TV Talk: Heroes Season Three Premiere
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jack Coleman, Greg Grunberg, Ali Larter, James Kyson Lee, Masi Oka, Hayden Panettiere, Adrian Pasdar, Zachary Quinto, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Dania Ramirez, Cristine Rose, Milo Ventimiglia
Series Creator: Tim Kring
As always, this post will discuss details about episodes that have already aired, so if you don’t watch the show as it airs, consider this a spoiler alert. There are no spoilers for future episodes.
A little under a year ago, I wrote a post detailing the many issues I was having with the near-universally panned second season of Heroes (in a post that began pretty similarly to this one, I admit, coming a little under a year after a post raving about the first season of the show). Since that time, the show finished off the second season without any real improvements before the writer’s strike mercifully gave everyone involved time to deal with the problems that plagued its sophomore season.
In that post, I theorized that a lot of the problems with season two were actually problems the show always had, we just didn’t notice in the first season because it was so fresh and exciting, writing “my main concern is that what’s wrong with this season of Heroes isn’t all that different from what was right from the first season of Heroes, and thus this might not be so much a case of a good show gone bad as it is the revelation of a bad (or at least mediocre) show once the freshness wore off.”
With that in mind, I was already weary of what the show would have to offer with its two-part season premiere featuring episodes “The Second Coming” and “The Butterfly Effect” (I mercifully skipped the one hour circle jerk premiere event that preceded these episodes). I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when creator Tim Kring admitted season two’s faults and promised to fix those mistakes. If this was merely a case growing pains of a show that got too big too fast, then it was not beyond fixing. But if this was the case of a show that was never all that good revealing its true nature, then the show would not be a fixture on my TV schedule for very long.
After two somewhat painful hours of television, I’m ready to concede the latter is most likely true. My favourite television critic Alan Sepinwall (if you aren’t already reading his blog What’s Alan Watching, you probably should be) said it best when he wrote “it’s still a very dumb show that just wants you to think it’s smart”.
This is ultimately the big problem with the show, that none of the attempted fixes of the first two episodes of season three can address. It’s a lazily-written show with bad acting and ridiculous plotting, but fails as dumb fun escapism because of how self-serious it is. We’re left with over-wrought monologues and joyless burdens instead of the breakneck pacing and loose thrills we should be getting. Even when the show tries to go for a more pure entertainment vibe, as it usually does with Hiro’s (Masi Oka) stories, the shift in pacing and tone from the rest of the show is jarring, and only highlights how stupid Hiro’s little stories are (and could it get any dumber than his current story? He gets a beyond the grave message to not open a safe he had never considered opening — or presumably even knew of — foolishly opens it, and immediately loses its valuable contents — that should’ve been destroyed years ago — to a speedster that just happened to be waiting around for that highly unlikely scenario to play out).
The new episodes do their best to make us forget season two, seemingly taking away from that disaster the lesson that audiences don’t want to wait forever for shit to happen. Instead, it goes the other way, cramming tonnes of plot into two hours, relying mostly on contrivance and exposition to get it all in. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) gets from New York to California to Texas in a matter of less than a day, finding the cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) in moments that it took him half of season two to find. Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) makes the big scientific breakthrough and does all the necessary chemistry and physics in a few hours that had taken his father and the Company lifetimes to never discover, all in time to rip-off The Fly in an attempt to make his character relevant. And, of course, any time the show needs some deus ex machina, it simply gives Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) a new power to take care of it (this time, future Peter can somehow put people into other people).
I’m beyond annoyed that the only way the show seems to know how to build dramatic tension is through time travel. It’s three seasons now where the whole dramatic weight is given through glimpses of a horrific future, replacing painter Isaac’s visions with Mama Petrelli’s (Cristine Rose) finally-revealed power of precognition to go along with Peter and Hiro’s constant peaks into the future (or in Peter’s case, a visit back to the present from the future). It stopped being interesting around the time Peter abandoned the Irish barmaid in an apocalyptic future (that I think he subsequently prevented from happening, which I guess means he sorta killed her… ah well, best not to think about these things), and now has the added bonus of just being creepy (Claire’s declaration of “I always loved you” seemed less familial than it should have, particularly given Panettiere and Ventimiglia’s inappropriate offscreen relationship). Worse, they bend their time travel rules to whatever serves the writers at the time, without caring if it passes muster (for instance, and again credit goes to Alan Sepinwall for this, but Peter’s intervention didn’t have squat to do with Sylar acquiring Claire’s abilities. Sure, his telling her not to come to New York ensured that she’d be home when Sylar came a-calling. But that’s where she would’ve been if he had never shot Nathan in the first place).
When the show first debuted, it was too exciting to see a comic book world on my television every week to nitpick over the show’s flaws. That’s no longer the case, and now I must decide whether or not I want to keep frustrating myself with a clearly subpar show, or use that hour every week in more constructive ways (like watching a better show on DVD). I think it gets one more week to show that it has some fun in store now that the ball has been set into motion, if for no other reason than the additions of The Wire alumni Jamie Hector and Andre Royo to go with Veronica Mars alumni Kristin Bell and Francis Capra. That won’t be enough to keep me around for an entire season (or even an entire “volume”, as this show wants to be structured), so listen up Heroes: you’ve officially been placed On Notice.