Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ranting and Rambling: Where did Heroes Go Wrong?

NBC's Heroes. Ah, the memories. I absolutely loved Heroes when it was first on TV. I thought it was an interesting show with a good premise, solid acting (even from the child actors, which is always nice), and interesting plot twists. I was such a fan, that I have the "Saving Charlie" novel, I read all the internet comics, and I've browsed more Heroes related art on DeviantArt than I'd really like to admit. (Too late. Oops. Seriously, though, a fan-made wallpaper would make my week.)

But like almost everyone who ever watched it regularly, I didn't really like Season 2 (even the writers weren't fans of it, from what I've read). And Season 3 got confusing, and once we had evil Peter Petrelli from the future, or whatever that was, I kept forgetting to Tivo new episodes, until I stopped watching altogether. The next time I even heard anyone mention the show was when it was cancelled. My reaction?

"What?! How could th-yeah, that might actually be for the best."

Still, I own the Season 1 DVD set. And in fact, I still like Season 1. I recommend Season 1. I got my sister addicted to Season 1. But I can't watch Season 1 for myself. Season 1 is ruined for me. Why is that?

For comparison, a lot of people dislike the Star Wars prequels. And yet, those same people can watch and enjoy the original trilogy. Why is the same not said of Heroes? Why do people never talk about watching Season 1 over and enjoying it? Here, in 2013, when it doesn't matter anymore, I think I may have figured it out.

(Spoilers ahead)

How does Season 1 end? The heroes avert the exploding man disaster, but Sylar escapes alive, and Hiro is stuck in the distant past in feudal Japan. That is not an ending. That is a "To Be Continued," or an "End of Chapter 1." And it was continued, but we wish that it wasn't.

If I may again compare this to science fiction, consider Joss Whedon's short-lived series FireflyI LOVE FIREFLY. Famously, or perhaps infamously, it only lasted one season, yet I can watch it over and over and over, despite it having no ending. We never get resolution with River, Shepherd Book, Inara, or Mal; all of our questions remain unanswered. Frustrating? You bet. But it is marginally better than getting the answers and having them suck.

Imagine you're a child being told a story about Aragorn, Bilbo, and Optimus Prime going to defeat Darth Vader, and you're hooked. You follow every plot twist, and then, it ends with Aragorn being horribly burnt to death along with Bilbo while Winnie-the-Pooh gets shot by a firing squad for no reason and Darth Vader cuts Optimus prime's head off. You might not want to hear that story again, no matter how much you may have liked the first part.

What I'm trying to convey with this long, increasingly odd rant is that all four seasons of Heroes work together like a single story. A story that ends so badly that you don't even want to hear your favorite parts again.

Now, I didn't come here just to complain about a show that's been off the air since before I graduated high school. A question I've been toying with is: "How could this have been avoided?" The answer seems to be simple: It should have been planned out more.

I don't know for sure, but the way they handled the left over plot threads from Season 1 (Sylar alive, Hiro in the past, etc.) indicates to me that they didn't know what to do with these points when they wrote them into the season finale. Sure, Star Trek: TNG's best two-parter ("The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1" if you're wondering) had a cliffhanger that they didn't know how to resolve when they wrote it, but you're not guaranteed a good episode by this tactic. In fact, just the opposite, it takes a lot of skill to make such a thing work, and it is often argued that not even Star Trek managed to pull it off again.

Not planning out stories and seasons in advance has killed much better shows than Heroes.  Quite notably, The X-Files. The thing that killed X-Files wasn't the fact that they were aiming for a niche demographic, because they were pulling in a surprisingly large audience. It was the fact that with every question that was answered, two more appeared in its place. This lack of planning led to lack of resolution, and X-Files fizzled out, only reemerging with two movies that barely anyone saw and a new ongoing comic series.

Back on task, Heroes should have planned things out the following way:
  • Season 1 should have been a stand-alone season.
  • Season 2 should have led directly into Season 3, but still picked up on plot threads that the audience didn't even know was dangling.
I remember that my dad kept telling me "Bringing back Sylar was a mistake." I agree, to an extent. They should have waited until the end of Season 2 to bring him back, leading into Season 3. As soon as they brought him back five minutes after his defeat, they dropped the ball. They had an idea for a plot twist, but they had no idea what to do after the twist. And with that untwist, they ruined Season 1. What's one of the goals of Season 1? Stop Sylar. It happens, but is undone almost instantly, which makes the whole season seem a little pointless.

All in all, where did Heroes go wrong? Before the first episode aired. Firefly had the answers for every question, but never got the chance to reveal them. Heroes got ample opportunity to do so, but had no answers to give.

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