Getting Lost in Heroes

November 21st, 2006 | Posted in General

Last night was the first night I actually watched an episode of Heroes at air time. Well, it was an hour after it actually aired, but close enough. Looks like my Monday nights will be booked for the foreseeable future… thanks a lot, Tim Kring! Really… thanks. This show is a gem. It’s riddled with interesting and deep characters, and unlike Lost it is not afraid to actually advance the plot in leaps and bounds. It’s sci-fi, but not reliant on the sci-fi part for it’s interest.

Sure, I’m a comic book fanboy, or used to be until comics got so bad I became tired of how deep I had to dig to find one worth reading. But appeal to Fanboy Nation is not the reason why this have- to- watch- every- episode- or- you- miss- something- important- show is a runaway hit during a TV season that has demonstrated the over-serialized drama is a hard sell these days. I’ve read that Heroes creator Tim Kring knew virtually nothing about comics or super-heroes before conceiving of the show. I think that fresh perspective makes all the difference. This show isn’t about mutants with amazing powers… it’s about people, who happen to have amazing powers, and some date with destiny thrown in. Kring and his writers have created characters that vary from the complex to the despicable to the naive and idealistic. Somehow none of them end up as caricatures or cardboard cutouts, despite the enormous ease in which they might end up so. None of them are defined by their powers. Many in fact are tortured by them, trying to cope. Some are just confused by them, and some are in denial. Only one is truly embracing them, and he IS a comic book geek with an innocence you know cannot last. The bottom line is that these are people we can care about. Maybe we don’t like them, at least not all the time. Maybe we don’t know what to think of them sometimes, but we care about what happens next.

I wasn’t sold on the show after the first episode. While I liked it there was too much “this is their power…” going on, and it looked to me like most everyone was going to have a Peter Parker-like angst and complex over their abilities. If everyone was like that it would be too depressing. There also was the predictable “mysterious bad guy/organization”, and what I thought was an overblown attempt at making it all seem so mysterious. My immediate reaction was “not another hidden conspiracy show” ala the X-Files, which overstayed it’s welcome by about 2 full seasons. I loved the idea of people with superpowers out there, and the fun that seeing them use their powers would be. I thought the show would be predictable in that it would follow the kind of formula that other super-serials have in the last few years: Slow burning stories with endless, small and repetitive character development, and an IV drip-like doling out of actual pivotal moments and plot advances… all designed to drag things out season after season.

Shame on me for being so pessimistic. Can you blame me, though? After all, Lost is (or was) my favorite show on TV. Imagine my surprise when Heroes did the unthinkable… actually advanced the story! Not only that, it fleshed out the characters in ways it would take whole seasons for Lost to do, flashbacks or no. Like I said before, we care about what happens to the Heroes next, and the best part is that things DO happen to them next. Even the “mysterious” man with the horned rimmed glasses (H.R.G. as he is apparently known on the internet, ala the Cigarette Smoking Man’s C.S.M.) is being stripped of his mystery at an alarming rate. He’s even becoming likable, and another villain is taking center stage. These writers apparently have no fear. They have a story to tell and they intend to tell it… THIS season. What a refreshing change from the aches of the plot starvation diet many other shows have their viewers on.

The characters are getting more and more interesting. Some more than others, but very few are misfiring.

Peter Petrelli came off in the first two or so episodes as a whiny and emotionally messed up (in the predictable sense) punk. Turns out he has a lot of steel in him, not just for putting his life on the line but for embracing his abilities for what they are. He was the ultimate hollowed out kid looking for a meaning to his life, and that makes him a perfect vessel to get on board the whole “save the world” thing without a second of doubt. He could have easily been one of the most shallow characters, but he’s actually one of the most interesting.

Nathan Petrelli, the high flying wannabe congressmen, is one of the more complex characters. He’s selfish and has a dark side. He’s one of the less likable characters, but arresting none-the-less. The reluctant hero? I think he will turn out to be that, because if he was truly that self-absorbed and hungry for power he’d be flying all over the place and basking in the glory of stunning the world with his ability. There’s a lot still to learn with him.

Mind reading L.A. Cop Matt Parkman is one of the less interesting characters to me. I don’t care much about his marriage and the actor plays him a bit too slow and fuzzy headed. However I think we may find he will be one of the principal heroes in the eventual climax of the story line. His powers may seem mundane compared to some, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he discovers other mental abilities as time goes on. I hope they start dealing with him more as he is perhaps the character we know the least… he’s been missing from several episodes completely.

Jekyll and Hyde Niki Sanders is definitely one of the most interesting of the characters. No need to go into the complexity of her character, it’s obvious. We still don”t know much about what she can do, although she clearly has heightened strength and speed when she changes to Jessica, her Hulk-like alter ego. I was sorry to see Niki completely suppressed after her son was taken by his father… she’s much more interesting when there is a back and forth between her and Jessica. I suspect that will come back soon. Niki will start to exert her will and fight for possession of their body… likely at some inopportune times. It would not surprise me if she eventually became like Alan Moore’s Jekyll/Hyde. At first Hyde was only let loose when he was needed, but eventually he took over completely. I Think Micha will prevent that from ever happening, but no doubt there will be a battle for control between the two personalities.

Claire Bennet, the indestructible cheerleader, is another character that could have been either a one-dimensional caricature or an overblown angst-ridden crybaby. She’s neither. She’s a normal 16 year old who can’t understand why she is the way she is. At first it looked like she’d spend a the season agonizing over being different and how it may affect her popularity or other similar shallow teenager worries. Once again the writers showed no fear in allowing her to grow as a person and a character, having her do things like almost get raped and then use her powers to almost kill her attacker in a car later. Yet she isn’t suddenly a wise adult in a cheerleader outfit, she still retains a teenager’s perspective right down to her lip-glossed grin.

Isaac Mendez, the seer painter, is one of the few misfires in the cast. He doesn’t seem full of the believability the others have. The need to use heroin to see the future is an old and overused plot device (the seers always have to toke up to see anything of value). I can excuse the tired stereotype of a tortured visionary… if this guy really seemed tortured. But here is a rare miscasting in the show (in my opinion). Actor Santiago Cabrera looks about as tortured as your friendly, neighborhood male supermodel. The guy doesn’t even look dirty. He’s got one of those “yes I’m unkempt but it’s a purposefully hot kind of unkempt” looks that you can tell took a hairdresser an hour to achieve. I guess I’d rather have seen someone in the role that really looked like and made us believe they were a heroin addict. Maybe he’ll surprise me in the role, but right now Isaac is my least favorite Hero.

Kitty Pride-ish D.L. Hawkins, Niki’s estranged husband, it on the run from the law. Things are pretty complex there, with Jessica being the one who framed him. There’s a lot still to find out here, but there is an instant magnetism to Leonard Roberts‘ portrayal of the character, and his complexity may be as deep as Niki’s.

Boy genius Micah Sanders… can you say “Wesley Crusher“? I really hate boy genius characters. Turns out the kid has powers over electronics somehow, but still…. I hope they find something for him to do soon. I guess he and Isaac could duke it out for the character basement in my book.

Geneticist Mohinder Suresh, son of the man who ‘discovered’ the heroes. So far he hasn’t done much, but he sure gets screen time. At least they let him out of that apartment. He needs to get involved more… enough agonizing over if he should or if he shouldn’t get on with his father’s work. Please… every mad scientist’s heirs carry on their work. Everyone knows that.

Time bending Hiro Nakamura– Ah! It’s no coincidence that Masi Oka‘s character resonates the most with viewers. Here is the naive and optimistic innocent we all wish could be endowed with fantastic powers in a world where everyone seems bent on self interest, and reckless hate spills over country boundaries and reaches across seas. Hiro is by far the most powerful of the heroes, and he has nothing but the purest of intentions and interests. How can someone so cartoonish be so real and make us care? He’s like the wide eyed younger brother or best friend we all had as kids… looking through the eyes of a kid with perfect understanding of a world in black and white. When he sees some grays, he just shrugs and doesn’t let it get in his way. Refreshing.

The show doesn’t play to the geek value of the powers much, but when the sci-fi intrudes, it is even more jarring. Claire’s moment on the autopsy table really blew my mind. Future Hiro, one who spoke perfect english, had a samurai sword and looked bad-ass, was a fantastic foreshadowing moment. I knew when I saw that scene that the writers were going to have some mind warping time travel plot elements. Nathan’s flight in the desert was quick but highly cool. They are playing that angle just right.

At first one big problem I had with the show at first was the Dickensian coincidences that occurred with distressing regularity. Dickens’ novels are full of people who run into one another constantly despite being in a large city or after large amounts of time passing. That seems to me to be lazy and an easy way to make things happen. Mohinder happens to pick up Peter in his cab. Hiro happens to come across the Isaac comic book with him in it. Hiro happens to almost run into Niki at a casino in Vegas. Matt happens to work a Sylar crime scene, Niki and DL happen to hook up together and have a kid. Hiro happens to be in a roadside diner when Nathan flies in and he in the only one to see him land, etc. etc. This was getting on my nerves until I read an article where Kring put forth his underlying theory about his show. “What if,” Kring explained, “in times of profound global duress, Mother Nature created new forms of life to deal with it?” That got me thinking that the coincidences make sense if destiny and a purpose created these people, one that binds them to the task they were meant to undertake. A little deus ex machina? Yes, but I can live with that a lot more easily than to think these coincidences are just that, coincidences.

What Lost is missing Heroes has found: a story not afraid of advancing and characters not afraid to evolve. Of course you have to forgive Lost in a way… they are stuck on an island and are forced to look inward for much of the story line and development, whereas Heroes has a whole, wide world in which to operate and for new story elements to intrude. I was concerned that once the show hit it big the brakes would squeal and the plot would slow to a crawl as seasons beyond were contemplated with hand wringing and cash registers ka-chinging. I was pleased to hear Tim Kring say in another article that the “Nuclear New York” plot line would be wrapped up by the end of the season, and that a new story for the Heroes would begin next fall.

Even if season two falls on it’s face and this is a one season wonder (I doubt that, but I will smell a shark-jumping a’comin’ when Chandra Suresh shows up alive) it would be worth it for one, glorious season where a story is told, told well, and told completely.


  1. mengblom says:

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the show. It’s definitely “Must See TV” in our home.

    I agree with many of your observations (though I’m quite a bit more interested in the psychic cop than you are). I’m glad to see they’ve finally “turned the corner” with Mohinder, since his “wandering in the wilderness” of doubt was wearing a little thin. I wonder if he will take on some sort of “Professor X” kind of role (there’s those superhero archetypes exerting themselves again).

    Hiro bugged the hell out of me for the first several episodes (with it’s razor’s edge flirtation with idiotic stereotypes), but his good-hearted nature eventually won me over. I like how his friend seems to have been completely swept up into the adventure, never quite understanding what’s going on yet still a good friend to Hiro.

    I agree that the show seems to be moving along at a nice clip, but I must say: I’ve observed just a BIT of slow-down in the last couple of weeks, as if the inevitable anchor was slowly dropping. The introduction of the mysterious “pixie girl” playing double-agent all over the place seems to be one of those classic “X-factors” they throw in to fuzz things up. Nikki’s story seems to be pumping the brakes as well.

    Still, it’s moving along…and there’s always something delivered each week that makes me glad I watched (though I could probably get through the rest of the season without seeing the soccer playing girly-boy who visits people’s dreams).

  2. Sendak says:

    Jeeeez, Tom, you REALLY got your geek on for this one. LOL. Excellent review actually. I’m loving this show too. I’ve only missed one episode and thats cause I was in the middle of a move and didn’t have the cable on yet.

  3. lostinspace says:

    Heya Tom! Came across your site through a search on heroes and comics 😉 We discovered Heroes about a month ago as well, and it’s just eaten our brains since then. I’ve enjoyed your blog (thoughts and caricatures) thus far and was wondering if you’d be ok if I passed the link on to the fans at the (un)official 9th Wonders board and the Heroes LiveJournal communities? There’s a great group of fans who’d appreciate your work and probably like to connect with you about art et al. No worries if not! Cheers, lis


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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