Heroes 4x: Rejection of the Mundane

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…

Advertisements

Melrose Place 1.3: Third Time's Not the Charm

MELROSE PLACE was considerably less lurid this week, emphasizing exposition over exploitation, and thus much less compelling.

Most of the action centered on Jonah and Riley, which was not really a good thing. Jonah is the kind of stupid you usually only see in horror movies. The tale of this engaged couple is what is known in the industry as an “idiot plot” – meaning the characters are required to behave like idiots or the story doesn’t work. (You know, like in a horror movie when the babysitter goes into the cellar in her underwear to check out a noise.) The warning signs here are almost as prominent: Riley took an entire day to accept his proposal. And she hasn’t told anyone – friends or family — that she’s engaged. She’s ludicrously jealous of him while hanging all over her hunky neighbor Auggie (whom she got drunk with and kissed last night). She hadn’t even changed her Facebook status. He fecklessly made up with her, and then they committed the ultimate soap opera boneheaded move, the DNSP: the Dreaded No Secrets Pact. By this time next week, they should both be harboring some pretty hefty secrets.

As odious as the Jonah/Riley pairing is, Jonah is still an appealing character (if a bit too theatrically naïve), and he would be much more interesting paired with Ella. But until that happens, Ella (Katie Cassidy) remains intriguing. She was depicted as a lot more vulnerable this week. She was clearly intimidated by blowhard boss Caleb, and she is almost completely helpless around Jonah. It’s funny to see the barracuda become a kitten. She’s even jealous of Riley!

The exposition mostly concerned Michael: We learned that he faked Sydney’s death; she served 6 years for the felony while he went on to marry and have a child. When Syd got sprung she embarked on an affair with Michael, and used the threat of telling the medical board about his role in faking her death to keep him in line. She also could have told his wife, so Michael actually had two strong motives to kill her. Michael invented some kind of medical device that made him a fortune large enough to afford the $2 million painting that David stole at the end of the premiere. And he’s been keeping files on a number of MP residents old (like Jo, Allison and Amanda) and new.

Let’s hope MP returns to its trashier (read: entertaining) roots next week. I recommend turning budding nutjob Violet (and her loopy smile/stare) loose…

Heroes 4.1: Getting Oriented…

Okay, let’s get the bad news out in the open right away: The season premiere of HEROES was…kinda dull. Not bad, not great; mostly dull. It’s season four now; as viewers we’re long past the point of being surprised/impressed when someone demonstrates a superpower. Right away we were introduced to Samuel Sullivan, whose power is not long-windedness, but rather the ability to move the earth (and no, that’s not sex thing); an ability that goes by the fancy name “terrakinesis.” Then we had to sit through a lot of mysterious stuff at the Sullivan Bros. Carnival, like trying to puzzle out what was going on with the tattoo ink. And while all that stuff was mildly intriguing, it wasn’t especially interesting. In fact, of all the story seeds that were planted for this season, the only one I found really compelling involved Claire and HRG. Sylar reasserting his personality was predictable; Hiro’s thread dragged too much; I can’t care about Tracy because the show doesn’t even seem interested in giving her a personality.

I was very interested in what was going on with Claire. Hayden Panettiere is developing into a fine young actress – a fact that the-powers-that-be apparently recognize because she has been getting the bulk of the scenes that require actual acting. Claire is starting college with the new season, and her nightmare of a roommate, Annie, turned out to be played by Rachel Melvin (Chelsea, DAYS OF OUR LIVES). I know she was supposed to be insufferable, so congratulations, Rachel, mission accomplished. Much more entertaining is Madeline Zima‘s Gretchen. She has an actual personality – and a quirky one, no less — as opposed to a being a “type.” The problem with Claire’s relationships in the past (I’m looking at you, West) is that the dudes have been dead boring. Every time he appeared onscreen I was distracted by wondering how a guy who can fly could be boring. But in just a few short scenes, Zima imbued her line readings with so much personality that she fairly leapt off the screen (in a good way). I loved the way her eyes shined when she proposed proving that Annie’s death was a murder. This is a pairing to watch. Claire using herself as a crash-test dummy was predictable yet funny. However, by now she should be more discreet in the use of her power. (What was she planning to do with that huge pool of blood from her head?) Claire’s father, HRG – Noah, played by Jack Coleman – remains the other most interesting character on the show. Every week I’m relieved that he remains 100 percent human (generating great chemistry with Hayden doesn’t count as a power) and 100 percent ass-kicker! He’s smart and resourceful; I have no idea how he knew to look in Danko’s gut for that key. If he thought Danko’s killer had paid unusual attention to slicing up his abdomen, why didn’t the assailant find the key?

Robert Knepper (ex-T-bag, PRISON BREAK) is a great fit as the sinister Sam. He exudes confidence and intelligence – two things a really effective antagonist needs. It was fun to actually see Ray Park‘s face as knife-wielding speedster Edgar. The martial artist usually plays characters that require his face to be obscured – Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and Snake Eyes in this summer’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Edgar’s big fight with Peter was marred by some really ineffective editing, and I was distracted because Peter appeared to have replicated not only Edgar’s power, but his skill with blades. I don’t think I knew he could do that.

What did I really dislike? Matt’s hallucinations of Sylar. I know TPTB had to get the wildly popular Zachary Quinto back onscreen, but this plot makes Matt look stupid. He knows “Sylar” is an illusion, yet he continues to argue with the specter? C’mon, Matt, you’re smarter than that. You’ve got mental powers, you know all about mind games; especially the ones you play on yourself.

At the end of this inaugural two-parter, I had to stop and think about actually happened, and I came to the conclusion it was not a heck of a lot. Everything seemed dedicated to positioning the pieces on the chessboard. And while a lot of potential was apparent, not a lot of it was realized onscreen. I was left taking the Easter eggs where I could find them: Kimiko referring to Hiro and Ando as “Heroes for Hire” was a shout-out to a Marvel Comics series, while boys dubbing themselves “Dial a Hero” is an obvious homage to an old DC comics series called Dial H for Hero.

HEROES doesn’t quite have to dial H for Help just yet – and let’s hope the show doesn’t have to.

A Second Date with Melrose Place

The second installment of MELROSE PLACE was pretty much more of the same — which is a good thing; it means the-powers-that-be have a handle on the kind of show they want to produce and how to produce it. It also amplified my first impressions from last week: I love Ella (and Katie Cassidy) even more and hate Riley more than last time. I was relieved to see MP did not try to milk the “Violet is Sydney’s sekrit daughter” thread after that was telegraphed so blatantly in the premiere. Instead, we will be treated to the somewhat-similar-yet-more-sustainable “Is Violet really Sydney’s sekrit daughter?”

This much we know: Auggie is not Sydney’s killer; he’s just one of those people who only exist in whodunits, who just happen to look guilty as sin while simultaneously declining to clear his name in order to just drag things out. TPTB simply would not spend an entire episode making Auggie look guilty if he actually is guilty. (At least, they better not have. If Auggie indeed dunnit, we’re gonna to have a talk.) We also discovered that Auggie hooked up with Syd at a 12-step program and they had lots of rough sex. None of which came as a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with MP shenanigans. However, it’s generally not a good idea if viewers can predict every story beat, like in this episode. From the troublesome installation of the security camera, to Ella’s professional boasting, to the inevitability of Lauren meeting someone she knows on a “date,” it was all pretty unsurprising. (Especially the bit about Lauren’s “someone” being Ella; how much fun would anyone else be?). And Lauren is already enjoying her experiences as an escort? What a surprise…er, not. Though I did appreciate how she turn on that surgeon’s detachment as she recited her business credo and demanded payment. Looks like she was learning something at med school. She seemed almost as bad as Ella!

Speaking of bad, Jonah and Riley continued to demonstrate what a bad idea idea it is for them to get hitched. Why does Jonah allow Riley to jerk him around? Last week she kept him on tenterhooks by delaying her response to his proposal. This week, she fumed about Ella sniffing around Jonah — that is, when Riley wasn’t “comforting” neighbor Auggie, who was mourning Sydney’s death. Riley flips out at the mere mention of Ella’s name; can you imagine what would have happened if Jonah had spent over a half hour hugging and “comforting” Ella? Somebody would have been wearing a dunce cap!

Supernatural 5.1: Oh, hell yeah!

Hell of a way to kick off the fifth season of SUPERNATURAL – coming out guns blazing, letting us have it with both barrels. I was sold right from the opening recap featuring highlights from last season set to AC/DC’s driving “Thunderstruck.” Pretty audacious, Eric Kripke, to remind people how high you set the bar with the exciting fourth season.

The new year picked up right where the finale left off, with Lucifer emerging from hell. But viewers were knocked off their feet right along with the Winchester brothers when they were instantly teleported to an airliner to witness the Adversary’s escape from the air. Let’s talk about Lucifer for a moment. Clearly, he is the Big Bad for this season (Could there be a bigger bad? Pipe down, you Elder Gods in the back; as indifferent cosmic beings, you don’t count as “bad.”), but as the episode title indicates, creator Kripke may be demonstrating “Sympathy for the Devil” this season. Kripke clearly has not forgotten that Lucifer is not a demon – he was the very first angel. As Lucifer’s spirit looked for a body to inhabit, he chose a scarred man named Nick who lost his family to a madman’s bloody rampage. And Lucifer, of course, considers himself a victim of god’s tyranny. So we will see two damaged psyches inhabiting that body, one of whom is the most powerful angel ever. Lucifer is even more terrible in aspect than the archangels!

And how about those archangels killing Castiel? No sooner had Misha Collins’ name been flashed on the screen as a third-billed series regular than Chuck revealed that Castiel had been capped by his fellow angels. Well, no way Cas was destroyed, right? Well, he wasn’t. Castiel made a terrific heroic entrance, just when Dean needed him most. Cas now seems to be some kind of independent operator, but whatever his deal, he certainly was not on the side of the angels. This little mystery should keep the audience on tenterhooks. But like last season, when we had to wait weeks to learn how Dean had escaped hell, and longer still to discover what had happened to him there, I’m betting it will be a long time before we understand Castiel’s new status quo. I have my own theory, and if I turn out to be correct, it’s gonna be a mega-cool reveal!

Bobby going all black-eyes and taking out Dean was a shock — as was Bobby surviving stabbing himself with Ruby’s blade — but perhaps Kripke’s bravest move was going so meta with the fangirl who writes Wincest. Forget the hordes of hell and the heavenly host, Kripke could be really tempting fate by baiting the fanfic community! But she did help the brothers, so it was ultimately a positive portrayal.

And, like I said, one helluva season premiere.

Welcome to Melrose Place… We have a pool

The CW’s reboot of MELROSE PLACE started out intriguing, but the players all too quickly revealed themselves to be mere “types” rather than true characters. But then a funny thing happened on the way to 90210-style irrelevance – MP started to get a little fun.

Clearly inspired by Sunset Blvd., the main story hinges on the discovery of the body of Sydney (Laura Leighton) floating in the pool. Flashbacks sketched in a handful of suspects and motives (ranging from Sydney evicting someone to threatening to expose an affair), while the characters tried to introduce themselves to the audience.

The standout is undoubtedly Katie Cassidy’s Ella. She is clearly a gloss on Heather Locklear‘s utravixen Amanda, but Cassidy has put a lot of effort into distinguishing Ella with her mercurial mood swings. Ella is a stone-cold bitch, but can turn on the charm like flipping a switch. She’s sexually omnivorous, but has a soft spot for Jonah, the naïve artistic type. But that doesn’t mean she won’t manipulate him; she played him like a Stradivarius at that birthday party. Bravo to Cassidy – perhaps best-known for playing the demonic Ruby on SUPERNATURAL — for showing the layers to this pivotal character so quickly. She is far and away my favorite character.

At the other end of the spectrum, I despise David (Shaun Sipos) because he’s such a facile caricature of the “Obnoxious Rich Kid,” and thus, dull. He’s Michael Mancini’s son and they don’t get along? Extra boring. As a legacy character, he should bring something more to the table. Speaking of Michael, Thomas Calabro returns to his signature character, and this time Michael is crazy rich and has a family. And, clearly, a chip on his shoulder.

The other returning character, Sydney, has somehow become the landlord on the complex, and made tons of enemies – one (or more) of whom stabbed her and dumped her in the infamous pool. In the opening moments of the show, viewers learned she appeared to lean on David and Auggie, a chef played by Colin Egglesfield, late of ALL MY CHILDREN. Egglesfield looks extremely furious at every moment; can he unfurrow his brow even a little?

The neighbors are all up in each other’s business, apparently interdating and meddling, just like the old days, Aspiring filmmaker Jonah (played by Michael Rady, formerly of GREEK) proposed to Riley (Jessica Lucas), who kept him hanging because she thinks he’s a boy who needs to grow up. Zzzzz…). Riley is too wishy-washy, and something tells me Jonah will regret not kicking her to the curb as soon as she hesitated.

I was going to suggest that Violet (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz) is dumb as a box of rocks, but I think the complex’s newbie is actually as dumb as just a single, lonely rock. There must be more to her, and it’s pretty clear to me what it is. (Let’s just hint at a very specific mommy issue.) Someone else who deserves to be mentioned: Lauren, the cash-strapped medical student. She’s staring at a mountain of debt just as Toby comes along and offers her $5,000 to… uh, go back to his room with him. They saw everyone has a price, and Lauren’s is $5,000. However, I want to like this fledgling hooker, because she is played by Stephanie Jacobsen, who was so memorable as Kendra Shaw in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: RAZOR and Jesse on TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES.

The direction was a little too on-the-nose for me. For example, when Auggie was eulogizing Syd, the camera cut to a reaction shot of Violet, just in case the audience wasn’t suspecting that she’s more than just an interested newcomer. But overall, I think the episode was just lurid enough to be intriguing, and the “Who Killed Sydney?” mystery is promising enough to warrant tuning in. At least, next week.

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/4/09

It’s such a shame that GUIDING LIGHT is going off the air next month. Then what will my colleague Mala and I trade IMs about at 10 o’clock in the morning?

Joe: I don’t care how bad the cell connection is, I don’t like Ed accidentally telling Alan about Phillip’s condition.
Mala: Oh, come on, what’s a little HIPAA violation between not-friends?
Joe: Did Dinah actually get married in that hat?
Mala: Yes, she did. And no one objected, even with due cause.
Joe: She looks like a villain the Flash would fight!
Mala: I think she looks like the starship Enterprise is on her head.
Joe: LOL. Was it a wedding or the Kentucky Derby? Wait…Dinah’s confession is nuts: There was somebody who looked exactly like Edmund and knew that a secretly adopted Bosnian baby was secretly the child of a woman killed in a mine field, who was secretly the daughter of Edmund?
Mala: Stranger things have happened in Springfield. Just ask Amish Reva. LOL. Now watch Matt strike out with Beth. At this rate, he should become a monk.
Joe: I love the “no cell phones” sign behind Ed. And if Bill and Lizzie are hot without A/C, they should go to the other side of town, where it always snows during remotes.
Mala: Why the heck is Frank just standing there, eavesdropping on Mallet and Dinah?
Joe: It’s called police work.
Mala: Can’t Dinah just run off with Mallet and Shayne and Henry while Marina just…goes away somewhere?
Joe: Marina may just give herself a stroke, the way she’s freaking out.
Mala: Any minute now, Dinah’s hat is going to take off into the skies, and Shayne will feel an urge to make a mashed-potato mountain.
Joe: LOL! And it’s good to see Bill and Lizzie’s house lacks a front door lock, just like every other place in town.
Mala: That’s the one thing they won’t actually add while fixing the house. Uh, Mallet, you only believe in Marina now because Dinah confessed. He and GH’s Sonny should start a Disingenuous Husbands club.
Joe: Heh, Dinah had to take off the hat when Shayne picked her up or she would have soared away like the Flying Nun!
Mala: But, wait, I thought Mary Poppins only left town when the wind changed…and Alan just told us Phillip’s 40!
Joe: After Sept. 18, there will be no more SORASing, so why not attach dates?
Mala: True. Except that that makes Shayne and Dinah incredibly creepy. As Dinah and Harley are the same age, and Harley babysat infant Shayne in 1990.
Joe: The Kamikaze GL we love would have her say something like, “I remember changing your diaper, and now we’re married.” Oh, look, it’s a leak at the Lewises. Somebody actually wants Matt now!
Mala: Only for his “contracting” skills. *wink, wink*
Joe: “When we say we want you to come over and ‘nail’ something, we mean with a hammer.”
Mala: Oh, man. I kind of want to bawl. And not at Matt’s love life.
Joe: Alan/Charlie? Yeah, that was touching.
Mala: More brilliant police work, with Frank admitting to Mallet he stood there eavesdropping on him for 10 minutes.
Joe: Frank should have said, “Dinah’s a flight risk. Especially in that hat!”
Mala: Oh, watch it, she’s about to go into orbit!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com