Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hooked on Heroes

While we're on the subject of TV, there's another show I've started watching that looks like it has the makings of an addiction: Heroes (Mondays, 9 PM ET, NBC). I was intrigued by the promos this summer, caught the first episode, and was almost immediately hooked. The show's tag line is "ordinary people discovering extraordinary abilities." Across the globe, a small group of people discover they're not like everybody else—no matter how much they might want to be. It seems each of them has a genetic mutation that gives them superhuman traits:

In New York, a struggling artist and comic book writer, Isaac Mendez, has the ability to predict the future in his paintings. His girlfriend Simone wants to put him in drug rehab again, believing this is just some sort of delusion. She finds herself falling for the handsome young male nurse who is caring for her dying father. The nurse, Peter Petrelli, who is likewise falling for Simone, finds he can fly. The problem? So can Peter's domineering, politically ambitious older brother Nathan who wants something this bizarre hushed up.

In Texas, high school cheerleader Claire Bennett finds she is virtually indestructible. She has a friend videotape her repeated dives off a roof from which she comes up unscathed. She plunges into the heart of a fire to rescue an injured man and emerges without a scratch. She sticks her hand down a working garbage disposal to retrieve her class ring, and her bloody mangled hand reverts to normal in seconds. A fellow student leaves her for dead after a rape attempt and Claire awakens during her own autopsy. As if that weren't bad enough, her adoptive father, a nerdy looking guy with horn-rimmed glasses, is hunting down mutants and has found the videotape.

In Las Vegas, Niki Sanders, struggling single mom and webcam stripper, heavily in debt to the mob, discovers she has a really nasty—maybe even homicidal—alter ego that seems to peep out at her from mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Two mob enforcers, sent to shake Niki down, wind up dead in particularly gruesome fashion, and Niki has no memory of what happened. Her alter ego leads her to a vintage candy apple red T-Bird with another yucky very dead body in the trunk and also leads her to a convenient spot in the desert to bury same. There she finds yet another dead body and a ring linking her thug of an ex-husband to the murders. Her seven-year-old son Micah is a genius who can rebuild a computer's motherboard from scratch.

In Tokyo, Hiro Nakamura, a geeky office worker with a passion for science fiction and comic books, discovers he can bend the space time continuum by the force of his will and teleport himself anywhere in the world. He teleports to New York approximately five weeks in the future and finds an Isaac Mendez comic book that describes his adventures. He also finds Isaac has been brutally murdered and gets a glimpse of a future cataclysm that will completely destroy New York—unless he can prevent it.

In Los Angeles, thoroughly average cop Matt Parkman, who failed the test for detective three times, learns he can hear other people's thoughts. Using this new talent, he finds a little girl who has been hiding out in her home after her parents were brutally murdered. He also learns there is a particularly vicious serial killer on the loose named Sylar who is also a mutant and can't be killed by conventional means. Sylar's modus operandi, or M. O. in cop lingo, is to freeze his victims, saw the tops of their heads off, and remove their brains. Blecch!

Meanwhile, a young geneticist, Mohinder Suresh, comes from India to New York trying to make sense of all of this and investigate the death of his father who died under mysterious circumstances while also tracking the mutants. Agents of the man with the horn-rimmed glasses track Mohinder and nearly kill him, but he is rescued by a beautiful young woman who claims to be his father's next door neighbor. In his father's apartment, they find a message on the answering machine—a conversation between Mohinder's father and Sylar the mutant serial killer. Stay tuned.

Think of this show as X-Men meets the X-Files. Mohinder, as the man of science trying to figure this all out is a bit like Professor Xavier, and the guy with the horn-rimmed glasses is this show's equivalent of the Cigarette Smoking Man. NBC is clearly banking on the geek-appeal of this show, trying to reach the folks who love comics and sci-fi. The promos brag about the internet buzz this show is already creating. The official website has downloadable graphic novels, areas for fan fiction ("fanfic" in internet parlance), and a section for fan art. There's already considerable discussion on the show's message boards about whether the cute next door neighbor is actually working for the bad guys.

Some of this smacks of manufactured enthusiasm (or in Noam Chomsky's famous phrase, manufactured consent) that may backfire on NBC in the long run. For a show to have true geek-appeal, the buzz the show generates has to be spontaneous. If the perception arises that all the enthusiasm for a TV show or a film is being artificially created by the suits at the network or the studio without any real excitement from the audience, the project will die horribly. Remember The Wild, Wild West movie? Or, for that matter, The Da Vinci Code? Both movies were heavily promoted, but once the word got out that they were lousy movies, they simply bombed. No amount of hype could save them. If the stories and characters of Heroes remain interesting, the show will prosper. If not, it won't be worth saving.

The show has some problems. During the pilot episode, Mohinder lectures his genetics class on the evolutionary advantages of the cockroach: it can survive adverse conditions for long periods without food, water, or even a head. He then says, "If God creates in his own image, then I suggest to you that God is a cockroach." Later when Mohinder moves into his late father's shabby New York apartment, we see a tight closeup of him stomping a cockroach. What exactly is being implied here? That modern science is stomping on God? That God should be stomped on? I'm not sure. While there's not too much onscreen violence, there's too much blood, guts, and gore afterwards. Sylar's method of killing his victims is particularly grisly; unnecessarily so. The writers can make him scary without making him disgusting.

Nevertheless, I'll keep watching, at least for awhile. But now to bed.


Reel Fanatic said...

I'm with you so far on "Heroes" .. it's easily the best new show this year, and I just love super Hiro!

Dorian Speed said...

I saw the promos and thought it looked good, but since we do all of our TV watching via the Internet, I'm not sure I want to commit. I actually thought it was another JJ Abrams show becuase it has Greg Grunberg, but apparently not.