May 22, 2007

Review: Heroes, Volume 1

I care not for spoilerphobia, so be warned!

The first season of Heroes was exactly what I expected it would be. The show started nicely and went along rather well, if slightly slowly from the first episode through November sweeps. As I thought at the time, I'm still convinced they never really expected the show to succeed and only planned the story details that far. So yeah, the show wandered quite a bit in the middle of the season while they tried to figure out what the hell to do with most of the characters. Then the end of the season really picked up the pace, did some good work with some of the characters, and left us with a lot of interesting plots for Volume 2: Generations. The first season of Next Generation is pretty crappy, as is the first season of most new sci-fi shows, so I'm willing to write this season off as the building blocks of a potentially much more interesting series.

They thinned the characters a bit in the run up to the season finale and while I wish they had made a few different choices, I can understand why they didn't. The cast can really be divided into three camps; 1) the actors somewhat known, but not famous, before the show started, 2) the breakout actors/characters of the first season, 3) the fodder. The characters from the third category are less developed than the other categories, so those are the people you expect to die. Ted was pretty likable, but obviously merely a means to make Sylar and Peter threateningly dangerous. Then there's category 2, where you care about the characters enough for their potential deaths to mean something but their actors aren't famous enough to dramatically hurt the show if they are cut. I suppose I could have had a category for "children" but the same rules applies for children as cute animals, there's not going to be much intersting stuff done to the children and they almost certainly aren't in any real danger. If they were thinning the crowd I wouldn't have minded them killing Nikki/Jessica but she's solidly first category, and thus pretty safe. Parkman is in a grey area between categories, so it will be interesting to see if they bring him back for Volume 2. I hope if they do they give him some more intersting things to do than cock his head like a spaniel between whining.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the fact that Heroes proved a modern show about comic books could not only make it, but be a breakout hit. They've got a captive audience for Volume 2 and on the strengths of the last few episodes it looks to me like they have a much better idea where they're going with the story. There was a time a few months ago where my interest was waning, but I'm actively excited for seeing this show come back.

Oh, and for those who were debating time travel, etc. after the episode "Five Years Later", after reading a couple interviews with Tim Kring I'm 98% sure I have a theory that explains the way the universe functions in this regard. It's based on Quantum Leap Rules.


Noumena said...

What's your time travel theory?

I was left rather dissatisfied by the season finale. I think the basic problem is that Buffy set a very high bar for teevee shows in the broadly-conceived superhero genre, with a fantastic combination of action and drama.

Heroes doesn't do action well. In fact, the writers seem to have some kind of aversion to action. The confrontation with Sylar was not the seven-minute special effects-tastic epic battle with Hiro, Peter and Nikki that it should have been. It was lots of staring and a little telekinesis. We also didn't get to see Peter and future-Hiro in action in Five Years Gone; every potentially exciting fight scene was simply skipped. I think we've only had one decent fight scene this season, when Nikki attempts to kill Matt.

I'm hoping this was a matter of the special effects budget being limited, and that NBC gives them a larger budget next season.

The writers did a much better job with the dramatic aspects. The show, at least this season, was about family: the two big themes, I think, were asking what makes a family, and the tensions and conflicts within families, especially between parents and children. But, while the second part worked well, I'm not sure we got a lot of real insight into the first part. I think we were all expecting, as the trailers promised ad nauseum, a group of strangers coming together and forming a family. But that never seemed to happen in any way at all. The closest we got was the relationship between Claire and Peter. But Peter was simply too powerful by the end of the season, and really shouldn't come back (unless the explosion didn't quite kill him but severely weakened him or some such). So no real family there. And if the comparison is to Buffy, Heroes falls pretty short: season 1 of Buffy did a better job of bringing four strangers together into a family than season 1 of Heroes did with about a dozen.

There's another interpretation of the trailers, though. Perhaps the season was about estranged and distant family members coming back together, both literally (Claire and Peter, Nikki and DL) and figuratively (Claire and Bennett, Matt and his wife, Nathan and Peter). Then the first, not so strong, part falls out. In this case, I'd have to see the whole season over a short period of time (ie, watch the DVDs over the course of a week or two) to decide how effective it's really been.

I suppose this leaves me moderately optimistic about season two. A larger special effects budget, a smaller cast, and a more tightly-written script, and this show could be really excellent instead of just watchable.

MosBen said...

I think you're spot on with the special effects this season. While I really liked that most of the powers are pretty subtle visually, it does seem like they have a really limited budget. I'm sure, however, that this should get better in the second season. Like I say, if I can look back at season one as a very rough template for the later seasons I think I can live with that.

Again, I see you points with regards to building a community of the characters (for some reason that strikes me better than family as they're not really a team in the same sense as the Scoobies), but I think a *lot* of that can be chalked up to the fact that they didn't seem to know what to do with the middle ten episodes of the season. Hopefully now that they're sure that they'll have a full season to work with in the fall they'll plot things out much better and be able to bring their characters together in meaningful ways.

Another thing that should help is that I don't think they really figured out which members of the cast were the stronger actors until a little too late. Too much time spent on Ali Larter when she's just not an amazing actress. Of course, the Nikki/Jessica storyline didn't give her much to work with either.

Furthermore, from what I've read they the second volume of the series focuses on family a lot, so hopefully we'll get lots of good drama there.

Here's the time travel theory as I've pieced it together: It's like Quantum Leap. Time is a string. Neither end "happens" before the other, it merely all exists simultaneously. This being the case, Hero Prime lived in a time period where New York blew up, that much we know. Hiro had attempted to stop Sylar but had failed because Sylar could heal. After the bomb all kinds of things went badly. Hiro Prime, wanting to fix this, figures saving Claire will be the key to improving the future. He goes back and sets Peter on the path to doing so. He returns to the future to check on stuff, finds the future still sucks and then goes about planning his next incursion to the past at some other key juncture. This is key, just because he's in the future doesn't mean all changes to the past have come into effect yet. The Hiros operate on their own timeline, much like Sam Beckett, so that even though Sam may travel to the 1980s in season 2 and the 1950s in season 5, the changes made in season 5 aren't in place while he's in the 80s. In "Five Years Later" the only change that has been made, that we're aware of, is saving Claire, so Present Hiro has not yet had the opportunity to stab Sylar in the season finale. The events of the finale may preclude the future we've seen, or they may not.

I'm pretty sure that explains things, but feel free to make me elaborate if it doesn't. I know it all made sense when I initially thought it out, but I might have to rewatch some episodes to recapture my whole theory.

Noumena said...

"They didn't seem to know what to do with the middle ten episodes of the season."

That's probably the most succinct explanation of the problems the show has had this season. Here's to better writing next season!

Okay, time travel. I want to try reconstructing the successive timelines.

Here's one reconstruction:
Hiro starts off in timeline 1, in which Sylar kills Claire and thereby survives being stabbed. Hiro goes back and tells Peter to save Claire, and thereby diverts history onto timeline 2. In timeline 2, Sylar does not kill Claire but survives being stabbed anyways, and New York blows up. Timeline 2 is the one we see in Five Years Gone.

There's also timeline 3. This is the timeline portrayed in most of the series. In timeline 3, Sylar does not kill Claire, survives being stabbed, New York does not blow up.

Now let me rework Drew's criticism, since presumably he isn't going to touch this thread with a ten-foot virtual pole. Which timeline did we see before Hiro and Ando jumped to the future? It must be timeline 2, because that's where they ended up. But it can't be timeline 2, because the Hiro of timeline 2 never jumped to the future -- he would have remembered the encounter from the other side, but was surprised to see himself. Presumably they left timeline 3 and ended up in timeline 2, then came back to timeline 3. But that doesn't make any sense. And I don't see how your theory resolves that.

MosBen said...

I think it must be the case that each timeline has its own Hiro which is not affected or eliminated by changes to the timeline. The Hiro of Timeline 1 didn't remember the conversation from Hiro 3's perspective because he never did that. Hiro 3 will never become Hiro 1 because the circumstances that created Hiro 1's life have been irrevocably altered. They're completely separate people. The world can change drastically around the various Hiros, but they aren't necessarily changed or eliminated.

Noumena said...

Right, but that still doesn't explain how Hiro 3 visited Hiro 2. They're in different timelines -- might as well be parallel universes. Though I suppose you could patch things up by saying that Hiro doesn't travel through time, he travels between parallel universes, some of which are chronologically offset relative to our own. If that makes any sense.

Unknown said...

No, I'm reading with interest. I'm not watching the show, and I probably won't ever watch it again, but as long as I can follow what you're talking about, I will remain interested in what my friends think of "Heroes".

Noumena, I don't know if you actually agree with my objections or are just "playing" me for the purposes of this discussion, but either way you've done a fine job. I don't know how Hiro and Ando got to that "future" world, but it wasn't via time travel.

MosBen said...

First, it wasn't Hiro 3 & 2, it was Hiro 1 (who originally came from the timeline where Syler had killed Claire) and Hiro 3 (from the timeline followed in the season proper). We didn't see any Hiro who's proper timeline was the future where Sylar didn't kill Claire but became president anyway after NYC blew up.

As to how they met, all versions of Hiro are unaffected by changes in the timeline. The nature of a time traveling hero, at least in the system we seem to be working in, requires that the hero not be able to wipe himself out of existence by making a change here or there to the timeline. Hiro 1 needs to remember that Claire did, in his timeline, get killed by Sylar but *not* in Timeline 2 due to his intervention. That's what makes him an effective time traveler. There is only one universe/timeline which is constantly in flux as various changes are made. But though the timeline changes, Hiro is unchanged therefore allowing Hiros from different timelines to meet without ever becoming each other.

And yes, it was definitely time travel. They went five years into the future based on how things played out because of their actions at that point. At the time Hiro 3 was in the future he was going to be incapable of stopping Sylar, therefore in that future he didn't stop Sylar. Then his experiences put him on a different path, which presumably leads to a different future. Whether the current future is "better" remains to be seen.

Think of it as a Sudoku puzzle. There's no beginning and no end. If you make a choice and place a number in one box, that requires the placing of certain other numbers in related boxes. Shifting one number requires changes in several other boxes. You can go back and make as many changes as you want, but the minute you make the first change every other change is required simultaneously, not when you get to them linearly.

MosBen said...

I'll also throw in the possibility that Hiro *might* be able to substantially alter or erase himself in some as yet unexplored super huge change to the timeline. I'm not sure there's evidence either way, and it's not particularly necessary to determine that for this discussion. What is important is that the butterfly effect means that any incursions in time travel are going to cause ripples of changes which substantially alter the universe. Regardless of the fact that even small changes in the past create a different timeline, it seems Hiro is unaffected by these changes.