How HEROES Turned Its Strengths Into Weaknesses

Heroes, the up-until-now hit show on NBC, started out with a bang its first season, but ever since has been struggling to build on its potential. While the program, about average people who suddenly discover they have superhuman powers, still has moments of greatness, in the opinion of many (including me), it has not matched the creative peak it reached in its original storyline.

A lot of critics have been quick to point out what Heroes is doing wrong, but I would like to take a slightly different approach. I think the show’s creators are trying to take all the stuff that worked so well the first season and replicate it, but they’re going about it the wrong way. So here are the things that worked during Season One and attracted a loyal following of fans. In each example, I’ll look at how they made mistakes afterwards and maybe what they can do to set things right.

1. Heroes need to be heroic. The original cast of characters had cool abilities and were multi-faceted with lots of virtues and flaws. The audience instantly connected to them. A big mistake was to dilute that core by killing some of them off, playing loosey-goosey with the rules of their powers, and minimizing their motivations. The writers then started adding a bunch of new characters instead of concentrating on the established heroes. It’s as if they didn’t know where to go with their existing heroes and so decided to add more to see what would stick. The damage was that it minimized the favorites from Season One, leaving them with weaker storylines and lack of growth.

2. Villains need to be worthy opponents. Sylar was the breakout star Bad Guy of the first season, but HRG was also noteworthy as he and the Haitian hunted down people with abilities. Subsequent episodes have flip-flopped, turning them into good guys, then back into antagonists, and then back again to the heroic side. I’m not suggesting that they stick to stereotypical, two-dimensional depictions of the bad guys, but in Season One they did it right by giving subtle details about their motivation which rounded them out. Yet, now, there really is no solid villain to oppose.

3. How can they top “Save the Cheerleader; Save the World”? The first season had a strong mission with a clear objective that drove every subplot to one climactic conclusion. The storylines in the following seasons have been all over the place. They need to get back to stronger storytelling, with all the subplots branching off of a central plot that drives the whole show.

4. Time travel can be cool but it can also be a nightmare. In Season One, the future was foreshadowed in paintings and we saw the future version of Hiro return to warn his present self about the challenges to come. It was one of the highlights of the series. It would have been great to see Hiro evolve into that noble future self, but instead we’ve seen the time travel device misused and abused with trivial time-hopping adventures that at best have been a wasteful distraction and at worst have negated some of the cool things we saw in the first season. That’s the risk of time travel storylines – you create paradoxes.

5. Some powers are cool, some are lame. The first season had some iconic powers – flying, controlling time, invulnerability, telekinesis. Now, they’re adding some pretty weak abilities – deaf characters who see sound as color, people who can see visions through tattoo ink. The new characters they introduced with cool powers, like super speed or electrical blasts, the writers killed off for some inexplicable reason. So we’re now left with what seems to be the second-or-third tier superpowers. There also hasn’t been consistency with the cool powers from the first season. How many times have our heroes lost their abilities? Again, it’s as if the writers didn’t know what to do with them and now are playing mix and match.

I’m still sticking with Heroes and hope it’s not too late for the show to get back on track.


MediumRob said…
Have you really being sticking with Heroes, because it seems – sorry to say this – that your criticisms, while valid, are a little out of date:

1) There are far fewer characters now than even in the first season. Count them if you don't believe me. And Peter's running around going out of his way to save people. Hiro's going around in time trying to right wrongs. Nathan/Sylar's turned over a new leaf and is trying to be a good person. Even Tracy the Ice Queen and HRG are being heroic now.

2) Villains this season are the Carnival. I agree they're not as scary in a superhero way as Sylar, but Edgar's and Samuel's powers are both pretty iconic and are doing a good job psychologically of messing with the other side

3) Good point. I'm waiting to see where the Carnival is going. However, Save The Cheerleader, Save The World was only valid for the first half of the first season/volume. Bonus points if you can remember what the tag line for the second half was. No... No...? "Are you on the list?" See? Rubbish.

4) Kind of agreed, but I like what they've been doing with Hiro and Peter with the teleportation/time travel power in the latest episode

5) Super speed is still there in the shape of Darth Edgar - who's pretty damn cool. And actually, Tracy's ice/water combo is pretty damn cool, too (ho, ho, but cf Cold Snap, her fight against Edgar in the season opener, etc). I agree that seeing sounds as colours is rubbish, but it's already been shown that's the initial stage of Emma's power and that's going to expand into something a whole lot more powerful. The tattoo ink is just a manifestation of Samuel's Earth power, and he's already used that minor usage to strangle Edgar with a moving tattoo - and use it more strongly to destroy an entire house. It's a less sci-fi, more magical power.

And I think all the Heroes have regained their powers now, with the potential exception of Peter. It's possible that the writers are working on that, too, the argument being he can only absorb one power at a time now because he's an empath and he hasn't been empathising so much of late. When he starts to empathise properly again, he'll be able to absorb more than one power at a time. But that's just a theory.

Latest episode was excellent, I thought.