I am fascinated by the idea of exploring how comic book style superpowers would impact real world human beings. In literature, last year’s Soon I Will be Invincible from Austin Grossman is the reigning champion of this sub-genre. I kind of felt sorry for David J. Schwartz having his novel Superpowers come out around the same time as Soon I Will be Invincible. He probably sold some extra copies via Amazon “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” recommendations, but comparing a pleasant enough light read with the brilliance of Austin Grossman’s book seemed almost cruel.
So it was in the television world with Tim Kring’s Heroes and The 4400 from René Echevarria and Scott Peters, but that is about to change. I found The 4400 because of the Netflix “Enjoyed By Members Who Enjoyed” feature. The first season of Heroes featured a set of interlocking stories about people from different walks of life who suddenly discovered they were special in a superpowered kind of way. Season One of Heroes was elegantly written. A politician discovers he can fly. A cheerleader discovers she can regenerate almost any injury. A uniform beat cop discovers he can read minds. A low level cube employee working at his father’s company discovers he can bend space and time. An artist discovers he can paint the future while shooting smack. A homecare provider discovers his empathy allows him to pick up abilities from other superpowered indivduals. A watch repairman discovers a method for killing people and absorbing their abilities into his own roster of skills. There is a shadowy Company trying to keep it all contained. There is a morally ambiguous and conflicted Company employee who also has a superpowered adoptive daughter. Season 1 of Heroes has a complex yet elegant and well-structured storyline where the tales of each of the many characters are interwoven into a satisfying whole piece with a logical conclusion.
The basic concept of The 4400 is that all the alien abductees from the past upmty-ump years are returned by their futuristic UFO captors all at once. None of them have aged and many seem to have developed extraordinary abilities. The 4400 started off with two special agents as the sort of center of the show. Tom Baldwin is the action-oriented agent played by Joel Gretsch who is no stranger to either law enforcement or SF roles. His partner Diana Skouris from the CDC is played by Jacqueline McKenzie. (Incidentally, that would be the Jacqueline McKenzie who played the Gabe character in Romper Stomper, doing full nudity fucking multiple skinheads and her father, and it doesn’t appear to have hurt her acting career one bit.) Although there are some overarching story arcs, each episode of the early episodes of The 4400 centers more around new characters discovering new abilities which are investigated by this lead governmental team. The show features in particular an interesting exploration of how the government would respond to finding a sudden influx of missing persons with superpowers. There is also quite a bit of variety in how different returnees react to having extraordinary abilities. On The 4400, scientists find that something in the blood called Promicin appears to be responsible for the various abilities people develop and, as the seasons progress, ways are found to give many people Promicin-catalyzed superpowered abilities. As with many television shows, however, as the seasons go on, the show’s writers try to keep it fresh by having many of the characters start acting . . . well, out of character.
Compared to the new season of Heroes, however, The 4400 had a deft touch. Not only that, but the current season of Heroes is blatantly riffing on ideas from The 4400, down to casting some of the same actors including Chad Faust. If you are, for some inexplicable reason planning on watching Season 3 of Heroes and you have not already watched the first few episodes, I recommend you stop reading now as spoilers are forthcoming. All right then.
So Milo Ventimiglia’s empathic Peter Petrelli from earlier seasons now has multiple versions of himself, all of whom are unsympathetic. He is a talented guy normally, but it is like he totally forgot how to act. The rumor mill says that he and Hayden Panettiere, who plays the cheerleader Claire Bennet, are or were romantically involved, so maybe that explains why, when she shoots one of his many versions, she says she always loved him and it comes across as creepy and incestuous. But actors should be able to play uncle and niece so that it does not seem like they are fucking, even if the real life actors are. Ew.
I guess heroin is no longer okay on a show about heroes and heroines because now lots of characters can get inaccurate visions of the future, without the bother of shooting up first. Now they can drink fictional African drugs, which is like totally more socially responsible.
So the serial killer from Season 1 of Heroes is now supposed to be a good guy. Maybe it is a trick and that is why his acting seems so bad, but long scenes where actors are acting like people acting badly are never a good idea. Plus serial killer Sylar or Gabriel or whatever the Heroes writers are calling him today has the most messed-up looking eyebrows ever. He had really thick eyebrows in the earlier seasons, but they look freaking drawn on in this one to a really distracting extent. (It was so distracting that I researched it and apparently he is playing Spock in the new Star Trek. He actually makes a kinda hot Spock, which just proves gothic eyebrows are sexy.)
Zachary Quinto’s eyebrows notwithstanding, one of the most jarring things about the current season of Heroes is that it is like all the actors decided they wanted to look more like movie stars than like their characters. Some characters have future versions of themselves who wear leather pants. The male actors all look like they have been passing the steroid injections around and spending all their time at the gym. Nothing wrong with wanting to be fit, but it is just implausible that all of these characters would be uber-buff. The styling on the show used to be really convincing and realistic and now it just seems like they are not even trying. Well, if the characters were all playing high end Hollywood escorts, I would consider it to be putting effort in, if they were all hellbent on working out and wearing designer clothes and too much expensive makeup. Seems less like trying when we are watching a fandom show which is supposed to feature characters from different walks of life. Even the good-guy scientist academic looks bizarrely ripped and spends most of his screen time with his shirt off. Then again, he is also either serial-killing or using spider powers to imprison people to function as lab rats. Or both.
Season 3 of Heroes brought in two of my favorite actors from The Wire and it still sucked. The talented Andre Royo who plays sympathetic junkie Bubbles on The Wire comes in as a mistreated and unjustly imprisoned vortex-making superpowered guy and it is obvious from his first moment on screen that things will end badly for him. Sexy badass Jamie Hector who played hard up-and-coming drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield on The Wire is a cool bad guy, with fear-fueled superpowers, on Heroes, but having the bad guys be the only cool characters is sorta off for a show which used to be about trying to do the right thing.
Masi Oka’s Hiro Nakamura, who used to be one of the characters the largest number of viewers could relate to, has been described by many media critics as the moral center of the show, the character from whom the themes spring. Well, this most recent episode featured Hiro stabbing his best friend Ando, played by James Kyson Lee, in the heart. I don’t care if the writers come up with a lame way to excuse it as not being real or some such nonsense. If the guy most bent on being a good guy has turned into a condescending prick who would stab his best friend, then I am done watching this show. I wish I had stopped watching after the wonderful first season. There is so much to dislike in this current third season that I could just keep going.
The Cardinal Rule of writing science fiction is that a universe may be incredibly fantastical, but it should be internally consistent. At this point, Heroes could not be more inconsistent if the writers all had a bar bet going for who could introduce the most inconsistent plot point or character action.
The only plus of the current season of Heroes is that they brought back David Anders’ charmingly chaotic neutral and essentially immortal Adam Monroe character, who, as forum readers know, is my first choice for who I would want by my side during a zombie apocalypse. But, even his engaging screen presence can’t save a show which has lost both its moral compass and any logic whatsoever. There is even a long scene where Hiro bullies Adam who he has been torturing for a long time by burying him underground in an airless tomb where he repeatedly suffocates to death and then regenerates back to life. I know the theme of the current season is “Villains”, but it seems more like it ought to be called “Assholes”. I guess they would have Kevin Smith Zack and Miri Make a Porno problems putting “Assholes” on their bus stop promos though. The characters are not evil masterminds; they are just jerks; assholes, if you will.
Heroes is officially canceled from my TiVo queue. When the Nielson’s for time-shifted (TiVo and web) viewing came in for the beginning of this season, it really raised the show’s ratings. I’m guessing that, after last week’s ridiculous episode, there won’t be any more numbers like that, although you can watch the season so far for free on the NBC site. The first season of Heroes was a rare and special flash of network television brilliance and I still recommend watching it on DVD or Netflix Watch Instantly. But, if you enjoy themes of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities, The 4400 wins for quality longevity over the long haul.
Still, critics seems to pretty universally agree that Knight Rider is the worst new show of the current television season. So, of course, fans desperate to defend Heroes:
Assholes Villains are at pains to tell any critic to go watch Knight Rider if they no longer love Heroes. The kind of hilarious irony here is that I don’t think most of them realize that Heroes creator Tim Kring got his start writing for the original Knight Rider series back in 1982.