The year is 2006. It’s the height of the aughts, and Daniel Powter was having a “Bad Day.” I was a struggling journalist in Western Nebraska, trying to stay awake in the midst of local city council meetings and agricultural reports. Ideal Comics was just starting, a small, but slightly illuminous light on the landscape of independent comicdom. It was a weird time, is what I’m saying.
In this midst of all of this, I — along with millions of other comic book fans — became enamored with Tim Kring’s Heroes, a TV show focused on people who discover amazing abilities and have to decide what they want to do with them. The show was fresh and interesting, featuring a strong script, fantastic storyline, and great performances by all of the principal actors. There was mystery and intrigue, and action and suspense, all along with this underlying question of what makes a hero. It’s not an original question by any means, but it was one of the few times that primetime TV had attempted to address it, and comic book fans like myself were hooked.
At least with the first season.
Now, I fell off the bandwagon about four or five episodes into the second season. I was struggling to stay interested, and I ultimately lost that battle. From what I hear, though, I jumped shipped at a good time. The series quickly went downhill, and the following two and a half seasons are often the target of ridicule from fans that had previously praised the first season. I eventually pushed the series to the back of my mind, content with the idea that I had dodged a bullet. Clearly, I didn’t really miss anything.
A few weeks ago, though, that all changed. My wife found Heroes on Netflix and, finding the idea interesting, started watching it. She had never seen the series before, but she was quickly hooked on the first season as most people are. I watched in the background, as I worked on my computer and such, and slowly found myself drawn in again. Trust me when I say that the first season of Heroes is good TV. It is as well-written as I remember, and it definitely holds up even ten years later. Before long, I found myself rewatching this series with her, all of the feelings from when I first watched the show returning.
But, there was a major change this time. When season 2 came on, I didn’t stop. I just kept on watching. Over the past few weeks, we have watched all four seasons of Heroes, and as of writing this, we only have the series finale left which we’ll most likely watch tonight. I can see a lot of the problems that people have with the series, and I can definitely agree that it went downhill in seasons 3 and 4. I’m not sure it’s as bad as I’ve heard some people say, but I might feel differently had I watched every week, rather than binge-watching them all in one shot. I know there were a few episodes of the third season in which absolutely nothing happened, and I would have definitely felt robbed those weeks, had I been a regular watcher. Binge-watched, though, it’s not God-awful. It’s not good, but it’s not God-awful.
In light of such criticism of the series from the die-hard fans, I’m actually a little surprised that NBC is choosing to reboot the series with a new mini-series called Heroes Reborn. This new series starts in less than a week and looks to feature a few returning characters, along with a host of new faces and powers. Some people are seeing this series as a chance for NBC to right the wrongs of the past. Others — the more cynical of us — believe that NBC is just banking on our nostalgia, looking to cash in any goodwill it has remaining from the brilliant first season. I’m not sure where I fall in that camp, but I do believe there are a few things NBC can do with this series to avoid some of the pitfalls from the first series. While these ideas are in no way a fix for all of the problems that the series encountered, I do believe a few of them can help rebuild some of the magic contained within the first season.
(Note: I should state, right now, that I have not watched any of the webisodes that bridge the gap between the two series. We’ll probably watch them this week. So, any ideas I have here that conflict with those webisodes — forgive me in advance. Maybe I’ll write an addendum after I watch them. Also, forewarning: spoilers abound. So, beware.)
First and foremost, keep all of the characters focused on a singular goal. In the first two seasons — the best seasons, really — there was a strong drive for each character, culminating in a single event, a climax that held the fate of the world in its hands. Later seasons saw all of the characters branching off into their own directions, and the storylines all started to break down. You had story ideas start and then stop. You had characters with completely separate storylines from the main story, who were then clumsily shoehorned in at the last moment to bring together some sort of coherency. The first season — and even the second to a point — felt like a self-contained story, involving multiple threads that were all related in some way. The later seasons, not so much.
Second, along those lines, stop introducing storylines and then abandoning them. In the third season, Claire made such a big deal about losing the ability to feel pain. She talked all about how she couldn’t feel anything anymore, and she was worried about how eventually, she might even lose her emotions. Then, the eclipse happened, and it was never, ever mentioned again. Even if a storyline is bad, at least give us some resolution. In the fourth season, Hiro got a brain tumor, Peter went to Georgia to get the healing power, and then nothing. Two episodes in to the storyline, Peter got a new power, and the storyline jumped ship. Part of the joy of the first season was seeing all of these different threads come together. Do that again.
Third, stop giving people random powers. In the first season, Isaac Mendez’s power was very useful. The writers were able to storyboard entire events through Isaac’s paintings. The second season did the same thing. With Mendez’s death, however, the writers lost that crutch. To fix this, they basically gave the power to Matt Parker — for some reason that isn’t explained all that well. Something about a prophecy or a line of prophets or something. I don’t know. There’s no reason for Matt to have the future-painting ability, so why give it to him? Hiro went through the same spirit walk that Matt did in Africa — why not give the power to Hiro? Since Hiro’s ability is time-travel, that seems like a better fit. Later, Ando was given some sort of boost ability which is never referenced again, his power basically becoming red lightning bolts. Mohinder is then given a bunch of generic powers. None of these additions enhanced the story at all, and most of the time, they were only there for the sole purpose of moving the plot along. Bad form.
And, lastly, give me a well-defined villain who I can’t stop watching. Before he started all of the emotional angst of later seasons, Sylar was a great villain. He was sinister, and he was scary. Plus, he was a great foil to Peter, who was quickly becoming the “star” of the hero side. Most importantly, he had direction and purpose. He had a clear motivation that made sense. To a somewhat similar degree, I think you had the same thing with Adam Monroe in the second season. His motivation made sense. After centuries of seeing humans piss away the world, I’m sure I would feel like hitting a big old reset button myself. Compare both of them to Samuel Sullivan in the fourth season. I have no idea what his goal or motivation is. Is it the woman? Is it hatred? Is he evil? I have watched 17 episodes of this fourth season in the last week, and I have no idea what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Now, again, I haven’t watched the finale. But, I can’t possibly see how they could possibly pull that out in forty-five minutes. At any rate, they haven’t done it for the entire season, which seems like a waste. I think he could have been a cool character had they spent some time giving us an understanding of who he is and why we should care about him. We need a good villain to keep us watching.
I don’t know if they’ll be able to pull any of this off with the new series. Tim Kring is coming back, and that’s a good sign. I think his vision is much of what guided the first season. For all I know, though, they’ll drop the ball again, and we’ll further the crapstorm that was seasons 3 and 4. I do know that the characters are there, and the ideas are still cool. If done right, I think the new season could be a return to form for the series. Here’s hoping.