Heroes - Season 1 (2006-2007)
'Heroes' was probably the most talked about TV show to air recently; to say that there was a lot of hype surrounding it would be an understatement of epic proportions. I've just finished watching its much lauded inaugural season and I must say that while it is poor in many ways and quite overrated, I still enjoyed it immensely.
'Heroes' is a sci-fi drama that tells the story of a disparate group of people who begin to discover that they have super powers. It focuses on their personal lives, how they deal with their powers, and their role in much larger machinations taking place around them. These machinations involve a shady organization that monitors these so called 'heroes' and a powerful, reclusive and shady businessman manipulating events from behind the scenes. Also in the mix is a super-villain named Sylar (Zachary Quinto) who is going around stealing other heroes' powers, killing them in the process. The overall story told in the season (dubbed 'Volume 1') focuses on the struggle to stop Sylar and also prevent a massive explosion that will decimate New York City. While each character has his or her own story they are all linked to each other and to overall events, and their paths and storylines cross on many occasions.
The main characters (spoilerific stuff in this paragraph - the powers described are only gradually revealed in the show) include Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar), a politician running for congress who can fly; his brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), a nurse who has the ability to absorb and use the powers of others; Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a Japanese corporate drone who has the power to manipulate space and time; Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere), a cheerleader who can heal herself; Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), a painter who can draw the future; Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), a police officer who can hear people's thoughts; D. L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts), an ex-con who can phase through matter; Nikki Sanders (Ali Larter), a woman with super strength and a split personality (not sure if the latter is a power or not); and Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey), a kid who can manipulate electronics. Also in the mix are Claire's father Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman), who is part of the shady, unnamed organization, and Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), an Indian geneticist who is studying the 'hero' phenomenon. There are also several other powered and non powered supporting characters throughout.
This show is very much in the vein of shows like 'Smallville'. And by that I mean it isn't very well made. Like Smallville's first few seasons though, it's fairly entertaining and has enough likable characters to be watchable. There's nothing here that is imaginative or original, but the show is perhaps somewhat unique in being the first ensemble 'comic book like' TV series. Seeing as how I enjoyed the show, I'll start of with the negatives (of which there are a lot) and cap things off with the positives.
The main problem with this show is the writing, which is at times quite awful. The feeling of things being made up as they go along rarely feels more blatant than it does in 'Heroes'. There are story strands which are started, go nowhere, and then disappear without a trace (a police investigation subplot, a character's stint in prison, a mentor subplot), and arcs that are dragged out needlessly (most of Hiro's adventures, Nikki / DL / Micah). The overall structure is meandering, unfocused and random, and relies far too heavily on contrivance and coincidence and the seemingly magical ability for characters to hop from place to place and be in the right place at the right time (the coincidence aspect is aping 'Lost', but in that show 'fate vs. coincidence' is actually one if the underlying themes. In 'Heroes', it's just there for the sake of it). The discovery of powers and the way people handle them is touched on superficially at best, with the protagonists (and therefore, the writers) never really examining the deeper ramifications of such powers. The powers themselves quickly become something prosaic and fail to elicit any sense of awe or wonder.
Further evidence of poor writing comes in the form of illogical, nonsensical events and gaping plot holes that beggar belief - on more than one occasion, a character in a position to kill another character spares them for no other reason than that the writers needed the character alive for the continuance of the story. Not an episode goes by where there isn't an egregious lapse in logic on the part of the writers. The powers of the characters are another problem - while they're cool in principal, there are too many occasions when the story cops out on having them actually be used. In fact, some of these guys are just TOO powerful, and so they are conveniently made to be unable to use their powers in a satisfactory manner, or the powers are simply ignored altogether in situations where they might come in handy. To round out the list of complaints are the cheesy dialogue (the word 'hero' is used like a billion times), pretentious narration, incredibly nonsensical 'science', and an over-reliance on clunky exposition.
Apart from the writing, the production values are also surprisingly unimpressive and cheap looking, with some so-so special effects and a lot of overblown gore. The action is very limited and what little there is, is poor. Visually the whole thing looks bland and unexciting. The package is wrapped up in music that is grating and horribly repetitive - I normally like the use of vocals, but in 'Heroes' its obtrusive and annoying, and feels like its trying too hard to lend the show dramatic weight.
The characterization isn't very good to begin with, and it isn't helped by some of the weaker members of the cast, particularly Quinto as the evil Sylar, who is as badly acted as he is written. Also on the weak front are Cabrera, Roberts, Larter, and Gray-Cabey. On the mediocre front are Ventimiglia, Ramamurthy, Pasdar, and Panettiere. Fortunately, though, there are a few really good performances from Masi Oka as Hiro, Greg Grunberg as Matt Parkman, and Jack Coleman as Bennett. Oka in particular is the show's heart; he's the only one who seems to have any fun and liveliness, and given the wackiness of the story his light heartedness was an apt and welcome reprieve from the dourness of everyone else. Grunberg's Parkman is also one of the few characters who has fun with his powers and plays around with them, and is one of the few who feels real and relatable. Coleman's Bennett is initially really annoying as a mysterious figure who keeps popping up everywhere, but his character really develops over the course of the season and by the end he's one of the few that remain interesting. Additionally, there are some really good supporting characters and guest appearances throughout the season.
Despite all of my complaints, I still enjoyed this show! It's fun, feels like a comic book, and the X-Men like premise coupled with the long-form story structure had me hooked. Some of the characters are truly likable and interesting, and even when the focus is on the ones who aren't the show never gets boring. There are some very cool moments and use of powers, and some of the character drama (Hiro & Ando, Bennett & Claire, Parkman and anybody else) is actually interesting. I also have to admit to getting a kick out of seeing these characters meet and interact. A large part of the appeal is the anticipation of what's going to happen down the line; even when an episode is poor there's always the hope of more interesting things to come.
Conclusion - 'Heroes' is bad on an objective level, and I have to say I'm bemused by the critical kudos it has received. Since I liked it I'm still looking forward to the second season, despite the truly awful final episodes (ones that highlights most of the show's flaws in a nutshell). The show's really a guilty pleasure that relies on a coolness factor, one that will likely wear off pretty fast. There's always a slim chance it'll improve over time, but I'm not going to cross my fingers. As long as it can stay fun and entertain, I'll probably continue to watch. I say probably because my experience watching 24 over the years has shown me that in poorly written dumb but fun shows the bad stuff eventually begins to greatly overwhelm the entertainment value.