Heroes is being reborn and Heroes: Reborn is literally the title. I loved the concept when it was first born in 2006. A new way to look at human evolution and super powers and in humans, a reimagining of the Marvel and DC universes combined if you would. Wolverine as a teenage girl, but instead of adamantium claws she’s uses her icy blue eyes to cut bad guys. They even play the daddy issues card having the cheerleaders be adopted by a version of Stephen Trask. (Not going to lie that all seems a little closer to plagiarism than a reimagining to me the more I explore, let move on before everyone gets in trouble.) Imagine Rogue as being able to hold her absorbed powers forever. Nightcrawler not only being able to teleport in real time, but also in space time. It’s not original, how could it be, but it is certainly fun, or it was.I’ve been rewatching the entire series in anticipation of the Heroes: Reborn not because I particularly like the show’s entire run, hell I’d never even finished it, but because of the promise it started with and held through the first season. In this space we are going to talk about it conceptually and how that promise could have functioned better had it not been for the writers strike and a whole host of other missteps.
It started so simply. A sweet male nurse with a severe empathic streak that cares for hospice patients dreams he can fly and then he and his brother both do. An Asian programmer who loves superheroes and comic books tries to bend time and space and does. A painter get high and paints the future! (Opiates as a muse! So classic, so direct, so Beatles!) A watchmaker with the ability to see how these special human abilities work and a desire to be great coalesces with his need to feed his lust for power becomes the villain. Our heroes are charged; “Save the cheerleader, Save the world.” It was a simple mantra with a simple premise and it made a great TV spot. The lines were drawn and the journey began.
The Heroes were messy as they learned to use their powers as they tried to decipher the future, as they tried to find the cheerleader. The villain was equally as sloppy but his focus was narrower, he learned quicker, his lust easily, albeit temporarily satiated by acquiring a new power, but his goal the same, take the cheerleader’s power. It set up a series of protagonists set against an antagonist all centered on the classic tale of a damsel in distress. A more classical milieu you can not find, replete with flying men, time travelers and mind readers.
The first season delivered so well on the promise of that classical milieu and overall that first season still ranks as one of my top debut seasons for any show. Then, well, then it went bad. Not end of the world bad, but maybe that would have been better.
I can appreciate the concepts involved in the overall arc of the series. Heroes versus Villains, is plain and simple and the problem with plain and simple in fiction is that is can get tired and boring to create. And for TV when it’s tired and boring to create it’s tired and boring to watch. People want to create entertainment that is intriguing not predictable. Heroes problem was that it went too far in trying to create intrigue, in trying to be clever. It blurred the lines of Hero and Villain. It crossed the space time continuum so often that a self described space time fiction expert (myself) had trouble following along. The beacon of hope and good Peter PEtrelli was suddenly bad and disfigured? Sylar was a good guy now? What the fuck? The pillars of the show swapped places essentially? It threw everything off for the viewer and for the dynamic of the show. Often times members of the cast likely weren’t feigning shock at finding Peter or Sylar had become their polar opposites because it just didn’t make sense and left the rest of the players stretched far to think in trying to maintain the place of their Heroes world.
The real problem is network TV has lots of things working against it, commercial breaks, and a weekly time slot are the 2 biggest (and they sort of came to head in the time when Heroes was on the air.) Our world and our consumption of entertainment has evolved as our on demand world has evolved. In a this world a show about a hero (Daredevil) or a show about a villain (House of Cards) dumps its entire season on its servers on day 1, without commercials. DVRs and Hulu have helped, but they are limited by hard drive capacity and 5 episode limits. Heroes couldn’t blur the line between Hero, Villain, Time and Space as they did because you can’t follow it without bingeing it. Hell I did binge it and I’m still hazy in places.
Network TV works best with clearly defined lines that rarely get blurred. A version of Law and Order has run for 25 years because their lines are clearly defined. While they are procedural in framwork and don’t often include a lot of on going week to week story lines that is why they exist. If you miss an episode, you can still tune in the next week and Mariska Hargitay and Iced Tea will still be searching out sexual predators. They aren’t about to become the sexual predators.
Some procedurals like that can become boring to creators who are trying to talk about race and sexuality and their places in society through the lens of evolution and mutated human species, as Heroes does, but that doesn’t mean flipping the sides back and forth to create intrigue. All it did in Heroes was create confusion. Lots of confusion about where on the timeline did this happen? How does this event on the timeline affect and change the rest of the timeline. Who was appearing where on the timeline and why?
No I don’t think Heroes should have been more like a procedural, but they should have taken the drawn line lesson about good and bad to heart, because they didn’t and as a result they rushed through much of the exposition and confused people’s interest, they lost people’s hope and broke the promise that season 1 delivered upon.
I’m still not technically done with my rewatch (I’m finishing season 3 as I watch) and have no idea what season 4 has in store for me, but I know the show got canceled so it can’t be great. So while Season 3 has done a much better job defining the lines, it was too late for the masses and it was too late even for me, the eternal optimist when it comes to TV entertainment. (If you don’t believe that ask @miscastmusic on twitter.)
I don’t know what Heroes: Reborn will be, so it’s likely an attempt at a reboot, a Save by the Bell: The New Class with the cheerleaders adopted father being the lone holdover, the Richard Belding if I may be so bold. I’ll watch it on Hulu, but I don’t have high hopes. That broken promise of hope cut me deep in the later parts of season 2 and first parts of season 3 of my first watching and rewatching it isn’t helping, but somewhere in my head that hope still wants to believe I can have that first season experience all over again. That I can revisit that world that grew out of that simple mantra “save the cheerleader, save the world.”