Whedon dialogue is the creepiest rapist at Rape-o-tech, but it was good for the show to spend a little more time filling in the colours of the supporting cast.

The trouble is, I suspect that next week we’ll be right back to another rapetastic woman-in-peril plot with Dushku at its centre. Not that we got away without a woman-in-peril story this week - in fact there were two women in peril; one raped, the other merely forced to perform sex acts as part of her programming, and then threatened with rape. Rape is drama, you know? Delicious, exploitative drama.

toasterBattlestar Galactica: There has been plenty of eye-rolling about the BSG finale. I only came to the show in the last few months, and I have to admit that I thought the ending was… consistent. I’m surprised that people were expecting anything more from it, but then BSG has been a rather brilliantly executed shell game from the start, and the secret of a good shell game is that the audience always believes it’s not going to get ripped off. Now there are articles arguing that BSG is one of the greatest TV shows ever made - some people still don’t know their watch is missing.

For months I’ve seen people discussing who or what the Cylon god was going to be, as if they thought the show was going to offer them a sci-fi explanation, to which my response was, “why can’t it just be God”? Guess what? Turns out it’s just God. So I wasn’t disappointed with the BSG finale, but I also wasn’t invested in the idea that the episode would be a codex to unravel all the mysteries. BSG was a show that made everything up on the fly. Its philosophical trappings were never more than brightly coloured bunting, and there was never a consistent ideology informing the whole thing. It was a dumb show that convinced a lot of people that it was smart.

The great nerd hope ended with a whimper. No thrilling space battle, no satisfying answers, and no impressive death count. The villains found a few interesting ways to kill themselves, and the heroes went running through the long grass. As for Kara Thrace, the undead tomboy and much-vaunted harbinger of death; it turned out she was aaaaall a dreeeam.

heroes-tins

Heroes: Like Dollhouse, this was a pre-ordained turning point for the series - producer Bryan Fuller’s first chance to re-impose himself on the series since he left at the end of season one. I may be falling into the same hopeless blinkered trap as the Whedonistas, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it. It’s the first episode of Heroes in a long, long time that I’ve watched without having to roll my eyes or feel insulted.

Here’s why it worked:

  • For the first time in a story called ‘Fugitives’, there was solid pacing and a sense of tension arising from the characters being, ooh, fugitives.
  • No Sylar; no Claire. Not that I dislike either character, but they both get far too much attention, especially Sylar, who ought to be kept in a glass case marked ‘in case of lull’. The show has a stupidly big cast. It needs to strike a better balance. This episode did that.
  • Speaking of which; they culled the cast. Tracy Strauss made the big pointless sacrifice - two Ali Larters down, one to go - and Daphne got a touching send-off. Along the way, both characters remembered their personalities and their previously established relationships - as, in fact, did everyone in the story! Oh, context, how we have missed you!
  • They also brought back some of the cast, but in a good way. We all knew Rebel would turn out to be Micah, but seeing him and Janice back in the show gives us a sense of a rounded universe. Consequences, there you are! Were you off larking about with context?
  • The baby Parkman story could have been a disaster - the comedy misadventures of Hiro and Ando tend to wear a little thin - but this time around there was actual humour. I smiled! And Hiro got one of his powers back, which is good and proper. No powers is dull. Too much power is dull. A little power is just right.
  • The biggest surprise of the episode, though, was that Peter got to be heroic. In a show called Heroes, someone got to be the hero - without doing anything dumb or inexplicable. Somehow this felt like a watershed moment.

Remember when you used to like watching Heroes? We may have just travelled in time. Look out for exploding cities.

Heroes: Faster, Stronger, Fuller?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Even with a geeky show, it’s uber-geeky to pay attention to things like producer credits. Unless the guy in charge is named Joss Whedon or Russell T Davies, we simply should not know their names, any moreso than we should know the name of the factory foreman responsible for our cornflakes. Yet for those who do pay attention to such things, there was a frisson of anticipation leading up to last night’s episode of Heroes, because with last night’s episode, producer Bryan Fuller came back.

Bryan Fuller was one of the producers on Heroes for its first season, back when it was legitimately must-see TV. He was also the writer on the show’s best episode, Company Man. His other credits include cult favourites Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, and Star Trek: Voyager. Well, everyone has to make their mistakes somewhere.

For the past couple of years he’s been off making quirky cutesy deathly rom-com Pushing Daisies, but that got cancelled, so they lit the batsignal and called him back to Heroes to try to steer the ship away from the rocks of mediocrity. Last night’s episode was also the last one to feature the thumbprints of the man who may bear the blame for much of that mediocrity, Jeph Loeb, a comic book writer who attempts to cover up his startling lack of originality by hiding it behind his towering lack of ability.

sylar-spoilers

Going in to last night’s episode we had Sylar on yet another tireseome extended road trip, having finally ditched but sadly not killed his irritating teen sidekick. (If ever there was a superhero convention this show did not need to explore, it was teen sidekicks, and if it really had to go there, it really shouldn’t have gone there with Sylar.)

We also had yet another blow-up-a-city prediction, this time involving Matt Parkman suicide-bombing DC, and we had the ongoing power-struggle between Danko the sickly-looking sub-Berkoff, and Nathan Petrelli, America’s most negligent senator. Plus, we had Claire participating in a Mutant Railroad that seemed suddenly to require her to help a predatory psychopath - and not the hot one with the eyebrows, but the fat one with the sweating - and we had Hiro and Ando ‘travelling’, ie, not doing anything, because after their pathetic ’save the lesbian, stop the wedding’ sub-plot, they needed a time-out.

Last night’s episode was clearly a bit of a deck-clearing exercise for Fuller so that he could start putting things right. Coming out of the episode, Sylar’s road trip seems to have reached its end; the blow-up-the-city plot was speedily curtailed; the Danko/Petrelli tussle was resolved by putting Noah in charge; Claire was no longer running the railroad; and Hiro and Ando were back doing potentially plot-relevant stuff (or setting up a superhero babysitting sitcom spin-off).

The episode ended with a trailer that pretty much just flat out said, “we’re sorry the show has been crap, but we promise the new episode in two weeks’ time will be better”. Cause for celebration? We’ll see. This marks the third time that Heroes has apologised for itself and promised to do better, so even if the show can still improve, the audience may have run out of patience.

But was last night’s episode any good? Not really, no. It was better than discovering that Noah Bennett has flashbacks in the style of Nouvelle Vague cinema, or that Sylar’s flashback theme is The Chain by Fleetwood Mac (though I was hoping we’d discover that Danko has flashbacks to Make It With You by Bread), nor did we get anything on the level of last week’s wonderful dialogue exchange - “I’ve been here before.” / “How do you know?” / “I remember.” -  but it was still not what I would call ‘good’. 

danko-panko

First we had to get past the millstone of the obligatory exploding city prediction story, in which Danko thought he could convince the world of the danger posed by super-people by using a completely non-super threat. So clever. This narrative cul-de-sac was hastily backed away from by having Nathan yank out a wire. 

Then we had Claire’s fleeting decision to go and work in a comic shop for five minutes, which turned out to have absolutely no relevance to anything and served only as an excuse to mock the dumb dedicated fanboys and fangirls who are still watching this show. I’m going to assume that this sequence was Jeph Loeb’s bitter last hurrah. Claire next went on to save a rapist and set him free in the park. Don’t look back, Claire! Let him go! He needs to be free!

The episode gave us was more progress on the Danko/Nathan/HRG power-struggle than we’ve seen all season, the highlight of which was watching Angela Petrelli eat oysters. I think the Danko/Angela scene was meant to be a tense stand-off between two heavyweight players, but no glower or sneer that Danko could muster came close to the menace of Angela Petrelli chugging oysters in the manner of an erotic Hannibal Lecter. Danko was sent packing like a disobedient schoolboy.

The centrepiece of the episode was Sylar’s confrontation with Sylar Senior, played by John Glover. Glover is best known to many as Smallville’s Lionel Luthor, so in a unified universe, Sylar and Lex Luthor are now brothers, which means the first crossover incest slash-fic is only minutes away. 

Unfortunately, after weeks of build-up, the clash between Sylars Père et Fils was a damp squib. The highlight was Daddy triumphantly pissing in Sylar’s chips by telling him he welcomes death, but no-one gets to outclass Sylar and his thick, lustrous eyebrows - not in Sylar’s show! - so the pouty little vulcan princess overcame pappy’s one-man-and-his-dog whistling powers and took his leave. And that was it.  Well, that, and they killed and stuffed a rabbit together. I’m hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Lionel Sylar, as he’s far too good an actor to waste on that pitiful scene.

It was a clumsy, hapless episode, but maybe, just maybe, it did enough to set things moving in the right direction for the last handful of episodes of this season and on into season four. And, like a fool, I’ll be tuning in to find out. Disappoint me again, Heroes. I like it when you demean my intelligence.

Heroes: Gonna Take A Superman To Sweep Me Off My Feet

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Heroes is back. Uh-gain. ‘Volume Four: Fugitives’ started last night, and an ever-diminishing audience tuned in to see if this time the creative team would follow through on their eternal promise to fix what they knew was wrong with the show. So, how did they do? If you want to know my thoughts on the latest episode, follow me beyond the gratuitous Zachary Quinto pic. If the new episode hasn’t aired in your parish and you don’t want to be spoiled, scroll on, dear reader; scroll as if your life depended on it, and mayhap return another day.

sylar

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Previously on Heroes: Arthur Petrelli had a plan to give lots of people superpowers. I don’t recall why. Then he got shot, and that was pretty much that. New York Senator Nathan Petrelli signed up for the ‘give everyone powers’ scheme, and when that fell apart he asked President Worfbama to implement a ‘lock up everyone with powers’ scheme, because Nathan likes any scheme so long as it’s stupid and evil enough.

So where are we now? It’s a few months later, and all the characters are getting back to their normal lives. Peter is trying to save lives; Claire is uncovering conspiracies; Hiro is setting up a Batcave; it’s all so refreshingly normal! Where ‘normal’ means ‘par for the course”.

The episode begins with Niki expositing on the phone while Nathan exposits on TV. Double the exposition! (It’s not Niki, of course; it’s the other one, Ice-Niki. Remember that cloned-babies plot that they almost got around to dealing with? Isn’t it nice to know there’s a third Ali Larter out there somewhere for when they decide to kill this one?) Nathan is being interviewed with plothole-covering questions like, “Didn’t you have a religious epiphany storyline ten episodes ago?” and, “How are you so influential as a senator when you spend more time in Haiti putting down warlords than you do in New York or Washington?”. They don’t explain why a senator is doing the job of the Secretary of Homeland Security, but, details, details. And then Niki gets kidnapped.

tri-larter

L-R: Niki, Tracy, Barbara

And thus goes the rest of the episode. Look, here’s another of your old favourites getting back to their normal life; and here they are getting kidnapped. And all your favourites are back! They still haven’t culled the cast! Because the plot involves the government kidnapping them all, they can’t be drip-fed into the plot one by one. Instead we have to catch up with everyone at once! (Except the ones in New Orleans, because we all know that you can’t get the US government to go to New Orleans.)

So over here we have Mohinder and the return of his magic yellow cab of coincidence. Over there is Hiro, setting up an immensely contrived GPS-tracker plot device. And then there’s Matt and Daphne and their stalker/stalkee love nest. I never understood how those two became a couple. Lonely? Single? In need of a date? Go up to someone you fancy and tell them you’ve been to the future and you’re destined to be together. Follow them around for long enough and they’ll eventually assume that their ‘destiny’ must have come true!

Even that damned African mystic is back, and he was beheaded! Yet here he is, handing out iteration five of the stupid plot-hobbling paint-the-future powers. Not that these powers are very useful when two people can stare at a painting of their own backs seen through a bullethole-cracked window and not immediately think ‘duck!’

fliptop

Oh, and what of Sylar? Any fool knows that a good villain will wither from overexposure, and Sylar is as overexposed as a streaker at the Winter Olympics. The writers have surely taken note and wisely tucked Sylar away in their back pocket to reintroduce to the board at a time when he’ll have the most impact, right? No. They waited precisely ten minutes before bringing Sylar back into play in an already crowded episode. 

So having been reintroduced to the entire bloody cast, just about everyone is dressed in Gitmo jumpsuits (so contemporary!) and shovelled into an aeroplane, whereupon the aeroplane crashes. The end. Next episode; meet the all-new, all-different Heroes! Please?

As opening episodes go, I will say that they’ve set up a good pace that gets to the meat of the new plotline in a hurry, and that at least is a rerurn to form. Also, everyone seems to be acting in character (though they do each have several characters to choose from). Best of all, Peter and Mohinder have a clunky conversation about the potential dystopian future that could arise from the current plot - it’s not good dialogue, but it may save us from yet an0ther trip to the future to spoon-feed us the idea of ‘what’s at stake’. Sometimes ’show, don’t tell’ is not such great advice.

Blessedly, Hiro is still depowered, and hopefully at most he’ll only get his teleporting powers back. Peter also appears to have been significantly powered down. That takes care of two of the three characters with powers that regularly make a nonsense of the plot, leaving only Sylar. The best way to deal with him? Stop putting him in every episode!

That the writers have identified any of the show’s many problems and taken steps to fix them is at least a positive sign, but I’m not sure what the show can do with the Fugitives arc that will feel terribly new, given that it’s the same bunch of character running around chasing after each other. Uh-gain. I will of course be tuning in next week to find out, because I am a sap for pretty people shooting magic out of their fingers. Therein lies the true power of Heroes.