September 26, 2006

Heroes

I caught the premier of Heroes last night; if you missed it, NBC will apparently be running it again tonight (while that's odd, I have no comment on it), or I'm sure you can already find it in other, less legally upright, venues.

My feelings about the premier are mixed, and I think a fair review of this show must be based on more than a single episode. A conventional film needs to establish the characters and basic plot within the first thirty minutes or so, to allow for an hour of development and fifteen to thirty minutes of denounement and conclusion, for a total running time of just under two hours; meanwhile, a conventional teevee season has upwards of fifteen hours to work with. While film as its own advantage, television is a medium that is excellent for presenting complicated plots with multiple interwoven threads that unfold very, very gradually. (Joss Whedon does this very, very well -- the best seasons of Buffy and every season of Angel have a far more complicated plot than most any film you care to think of.) In other words, good teevee can have the depth and pacing of a good novel -- and a novel shouldn't be judged on the first twenty pages. Well, okay, unless those first twenty pages are really bad. But the premier of Heroes was not really bad.

Avast, mateys! There be mild spoilers below that thar fold!

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Heroes seems to be built on a number of familiar tropes in the superhero genre, and this works both in its favour and to its detriment. The basic premiss is that seemingly random individuals around the world are starting to manifest superhuman powers, and the opening voiceover (done by a geneticist character) explains this with some handwaving about `evolution', but also uses the language of pathology, talking about a `patient zero'. The array of powers is quite familiar: rapid regeneration, teleportation, hyperintelligence, flight, precognition, telepathy. This familiarity lets the writers spend most of the first episode on some character development, and suggests that this will not be a simple, mindless action series.

On the other hand, the first episode reeks of both sexism and racism, sadly pervasive problems in the comic book world. The episode presents five or six primary characters (assuming those with prominent speaking roles and screen time will be primary characters), all but two of whom are white. There is one Indian man, who seems to be positioned for the role of knowledgable yet powerless mentor a la Rupert Giles; and one Japanese man, who seems to have been written with every stereotype of the nerdy, sexless Asian in mind. The two female primary characters are both white, and both thoroughly packed as eye candy: one's a teenage cheerleader, and the other sells strip shows over the internet to support the requisite preternaturally intelligent child. I guess Standards and Practices wouldn't let them get away with a hooker with a heart of gold.

Other groanworthy tropes that rise to the level of cliche are the angsty, drug-addicted artist, the evil white guy in a suit and sunglasses (with mysterious connection to other characters), and the machiavellian politician.

However, as I said before, the series is only just establishing itself. Optimistically, we'll see more diversity in the cast as other primary characters are introduced, and the inversion of stereotypes as the characters develop. The first episode shows a lot of promise, and the show warrants at least another few episodes to really get going.

2 comments:

Jason said...

I thought that Hiro was completely based on you Ben. All the star trek and comic talk, I am sure that he struck a chord with you.

I thought that the stripper's character could be good, plus she is the only one without really obvious powers. Did he mirror image kill those guys, does she become someone different when she blacks out? She also has a multiracial kid, which could be interesting.

Archgarth said...

No article on good TV can be complete without mentioning the new Battlestar Galactica on SciFi. Seriously, it is one of the best shows on television today, if not one of the best ever. Go watch it now!!