Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hardly a surprise, but...

"Heroes" has been cancelled. So has "Flashforward".

I very much doubt that the demise of "Flashforward" comes as a shock to anyone - any series that needs a three-month hiatus to stabilize itself, after losing two showrunners in rapid succesion, after only nine episodes, is utterly doomed. Still, it had a rather interesting premise and solid, capable actors.

Why, then, did I lose interest in it so quickly (along with the rest of America, it seems)? I suspect the main reason was the overabundance of irrelevant subplots: there were about a dozen storylines introduced (again, in nine episodes) and few of them had any meaningful connection. Yes, our FBI protagonist's investigation and his potentially-doomed marriage are worth following, not so much the tale of his AA sponsor's war-ravaged daughter. The cancer-stricken doctor is certainly sympathetic, but the babysitter? Not really. And the writers throw in so many red herrings and dead-ends that it just turned into a confusing jumble after only a few months. With cast members jumping ship even before the official announcement, it's probably best to quietly turn out the lights and call it a day.

"Heroes" is, of course, another matter altogether. At one time occupying the top spot on my must-see TV list, its downfall was a far more protracted and painful affair.

In many ways, it was a series that comic book aficionados like myself had been waiting for: an original, live-action superhero drama that took itself seriously while tossing the an occasional wink to the old conventions and tropes. It was the X-Men without giant robots and spandex; it was "Watchmen" without the overwhelming pessimism; it was "Astro City" set in New York without the pre-arranged public acceptance of superhumans.

(The fact that they had Milo Ventimiglia, Zachary Quinto and Adrian Pasdar, sometimes on the same screen? Well, that was just a bonus for me personally.)

And despite various hiccups along the way, the first season managed to tell a good story, with a great villain in Sylar. There was suspense, romance, a few dramatic deaths, a fair amount of action (though I'm sure the Kirby Plaza showdown could've used a bit more flash) and more; all in all, an excellent start.

Then the second season came, and... well, that's where the decline started, though it was gradual enough that you might not notice it without hindsight. Of course, Tim Kring's defense is that the WGA strike brought an abrupt halt to the season - technically true, since the second season lasted 11 episodes rather than the traditional 22-24.

But even if you take those eleven episodes on their own merits, they're not particularly good, largely because they just reiterate the first season's strengths in a lesser capacity: another apocalyptic threat, another trip to a dystopian future, another Mystery From The Past (and wow was that revelation a letdown) and so on. Characters started doing very foolish things simply because the plot demanded it. Guest stars such as Nichelle Nichols, Joanna Cassidy and Nicholas D'Agosto were utterly wasted despite being built up as significant figures in the storyline.

The real turning point, in my opinion, was showrunner Tim Kring's decision to abandon his original plan for the series, wherein each season would feature a different cast of characters. It was a daring plan and one that could have worked quite easily: if you can create six popular characters, there's no reason why you can't create six more further down the line. And by the first season finale most of the characters had wrapped up their individual subplots: Sylar was defeated and probably killed, Hiro completed his quest, Nathan and Peter saved each other, the Hawkins family was reunited... all nice and neat, minus a few loose threads.

And instead of leaving well enough alone, Kring preserved the cast in the second season... and then dumped a whole batch of new characters on his viewers. Some, like Dana Davis' Monica Dawson and Kristen Bell's electrifying (in more ways than one) turn as Elle Bishop, were instant darlings; others, like Mexican twins Maya and Alejandro and seasonal Big Bad Adam Monroe (played by David Anders), were... less successful. To put it both mildly and politely.

The problem was, of course, that having these second-stringers around only demonstrated how poorly their storylines were being handled in comparison to the ones who'd been around for a whole season already. It didn't work because the writers simply didn't have the time to develop the new characters while formulating new storylines for characters they'd already established.

Then the third season lapsed into utter nonsense: more new characters, hopelessly entangled subplots, and a loss of anything even remotely resembling coherence. Notable guest stars such as Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, John Glover, Francis Capra and Dan Byrd were kept from making any significant contribution (indeed, most of them just stood around and talked for a while before disappearing into the ether and never returning).

Of course, the end result of this increasingly rapid degeneration was painfully clear: rather than embodying the best aspects of the superhero genre, "Heroes" came to represent said genre's worst excesses. Characters who'd long since outlived their purpose were maintained, without being given equally compelling new directions. Storylines became convoluted beyond comprehension, with retcons becoming more and more common. Plot dictated motivation, even when the plot made no sense to begin with. It became, for lack of a better term, a hot mess (literally so: Sylar may have devolved into a useless, whining prat but good lord Zach Quinto is still a poster boy for snu-snu).

Getting axed at this point is more a mercy-killing than executive meddling. I can't even say I'm particularly sorry to see it go, since I said my goodbyes to "Heroes" while it was still on the air. As with most spectacular TV flops in recent years, I can only hope that the right lessons will be learned here...




And yet "V" Got renewed. There's no justice, really, is there?

Diana Kingston-Gabai


You've quite literally read my mind - that was the original last line of the post, but I left it out. :)



Great minds think and fear alike, eh? ;)