This weeks column is dedicated to one of my favourite shows of recent years, now back for a third season. It is of course, Heroes (BBC1 & 3).
I think season one of Heroes was possibly the most addictive debut series I've ever seen. I stumbled across it on the Sci-Fi Channel, before BBC even had a sniff of it, and was hooked straight away. Like we've mentioned in recent weeks, in particularly with Lost in Austen, it's such a simple idea, albeit developed extremely well, but for some reason, most of us only see that in hindsight. That is what is separating us from Tim Kring at the moment! Well, that and the opportunity of course. How is the basic concept of Heroes any different from X-Men? Evolutionary genetic mutations have meant that some of us have super powers, and some of us don't. It's pretty simple, right? Come up with a bunch of interesting characters and powers, and you're half way there. That's true to a certain extent. But in other ways, you're nowhere. Heroes is not a character piece. It's a thriller and the plotting is so important. In actual fact the perfect demonstration of this is the difference between Season One and Season Two.
In Season One, the writers used dramatic irony to fantastic effect. We often knew just a little bit more than the characters, but still had a million questions of our own to keep us coming back each week. And there was always an active question, a cliff hanger, at the end of each episode. The other crucial factor was that although the different characters had their own mini goals, we knew, even before they all did, that the overall end game was to stop New York from blowing up.
By Tim Kring own admission, there were many mistakes in Season Two. But probably the biggest single one was not having an overall season goal for all the characters. The story about the virus that gets out and destroys virtually all of mankind was superb, as was Peter's trip into the future showing this desolate landscape. But it all kicked off far too late. For too much of the series the stories of many of the characters seemed unattached to anything else going on. In the end, the writers' strike probably did the show a favour by forcing to bring it to a hasty close. The virus was destroyed, the world was saved, and Nathan was about to reveal the truth about the powers some now had... only to be gunned down by an unseen assailant, giving us the perfect series cliffhanger.
So Season Three opened with the revelation that what Nathan told the world caused a fraction in it, a war between, as X-Men would put it, mutants and non-mutants. So Peter travels back from the future to shoot his own brother, thus keeping the secret. I've watched the first two episodes, and my main concern is that we are in Season Two danger - i.e. that the overall world saving thrust of the story is yet to be revealed. We are told that there is a butterfly effect due to Peter coming back from the future, and by him changing things, more and more bad stuff is going to happen. But at the moment it is confusing and lacking focus. There is also much talk of a formula, possibly a genetic modifier to give people powers, and Suresh is experimenting with one whilst Hiro is chasing a stolen piece of paper containing another. New characters are being tentatively introduced whilst the familiar ones all jostle for position. Needless to say, I think things need to be brought together into a cohesive whole... and fast. The thing that was so impressive about Heroes 1, was that although it was built on a foundation of active questions, I never felt confused as to what was going on. The same cannot be said about another show based on the same principle. Lost confuses more often that it delights and for this reason many have just become fed up with it.
Another problem, and one that many a tv series has faced, is the level of threat facing the characters. No one really big has been killed off in Heroes, and it's set in a dangerous world. The same can be said about Lost. The trouble is catch 22. They create great characters that we all love to watch, and resist killing them off. In fact, can anyone significant in Heroes actually be killed off?? Nathan has already been brought back from being blown up in a nuclear blast and shot. Peter and Sylar seem pretty invincible, and whilst examining her brain, Sylar tells Claire he couldn't kill her even if he wanted to as she can't die! It's a tricky situation because it decreases the stakes, but it's one that The Sopranos and 24 handled well. Those shows could function as long as Tony Soprano and Jack Bauer lived. Anyone else was expendable! I think some brave decisions need to be made in Heroes, because when you think about it, what has Nathan, for example, done since the season one finale?
But all being said, this series of Heroes has got off to a cracking pace and I really hope they right the wrongs of the previous season. Overall the show is fantastic and I am still loving it. It's a great example of how to construct compelling, addictive, television.