Revisiting ‘Heroes’ Before ‘Heroes Reborn’
Amongst the upcoming new TV shows we have the resurrection of the 2006 sci-fi series Heroes. Coming before the Marvel reinvented the cinematic superhero franchise while Arrow got the ball rolling on TV, Heroes was a high budget production with impressive special effects and star making performances. Word round the campfire is that people are generally excited for this return and one wonders why. The show was a huge success on its initial run but shed viewers like a mangy dog loses fur with less than half the viewership by the end of its run and the merchandise wound up in a discount bin.
Are people looking forward to the return with rose tinted nostalgia, or is it genuinely something worth bringing back? Through the power of Netflix we have gone back to Heroes to see how it holds up.
First thing we notice, we TV viewers are spoiled for choice nowadays. On a surface level Heroes does still look good, but it’s clear that modern TV shows are being given much more flexibility and resources. For something that was setting a new standard less than a decade ago, Heroes is looking pretty generic. But time marches on, and a well constructed show will hold its own. Unfortunately after a solid pilot the series begins unravelling fast.
Pacing is one major problem for the show. It moves insanely slow. The characters get a good set up and are put in motion to come together for the finale, but it has to fill 23 episodes totally some 15 odd hours of television. Fan favourite arch-villain Sylar doesn’t show his face until halfway through the first season and by that point everyone has met each other and learned to manage their powers. With another 13 episodes to go they start pulling out pointless, drawn out diversions. Hiro learns about a sword that he is fated to own and spends a full episode getting it only to learn that it’s a fake, leading to more episodes following the same thread. Claire’s friends get their memories wiped so she literally goes through stuff she’s already done to remind them. DL gets out of jail, Nikki goes to jail in his place, and then she gets out again. Plot points keep getting reset and repeated and it all adds up to filler with only a few, such as Christopher Eccleston as an invisible man, being interesting.
This could add up to character development but they rarely evolve past their initial outlines. They learn new things but change very little from episode to episode. Compared to shows like Orange is the New Black and Breaking Bad all of the characters are incredibly thin and fill pretty simple stereotypes. The only ones who stand out and remain memorable are Hiro and Ando. Series protagonist Peter Petrelli comes across as exceptionally bland, and his story progresses at a snails pace. It’s ironic that he has empath based powers because he’s only as interesting as the other characters on the screen. Characters come together and split up with such rapid frequency that it becomes annoying. Peter meets Hiro, then he meets Isaac, then he meets Claire only to leave them within an episode each time. It’s hard to remain invested when their encounters are so fleeting and have such little impact on the story.
Of course superheroes are going to be fun to watch in almost any context, and they have some good special effects to back up the story. For the most part the effects are still good with a few exceptions like Nathan’s flying, but as the show meanders on they get less and less screen time. There are some episodes where the characters spend so much time being angsty and repeating themselves they don’t seem to use their powers at all.
Thematically the show is also a mess. It feels like they weren’t sure what angle to take on the material so they’ve thrown everything that’s ever been used in comics into the script with the hope of making it seem grander than it is. Fate, religion, philosophy, evolution, science, mythology…it all fights for room in the story with some characters, like Mohinder Suresh having little to do beyond being an avatar for such ideas. With so much on the table no one thing stands out.
Other ongoing plot elements seem to be inspired by Lost becoming a hit in discussion forums, being mysteries that are thrown in just to have people guessing as to their meaning. Lost was constantly throwing in mysterious over the top symbolic objects and events like the numbers, the statue of a foot and whatnot to entice people into watching to learn how they tied together and to theorise about them endlessly. As we now know they was no long term plan for these mysteries, they were just there for the sake of being there. Heroes had a number of examples of this, most notable the glyph pattern that appears in every episode. Jessica has it as a tattoo, it’s on Suresh’s map, it’s on Hiro’s sword…there was much discussion about what it means and what its relevance could be but it went absolutely nowhere. It feels like it they chucked it into the show for the sake of it.
With the solid concept and characters worth exploring further, this is a series that could benefit from a revisit. These reflections have been based on a revisit of the first season, undoubtably the strongest part of the series, and it did unfortunately go completely bananas from there on. If they’d opted for a shorter story arc or even a half-length season the show would’ve been substantially stronger and it wouldn’t have pointless diversions every episode, or simple plot points being endlessly dragged out. At only 13 episodes and a mostly new cast we can hope for the best.