Shiny Shelf

Eclipsed: Heroes Season 3

By Shiny Shelf on 08 December 2008

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘The Eclipse’ two-parter was a depressingly low point for ‘Heroes’ Season 3. With virtually every scene lit with a murky blue to denote the titular cosmic event, this two-part story featured the increasingly ridiculous Petrelli brothers running around in Haiti blowing people away with AK47s (a combination of risible characters and real world seriousness about as politically nuanced as sending the Chuckle Brothers to Darfur), the reset button being hit as hard as possible on the frankly ridiculous Sylar storyline, and everyone else hanging around in a comic shop reading about themselves.

In spite of an entertaining first few episodes to the season that were at least peppy in their twist-upon-twist ludicrousness, the show has arguably failed to find its feet again following a tepidly received and strike-truncated second year.

The problem with the show is the writing. Pretty much everything else works: the cast is the best cast on US TV; the series looks great (as it should do, with that amount of money thrown at it); the idea behind the show is strong, as is the atmosphere of the real world tinged with the uncanny; the characters, as opposed to all their stories, are strong.

But unfortunately, then there’s the storylining, which is a mess. In a classic example of so much that’s wrong with US TV, ‘Heroes’ has given the fans what they ‘want’, i.e. endless reiteration of fanfic-level ‘relationships’ and an intense concentration on digressions and details and meaningless back story. In the process, the strength of the original concept – ‘what if real people in the real world got powers?’ – has been lost. Rather than trying to find ways to get back to the ground-level conflicts of the first season, in the second and third seasons the series has gone for escalation rather than development, unwinding bigger and bigger conspiracies, while escalating the power levels of various characters to the point where there are two or three different characters who are effectively gods – they can fly, can’t be killed, and can steal or use any other character’s power.

This is not a good idea, either in terms of grounding the story in anything recognizable, maintaining the spirit of the first season, or keeping that tricky budget under control. The latter is a noticeable problem, with an astonishing amount of money thrown around to no great result: characters walks into a room… via a warehouse with two dozen extras in it we never see again; two lines of expositional dialogue need to be delivered… and the scene is shot on a city street at night; a character is working alone in a lab… and it’s a four room, open plan office. These aren’t special effects that will make the audience sit up and notice, they’re just very expensive ways of shooting very ordinary material.

But it’s the plotting where the real problems lie. To recap: for the third not-at-all-repetitive year running, the ongoing plot has involved Peter Petrelli discovering a future apocalypse, but this year with the twist that all the major characters have gone through unconvincing 180 degree changes in character. Except that then they didn’t. And everyone’s a Petrelli.

(Real life science fact here: anyone who thinks that the answer to the question ‘why do people like Heroes?’ involves the convoluted family machinations of the Petrelli dynasty should be restrained for their own safety. Something has gone badly wrong when Angela Petrelli, a well-played minor character in the first series, has become the absolute plot nexus of the entire show. Arthur is the most appealing of the lot, and he’s supposed to be the bad guy.)

In short, ‘Heroes’ has mutated from a charming series about ordinary people learning they can do extraordinary things into a dynastic battle between god-like beings engaged in endless interlocking conspiracies to destroy New York/the world all of which are outdone by the fact that people keep nipping backwards and forwards in time to try and sort things out. It’s a mess.

The studio is now, by all accounts, trying to get a handle on things. A few weeks ago, executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander were removed from the series. (For this reason the comic shop scenes in ‘The Eclipse’ had a sort of epic tragedy feeling, given that the comic shop only seemed to sell Loeb comics and Loeb was fired between shooting and broadcast.) There’s talk of Bryan Fuller coming back to the series now ‘Pushing Daisies’ has been cancelled.

Hopefully Fuller, and whoever else they bring in, can sort ‘Heroes’ out. There’s a great cast here, and still a strong idea at the heart of the show, if only the production team can remember what it was.

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By Shiny Shelf

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