Oh Heroes. What’s happened to you? What’s happened to your sense of wonder? Your sense of something bigger out there? Your sense of mere humans affected by powers that they stumble over—yet so many of them remain human, with motives that range from family to greed to a desire to help others.
In short, what happened to all the things that made you good tv?
Okay, some of you have really liked Season 2 and are enamored of the Season 3 2-hour pilot. This article is not for you. This article is for us, the discontented—the 25% of us who stopped watching, and those who watched but didn’t like what they saw, and think it’s a bad sign for the episodes to come. Although hope does spring eternal.
So what makes for good television, and how can Heroes be fixed?
Good television is what it’s always been—good storytelling. Even sports and the WWF involve stories that draw us to the screen—who of us doesn’t feel the tension and bad times or good times of the Superbowl? We definite a good Superbowl by how much drama it generates. We loved our Dream Team. The Olympics are stories of courage and feats of derring-do and incredible strength, endurance, flexibility. And the WWF is scripted.
In my opinion—and perhaps those of others—Heroes has lost its way where a good story is concerned.
Fixing Heroes means fixing the story-telling aspects of it.
Of course, Season 1 is a hard act to follow. In Seasons 2 and 3, we have established characters we love (or hate, the other side of the coin) who know their powers, so the story of finding and discovering themselves is pretty much over. And that’s one of the best stories in the world. We need to find something else as grand—and barring that, we need to find the kernels of what made Season 1 spectacularly enthralling, and what’s missing from Season 2.
And we need to find a way to make sure that the Seasons following Season 1 aren’t just rehashes of Season 1. I’m sure most of you remember where Lost went.
So here are seven ways I’ve thought of for fixing Heroes. I’m sure y’all can think of more.
1. Please stop retreading old ground.
We have traveled to a dark future multiple times already. We have dealt with fixing a dark future multiple times already. This is fine and is indeed a trip-wire that leads to people knowing that a big saving of all of humanity, or all of the super-powered folks, or whatever, is necessary.
Find some other way for the characters to detect these problems.
2. Please save humanity again.
I don’t want to sound cold-hearted, because we all love the characters, who happen to almost all be super-powered. But right now there’s some serious narcissism going on as far as our super-powered folks are concerned. They’re concentrated on saving each other, preventing disasters that will harm the evolved folks and thus presumably the rest of humanity.
But dude. Saving humanity is what super-powered folks are for. The soap opera is a nice aside, but these guys aren’t the fickle and uncaring gods of the Greece and Rome; they’re people like us. Why don’t they care about us?
There are tons of ways to threaten everybody (and thus also threaten them). And then they all have to work together—or not—and thus we have drama and it matters to everybody.
So find some other wide-scoping disaster.
3. Please kill the deux-ex-machinas.
Or else render them permanently non-deux-ex-machinas.
You know the ones I’m talking about—they’re called Peter and Sylar. Deux-ex-machinas are boring—they’re more capable of removing drama than invigorating it. When someone can save the world with a snap of the fingers, or someone can kill everybody by being really strong-willed and indestructible, you’re left with them fighting each other and everyone else more or less inconsequential.
We love other characters than Peter and Sylar. Let them matter.
4. Please stop the revolving door of resurrection.
This is another variation of let them matter. When someone sacrifices themselves for a reason, the cost should matter—they should be gone. When many people expend a season’s (or a season-and-a-half’s) worth of effort to kill someone, that someone should be dead.
Otherwise it’s kind of all “Oh no, Noah is gonna be deaded! Oh wait, it doesn’t matter, he’s going to get healed. Oh thank gods Sylar is deaded! Oh wait, it doesn’t matter, he’s coming back.”
You kill a lot of drama this way; the stakes are no longer high. Also see point #2: please save humanity again.
Of course, resurrection can still be worked in, but it still has to matter; things need to have changed significantly. To take a Biblical example if I may: yes, Jesus sacrificed himself and was resurrected. But he did not come back to Earth and live a normal life of happy and thus make the whole “dying for our sins” thing not matter.
So please make the sacrifices and costs matter, and the stakes high and deadly so that decisions are made for better—or, given human nature, worse.
5. Please grow our heroes.
I will miss Hiro’s enthusiasm. I will miss Jessica’s tormented soul. I will miss Claire’s youthful goodness. And I will even miss Peter’s whining.
But for gods’ sakes please let them grow. Let their experiences change them. Let their choices and decisions matter in the future formation of their personalities. This is normal stuff that happens to human beings. And as pumped with weirdness as they are, the characters of Heroes are still people.
Or else they are non-people, in which case I believe audience sympathy drops through the floor.
Please let our characters develop.
6. Please mine the past.
Our history shapes our future. All our wars, all our protests, and yes, even all our horrible choices for clothes and music—they have all mattered. Even if they mattered for just a short while, they remain in the memories of our cultures, of our heritage.
This is true for the earth-shattering events in history, the ones that end up in history books and we all have to write essays on in school and college.
But this is also true for ourselves. Our family histories matter. Even if our families are toxic, even if they’re dead, they still shape us, they still matter—echoes from a past that is ever part of us.
And then there’s Heroes. Important events happened in the past, from the relatively recent to the ancient. How did they come to rumble our present and possibly our future? We never saw the full extent of them—these are rich mines indeed.
Plus, you know, then you can bring back stars in important roles and stuff without rehashing endlessly, and let us see the people they used to be. Connect from past to present. Yes, Lost kind of went overboard with that, but it was an important story-telling mechanic for what it was. And someone can figure out how to make it smoother, to work better—forging history in television and storytelling.
Please take advantage of history.
7. Please reintroduce the sense of wonder.
Part of the charm of Season 1 was all the incredible things that the character discovered themselves doing. And alongside them, we shared that sense of discovery. Wonder can be positive; wonder can be terrible; but in all cases, wonder gives us a sense of something different. Something beyond our experiences.
And plus the wonder being discovered was cool. Visually, personally; they were incredible and awe-inspiring. These powers interacted with our characters and with those around them. And the supporting powers, like Isaac’s powers of prophecy, bound our disparate characters across thousands of miles, across the world. How awesome is that?
Nowadays we know these powers, and so do the characters, which makes sense of wonder as refers to initial self-discovery difficult. From Hiro’s time-traveling to the connection between people, we know these things.
Or we think we know them.
Do something different. Flip things on their heads, find new and awe-inspiring further effects of existing powers, figure out new connections or disconnections. Some things taken for granted in earlier Seasons—figure out ways to make them suddenly matter. That alone is wow so long as what matters has an interesting impact.
Heroes. These problems are hard. They’re not easily overcome. But they’re vital if your show is going to survive longer than 3 seasons. Possibly there’s only enough story to last three seasons—in which case, tie it all up nicely with a bow.
But bring back the storytelling of win. The plot, the characters, the sense of wonder. They are your foundations and your saving graces.
Still, this is easy for me to say. Doing is much harder. I salute the production crew, the actors, and the writers regardless. Good tv is hard. Very hard.