I have figured out what’s wrong with HEROES — at least as far as I’m concerned. The characters of HEROES are, with the exception of Hiro, obsessed with leading “normal” lives, lives that do not feature healing factors or mind-control. In other words, they aspire to lives of quiet desperation. Which is exactly the kind of lives most of the viewership is desperate to escape! The show and its fans are ships passing in the night, going in opposite directions. Most HEROES watchers imagine what it would be like to live an extraordinary life, rather than an existence defined by mind-numbing work and scrambling for paychecks. There’s clearly a disconnect when the stories are striving to be low-key. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to tell stories that people can relate to. But how about relating to the best parts of them, the aspirational parts? Spider-Man’s mantra is, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Well, along with great power and responsibility comes the need for great stories, not pedestrian ones. Extraordinary characters call for extraordinary stories. The heroes may want to be “normal,” but the stories should aspire to be more. Sure, Peter Parker is famous for wanting to get on with his life, including attending school and holding down a job, but sooner or later the Scorpion, or Venom shows up and puts Spider-Man through his arachnid-powered paces.
It is possible to tell stories about emotions and feelings people can relate to while using science fiction and fantasy as the conduit. That’s what made BATTLESTAR GALACTICA so compelling: the stories were all about human conflict, but they were dramatized by people and robots and spaceships. BSG did not shy away from its milieu, it embraced it to tell stories in a way no other show could, using what was unique about its premise. Want to explore questions about parenthood? Tell a story about a Cylon that desires to have a baby. For the most part, HEROES is not using what makes it unique to tell compelling stories. “Claire has a nosy new friend” is not a story; it’s a potential complicating factor within a story. “Peter wants to help people” is not a story; it’s a potential motivation for a story.
HEROES has been plagued by routine: Either the powered folks are trying to stop someone from blowing up New York/the world, or struggling with vaguely-motivated “villains,” or they’re trying to deny their powers. It should not be hard to tell an involving story about Hayden Panettiere‘s Claire, the indestructible teenager. She cannot be killed, but she has myriad other vulnerabilities. And there are fates worse than death! The British series TORCHWOOD also features a character who cannot die, Capt. Jack Harkness. But TORCHWOOD is never boring, because Jack gets put through the wringer by problems that test his humanity as well as his immortality. (For example, he was buried underground for 2,000 years; constantly suffocating and reviving in an endless cycle. Who wouldn’t prefer true death?) What does being unable to die do to the mindset of a young woman? The parallels for teenage alienation practically write themselves. And, until the-powers-that-be at HEROES apply their brainpower, they may have to…
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