Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Be Smarter, TV! (Part 2): "Heroes"

Characters realizing they have some essential skill sets they’re not using – like, say, basic human intelligence – would reeeeallly help out “Heroes,” which just returned with a bombastic two-hour premiere.

There’s a lot to like about “Heroes” – for one thing, there’s nothing else like it on TV right now. It is a full-on superhero soap opera. But that's part of the problem - it seems to be taking a lot of cues from similarly-soapy mid-70’s Marvel comics, ignoring the fact that those stories were based less on logic and more on the limited amount of pages they had to tell a tale.

So the writers have a lot of real live people behaving as stupidly as a hastily-written comic book character might, while hoping real live viewers will accept it.

Let’s take the series’ most consistently stupid character: resident scientist Dr. Mohinder Suresh, ironically enough. The writers seem to be following the character template of X-Men character Dr. Henry McCoy, The Beast.

Way back when, McCoy concocted what he thought was a cure to his mutant genes. When bad guys came to his lab looking to kill him and steal the formula for nefarious ends, he hastily swallowed the potion, and as a result mutated further, growing blue fur and fangs.

Now on “Heroes” we have Mohinder, who – after studying the body chemistry of a girl who is basically a walking plague whenever she gets upset – develops a potion he thinks would give anyone superpowers. Which is all of a sudden important to him for some reason that's never come up before.

Plague-Girl quite rightly points out that this formula at least needs further study, and at best should be destroyed. So let’s play “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Does Mohinder:
A) Dispose of the no-doubt toxic sample in a proper, EPA-approved way, like any half-smart scientist would know how to;
B) Contemplate tossing the sample into New York Harbor despite its potentially catastrophic effects on the local sea life, or
C) Cram the whole thing straight into his veins for no apparent reason?

If you guessed A, I’m sorry, you terribly smart readers. That was a trick - on this show, it was never even an option. No, our genius sticks it straight into his veins.

Then, after an initial high of superpowers, he’s surprised – shocked, even! – to find bits of skin peeling off him. Well, yeah, MOHINDER.

With very few exceptions, every character on the show exhibits highly variable levels of intelligence. This is not rare on TV, unfortunately. Dramatic tension is usually a byproduct of people not asking obvious questions at opportune times (see: "Lost," season 2).

But…come on. This isn’t “Why didn’t Peter use his telepathy to see if a guy’s telling the truth?” That’s the nitpicking you just have to ignore with a show like this.

This is “What self-respecting scientist would inject himself with a chemical even he admitted needed more testing?” It’s a character ignoring basic human reasoning skills for the sake of a character arc.

The well-founded complaint of season 2 was that things moved too slowly, that old characters treaded water while new unconnected characters were introduced haphazardly (see: complaints about “Lost: Season 2”). But in its haste to course-correct, “Heroes” has started season 3 by overcompensating and having its characters Doing Stuff, no matter how poorly-conceived.

I still have high hopes for the season, because, well, I’m an optimist at heart (ha ha). Also it’s got Kristen Bell guest-starring. And lest we forget, things didn’t look so rosy on “Lost” at the outset of season 3, either.

But then, “Lost” didn’t seem to be tying all of its stories into the fact that half the characters were actually related (Sylar's a Petrelli? C'mon, what does that add?) and the grim fate of the world needed to be averted yet a third time (thanks to yet a third nightmarish vision of the future).

There are stories to be told here. Invincible Claire starting to question her own humanity if she can’t feel pain. Whatever arc Noah Bennet is going to go through. The existential dilemma represented by the fact that the mere presence of all these superpowered folk means the world is on the brink of destruction no matter what they do. These all point to a show with a bit of cleverness.

But somehow I’m lacking confidence. It might be because the guy who should have a faint clue as to what’s going on is absolutely confounded why he’s sloughing off skin after sticking Plague-Girl’s blood inside him.


thechicgeek said...

Definitely a mis-connect on the Suresh plot. WTF, dude? I think I said this last season, but they are pretty close to jumping the shark on this one. And by close I mean the Fonz has his leather jacket and swim trunks on, and he's revving the motorcycle. Ayyyy!

Marie said...

I can't believe you didn't mention Marlo Stanfield showing up. MARLO STANFIELD!

ISTV Global Stronghold said...

Ah yes. If he does anything interesting in the next couple episodes, I will comment.

For now, I'll just say in terms of post-"Wire" casting, his appearance here beats the crap out of Michael on "90210," but is still not as fly as Lance Reddick on both "Fringe" AND "Lost."