Thursday, November 06, 2008

Heroic Goad

I don't think I've written about Heroes before, but it's time to break that silence, now that Jeph Loeb has been fired.

In the article linked, the writer is concerned that the absence of Loeb will sever the "comic book connection", and that the show will spiral (further!) into Petrelli Family Melodrama rather than Superheroic Intrigue and Buttkicking.

I watched the first season of Heroes; I enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun miniseries. One problem, though; it wasn't a miniseries. I was stunned when I heard "Heroes Season Two"; hmm, I thought they were going to quit while they were ahead.

But that's not the Hollywood way (SAW VI!), and so we have had Season 2 and 3. And while it's more or less retained its "comic book touch", I'm afraid it's doing so through many of the worst cliches that characterize comics (and soap operas). Here's just a few:

  • Not just "separated at birth", not even "identical twins separated at birth", but "superpowered identical triplets separated at birth". I mean, really. It's particularly cruel to give the role to an actress who didn't have the chops to handle her role as a dual personality. "I'm not Nikki!" Um, yeah, sweetie; ya are, because your accent and speech patterns are identical.
  • Arbitrary (self-imposed!) power restrictions on the overly powerful (Hiro will go back in time just to screw around in his office, but not to save the world?).
  • "Luke, I am your father / future husband / brother" (honestly, I've not the strength to list all the suddenly uncovered and unlikely relationships, past and future, that the show spits out with the regularity of sourballs from a penny candy machine).
  • Really obvious thievery from other media. Even Judd Winick couldn't have made "Dr. Suresh as Brundle-Fly" more obvious.
  • Color coding. Ooh, Claire's a bad guy now so her hair got dark!
  • Contradictory powers (Hiro's power was hard enough to believe without having a superspeedster to point out that it was nonsensical).
  • "Legacy" heroes as obvious devices. "We need a painting seer. Uh-oh, we killed that guy. Let's pull another one out of our butts. But we need another trick to make him passive; can't make him a drug addict; let's just make him African instead."

The recent "morality polarity reversals" are painfully strained. Let's make Peter a villain and Sylar a hero! It's easier to believe a Senator can fly... . It's become asuperpowered Degrassi, with characterization changing randomly from episode to episode based on the needs of the plot. "We need Spinner to be a jerk this week, and refuse to share his healing powers with Jimmy."

Then there's the typical Loebian "villain of the month" syndrome. Season 1, Sylar is the be all end all villain. Season 2, he's powerless and there's a new mysterious Big Bad, whose power is the ever-threatening 'not-dying' power, wielded so effectively by Willard Scott and Charles Lane. Ever notice how directors invariably choose some who ages really badly really quickly to play an immortal? Season 3, Sylar's a hero (for no compelling reason other than "Are You My Mommy?" syndrome), and the Immortal Big Bad gets offed casually just to show how much Bigger and Badder the new villain is. In three seasons, Loeb & Co. have managed to push the franchise to same levels of narrative desperation that most comic books tooks 50 to 60 years to reach.

I'm not sure that Loeb's leaving will redeem Heroes; I'm thinking it's too late for that. But perhaps the comic book cliches will be less obvious now.

23 comments:

Diamondrock said...

Whew. Kind of glad I never got around to watching the show. I had lots of friends who raved and raved that I should watch the show because "you'll love it because it's got superheroes."

But I never got around to it, and was always a tad bit suspicious, because none of those friends were people who actually *read* comics...

farsider said...

Scipio's ananlysis is, as always, right on. I thought the big season premiere was overkill. I think the show has already jumped the shark but it has such a following that it will probably take a while to die. It's hard to imagine what they can do to give the show a purpose.

Scipio said...

It's not that it is unenjoyable. Kind of the opposite. It's annoying because it could easily be much MORE enjoyable if they weren't constantly poking you in the eye with this stuff.

Patrick C said...

I agree. The show has (well... had) so much potential! The first season was genuinely good, except a sub-par season finale. That should have been a sign. Now they have no idea what they're doing and the show is hemoragghing viewers. It's got at least one more season left in it I would think.

(And it's Sylar not Skylar. And despite the nonsensical twist where he's a Petrelli and now a good guy, he's still my favorite part of the show.)

Nightwing Wannabe said...

Oh my god...the day has come...I disagree with Scipio.

I am enjoying season three just as much as I did season one. And I LOVED season one. I think with any show or movie or book...you are going to have those people who hate it and those who are middle ground and want it better and those who think it's the best thing on earth.

My firends and I love the show...and one of them is even a comic book store manager. He calls me every Monday night after the shows to just go over the whole show and what he loved...etc.


So anyway...that's my two cents...

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Willard Scott just won't die.

I've seen the man shot, stabbed, beheaded, set on fire, thrown from an airplane, and all for nothing. I myself ran him over with a minivan in 1998. Yet there he is every damn morning, telling us that Linda Sue O'Malley of Penobscot, Maine, just turned 109 and loves making macrame cats.

The man is insane and unholy. Perhaps he drinks the blood of the elderly women he champions, or he is some sort of future human, sent back in time to warn us of the futility of hairpieces?

He must be stopped. Short of nuclear weapons, however, I can't see how.

suedenim said...

I also never got around to watching the show. Like another such show (Lost) that I never watched, there seems to be general agreement that it's jumped the shark quickly.

Does Heroes Season 1 actually work as a "self-contained" show, if you pretend the latter seasons don't exist? Is it worth watching that way?

Jacob T. Levy said...

definitely.

Monty Ashley said...

"Ever notice how directors invariably choose some who ages really badly really quickly to play an immortal?"

Are you thinking about Christopher Lambert? Because I sure am.

Nightwing Wannabe said...

Well depends on you what you consider self contained...as Heroes does end leaving you wondering what happens to two characters and then picks up with 5 mins of the next season. I know watching the first season the first time around I it was enough of a cliffhanger for me to be eager about the next season.

totaltoyz said...

with the regularity of sourballs from a penny candy machine

What's a "penny candy machine"??

suedenim said...

The first "immortal who ages really badly" that came to my mind was actually Brent Spiner as Data on Star Trek: TNG.

Scipio said...

Actually, the main "immortal who ages really badly" I had in mind (other than the Adam Monroe character from Heroes) was David Boreanaz.

Captain Infinity said...

I don't think Heroes is perfect, but it's dozens of times more watchable than Smallville.

Scipio said...

Yeah, I never really "got" Smallville, which always seemed to me like "Stan Lee writes Superman".

Anthony Strand said...

Agreed on David Boreanaz aging badly. The Angel of 2004 looked 10 years older than the Angel of 1997.

As for Heroes, I had actually been thinking about how Jeph Loeb-y it had gotten this season. So much of the plotting seems to be "Wouldn't it be cool if THIS thing happened?" regardless of whether or not that makes any sense.

Sylar has a kid! Who cares who the mother is?

Future Peter can do EVERYTHING! No need to explain his powers!

OMG! Claire and Veronica Mars are totally holding hands! HOTT!

As you say, the show might be beyond saving, but I think de-Loeb-ification can only be a good thing.

Putney Swope said...

You nailed it again. Those cliches are getting painful to watch. The article said that the remaining producer, Kring, was unfamiliar with the X-Men. Sounds good to me, now they can stop recycling the same decades old X-Men plots and characters twice a season.
I for one won't miss the Loeb-formula magic, as seen in Long Halloween/Hush and most recently in Hulk and Ultimatum.

Anonymous said...

On a WAY TOO RELATED note, have you read the first issue of ULTIMATUM? I'm a DC guy, but I admit that I really liked the Ultimates (1 & 2) and Ultimate Spider-Man, so I was interested in Ultimatum. I picked it up, read it...wow. End of the world. People unable to think of logical uses of their powers. The MADDENING pattern of everyone having two minute conversations explaining their backgrounds and current angst. Character out of, well, character. I looked at the cover: LOEB. He invaded Ultimatum with his terrible Heroes formula!

Bryan-Mitchell said...

I didn't watch Heroes until after season 2 was over. I watched season 1 and hoped that Sylar and Peter and Claire would all go away. So of course who turns out to be the stars of seasons 2 and 3? Why Sylar, Peter, and Claire, of course...

It is also frustrating that while they keep introducing new members of the Petrelli family they also keep ignoring other members like Nathan's wife and kids.

The real good news is not only that Loeb is gone but Mark Verheiden is on the Heroes team and has been working on this season's second story arc. That's a one-two punch that has me optimistic for the future of Heroes.

McK said...

Really obvious thievery from other media.

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are filled with blatantly obvious callbacks to the first two Godfather movies, Goodfellas, and the Untouchables, among other gangster films. As a movie buff, Loeb's constant use of references to other media comes off as either a pathetic attempt to appear "important" or a pathetic attempt to be cute.

And sorry to read about your dog!

Celephais said...

Truth be told (well, *my* truth, in any event), David Boreanaz didn't age badly, he just...aged. Aged well, in my opinion, but when you're supposed to be playing an ageless immortal...then, yes, you've got a point.

Perhaps Willard Scott actually feeds on the lifeforces of such celebrities as Lambert and Boreanaz?

Mike Loughlin said...

I like Smallville, but I know it's crappy (which is a step up from unwatchable, which it has been in the past). This season has been fun. Again, can't defend it, but I enjoy it on some level.

Heroes, however, got boring, fast. I lost interest two episodes into the season.

notintheface said...

I explained the biggest problem with Season 3 on my blog: the Idiot Plot. As defined by Roger Ebert, it's the type of plot that can only advance if all the main characters are complete idiots. Season 3 was rife with them.