My daughter is a big fan of NBC’s hit show Heroes and she’s been bugging me to watch it pretty much since it first hit the airwaves. I missed the premiere and it was clear that it wasn’t the sort of show you can jump into the middle of easily so I refused to watch it while it was on. Then she used some of her birthday money to buy herself the first season on DVD and told me I now had no excuse not to watch it. So that’s what I did this weekend in a two day marathon of staying up way too late.
It was better than I expected, but still failed to make me into a fan. It’s the sort of show that I’d watch if I happened to be in the mood to watch TV and it happened to be on at the time, but I wouldn’t make a point to watch it and I’m not going to rush out and buy a Tivo so I can time shift it. Considering that it’s the sort of show you have to keep up with if you want to know what’s going on chances are I won’t be watching season 2 until the DVDs come out. My biggest problem with it was it wasn’t long before it started feeling like a soap opera about super heroes. Everyone was connected to everyone else in at least some minor way and many of the characters interact with each other at various points without realizing it, which is impressive considering they’re scattered all over the world. By mid to late season we learn that this character is actually the daughter of that character that was thought to have died in a fire when she was a baby and was saved by her uncle who shot J.R. until Bobby Ewing woke up and realized the whole thing had been a dream. OK, they didn’t pull the its-all-been-a-dream trick, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had.
The show also seemed to be unable to decide whether it wanted to go with a scientific sounding explanation or a spiritual one for the existence of these people’s powers. Things get off to a bad start in the very first scene in the very first episode when we have an Indian geneticist teaching a class full of students who trots out the “we only use 10% of our brain power” falsehood to explain the potential for people to have super powers. Then we learn that his father used the recently completed human genome project to figure out that powers as disparate as self-powered flight to time travel to the ability to recover from any injury are not only possible, but he’s managed to put together a list of people that might have these abilities. This is one of those situations where being scientifically literate causes a problem with enjoying a TV show. Putting aside for a moment the fact that the human genome project will probably take quite some time to deliver the really spectacular insights, the simple fact is that most of the super powers exhibited in the show violate everything we know about physics to begin with so how you could explain them through genetics alone is a big problem not to mention how this guy managed to put together a list of people, where they live, and what powers they might have based on their genes. Later on in the series there’s a lot of god-talk between characters that seemed like they wanted to try and explain the powers as being gifts from god or something, but my eyes glazed over about half-way through and I don’t remember most of what was said now. I just remember wondering if I was going to sprain my eyes from rolling them so many times in a row.
On the good side the effects were pretty good for a TV series with only a few of them being obviously CGI when you saw them. In fact, watching the making-of special on one of the discs I was surprised at how much they made use of CGI set extensions and effects to flesh out the world. Compared to a lot of attempts at super hero shows on network TV in the past, this one was of consistently higher quality. Most of the characters seemed reasonably complex enough and it was easy to like some of them, hate others, and be sympathetic for those who were in shades of grey. The acting was decent for the most part and outstanding in some cases. When the Nicky/Jessica character switched from one personality to another you could tell instantly just in the shift in tone the actress undertook. That’s a good trick if you can do it.
I have to admit that I was very disappointed in the final battle after all the buildup it received through the whole series. In terms of apocalyptic showdowns it was underwhelming with a fight that lasted only a couple of minutes, very little in the way of awesome powers of destruction being unleashed considering how powerful the two people involved in it were supposed to be, and the obligatory no-one-noticed-the-super-villain-crawled-into-the-sewer scene. I was impressed, however, with just how graphic some of the scenes in the series were. It was also fun to see Christopher Eccleston fresh from Doctor Who show up as well as Star Trek alum George Takei. Overall I thought it was OK, but, as I said earlier, nothing I’d make a point to watch. I could do without some of the soap opera elements it had, but I suspect that’s part of what made it so popular with the masses.