HEROES 4.18: Brave New World or Same Old, Same Old?

Claire and Noah

This is how the world of HEROES ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

In this case, it was the literal moan of defeat uttered by Samuel Sullivan. Which is pretty much what’s been wrong with HEROES since the close of Volume One: Things just…peter out. In contrast to the nuclear armageddon and super-battles that climaxed previous seasons, here Claire and HRG convinced a bunch of people to run away from Samuel, and he was rendered powerless, left mewling on the ground.

Um, that was it?
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HEROES 4.14: Close… But No Cigar

So here I am, tuning in to HEROES “one last time,” giving it one last chance to save itself before I cancel it forever. And the first thing I notice is that Noah is delivering the hated pompous voice-over. Not fair, HEROES. You know how much I hate the narration – and how much I like H.R.G. We’ll call the opening a draw. As for the rest of the episode, dubbed “Close to You”… close, but not quite.

Sadly this was yet another boring, glacially paced episode. (Is Ali Larter’s Tracy Strauss directing episodes?) And, worse, we learn that Hiro’s “Dr. Watson” is actually Suresh. I’m not exactly sure how Hiro (Masi Oka) knew Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) was locked in a sanitarium in rural Florida, but… And, okay, I have to admit, the bit with Ando (James Kyson Lee) and the meds was pretty funny. Hiro and Ando work best – hell, only really work at all – as a team.

Oh, look, it’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s own Ellen Tigh, Kate Vernon, playing Vanessa Wheeler, the gal Samuel grew up in love with, and the cause of all this strife. Lady, if you didn’t dump the son of the hired help, all this could have been avoided.
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HEROES Is Bleeding Out

Heroes' Claire

Well, HEROES returned from hiatus with a two-hour “event” that, truth be told, was more of a non-event. As soon as I heard Mohinder’s navel-gazing voice-over in the opening frames, I knew the show hadn’t changed, and I was in for a long night. (To be fair, I’ve always hated Dr. Suresh’s monologues, even back in the halcyon days of the first season.) “Events” kicked off with Claire moping around the sinister Sullivan Brothers carnival, lugging boxes of teddy bears (Her nickname is Claire-Bear, get it?) while Eli the replicating man did his impression of the world’s least-subtle spy. (I actually could not help wondering if Hayden Panettiere identified with her character being stalked by creepy older guys, LOL.)

Elsewhere, Hiro’s (Masi Oka) plotline had him talking in complete gibberish –which was sort of a microcosm of the series itself. HEROES used to be about the sense of wonder that came from being special, It was important to be different; it was cool to be different. Now what is the show? What is HEROES trying to say? Apparently nothing, as it has devolved into a self-referential muddle with no direction.
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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/6/09

The unquestioned hero of HEROES right now is consulting producer Bryan Fuller, who wrote this week’s episode, “Acceptance.” Fuller’s superpower appears to be the ability to grasp these characters and express what makes them great. He has a particular faculty for Noah/H.R.G. and Claire. Fuller wrote the legendary “Company Man” episode back in season one, which crystallized the previously mysterious H.R.G. and arguably made HEROES the breakout hit it (briefly) became. Fuller also deftly emphasizes the camaraderie of Hiro and Ando, making the pair believable buddies. In fact, I think Fuller has a firmer grip on these characters than even creator Tim Kring. (Fuller has imagination to spare: He also created WONDERFALLS and was an executive producer on PUSHING DAISIES.) I never like Tracy except in the stories Fuller has written (see “Cold Snap”). And he also delivered us from the ill-advised Sylar-in-Nathan-form plotline. Does this mean fans will not get to see Adrian Pasdar die in a season finale for once?

This week, I was initially on the fence as to whether I would even watch HEROES. The episode took a little time to build steam, so I was seriously considering abandoning it in favor of the Packers/Vikings football game. But then, something clicked — right around the time Noah and Claire were sharing bowls of cereal and discussing the possible application of bag-and-tag skills to selling lumber. That did it; I was roped back in. H.R.G. may be an ultracompetent field agent, but he’s an all-too-human fish-out-of-water (er…so to speak) on the home front. I don’t want to minimize the contributions of Jack Coleman here; when Noah told Peter that he just didn’t have it in him to get tangled up in another adventure, I really believed him. Coleman meshes especially well with Hayden Panettiere, and H.R.G.’s scenes with his “Claire Bear” always feel like the most realistic relationship on the show (followed by Hiro/Ando). But Fuller is not merely the master of human scenes; he also excels at thinking through the implications of superpowers. Just because Hiro can travel back in time does not mean he can save a man from himself, as Hiro’s funny/sad encounters with the hapless, hopeless Tadashi proved. I hope HEROES does not let Fuller escape.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/10/09

HEROES picked up the action after the plane crash, with our friends on the run from Nathan’s capture teams, led by the Hunter and HRG. Once again, Claire found herself accusing her father of shady dealings and he was once again insisting, “It’s much more complicated than you know.” (I want to know when Noah learned to fly cargo planes.) HRG is giving the impression that he has drunk Nathan’s Kool-Aid and wants to control people with powers. He has consistently wanted to protect Claire from other freaks, so that part makes sense. It has been kind of laughable the way characters keep telling her to “go home” and putting her in cars. (I guess she got fed up, because that’s exactly what she did.) HRG raised a very good point with Nathan: What would the Hunter do if he knew “Sen. Sky Boy” had powers? Implicit was the threat that Noah might use that information. Tracy ended the episode screaming “You’re one of us!” at Nathan, who is trusting a lot of people not to bust him while he’s destroying their lives. HRG proved trustworthy when he opted not to kill Peter, but was that a favor to Nathan or to Claire, who dearly loves her biological uncle? Speaking of killing, soldiers shot Daphne dead. It was an ignomious end for a character with unrealized potential, but her death prompted a revenge-seeking Matt to push one if the soldiers to kill his fellows, which makes Matt a mass murderer; perhaps a good story will come out of that. Peter told Tracy that while he still absorbs powers, he can only possess one at time. Sylar clearly does not have that limitation. When he wanted to get information out the captured Agent Simmons, he decided to torture some random innocents. What were the chances that Sylar would pick somebody who just happens to have powers? On this show, pretty good. Which is bad. Colossal “coincidences” like that jolt the viewer right out of a story and remind us that we’re watching TV, not real people. Sylar himself noted, “If that’s a coincidence, God’s improved his sense of humor.” So Sylar hit the road with a disciple in tow once again, dredging up painful memories of the hated Wonder Twins, Maya and Alejandro.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 12/3/08

It’s the holiday season, and on GOSSIP GIRL that means it’s time for the Senior Snowflake Ball, which means everyone’s atwitter over getting a date. When Aaron’s ex, Lexie, disses Serena, the queen bee maneuvers him into escorting her to the Snowflake. Of course Lexie easily finagles Dan into escorting her. A jealous Serena called the arrangement When Harry Met Crazy. S. got off an even better line when Aaron told her that Lexie likes to sleep with a guy on the first date as a political statement against traditional male hegemony: “Can’t she just vote?” There was also plenty of drama surrounding the Vanessa/Jenny sitch — especially after Gossip Girl circulated a snap of V. and Nate sucking face in the street. That set in motion Little J.’s plan to put her mad fashion skillz to work exposing the “real” Vanessa underneath it all. But the real story was the contest between Chuck and Blair to see who could fix up the other with a better date. Blair set Chuck up with Justine, a brunette who looked just like her, while Chuck rustled up a strutting peacock imitation of himself. Could anyone be surprised; it’s so obvious how perfect they are for each other. (I’m thinking the specific problem last night might have been that Chuck wore a more glittery outfit to the Snowflake Ball. Dude, normally, you’re one of my TV idols, but that jacket… I mean, where were your ice skates?) At least B. and Bass copped to their mutual attraction, and he actually asked her to dance. Vanessa never got the chance to dance, but she did get to apologize to Little J. and confess to Nate that she intercepted his letter intended for Jenny. But by then it was too late for Jenny to call off her little prank, because she already gave Vanessa a dress make of sheer material that turned transparent under a spotlight. Vanessa’s…assets were exposed, leaving her humiliated, and Nate’s heart broken by Jenny’s revenge, because he expected Little J. to be bigger than that. At least Dan and Serena were big enough to admit that the first time they made love was the best night of their lives.

BTW, how funny is it that Bart’s secretary is named “Mrs. Landingham”? So veryWEST WING. Of course it wasn’t funny that Bart was in a car accident, making him the front-runner in the “Who’s Gonna Die?” pool. But c’mon: The guy was clearly a speedbump for Lily and Rufus. Especially after Rufus admitted that he regretted not stopping her from marrying the blue-blood. And once she admitted she’s dumping her nosy husband, his days were numbered. There really wasn’t anyone else in the cast to target. (Dorota is practically being groomed for a sequel.)

HEROES could do with a little housecleaning itself. Last night picked up the story from last week, with the super-ability-sucking eclipse leaving everyone powerless. Yep, that eclipse sure was something special — unlike a normal eclipse, it could be seen from Haiti to New Jersey to Kansas to California simultaneously, and it lasted quite a while. I looked it up, and “totality,” that period when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, can never exceed 7 minutes and 31 seconds. The blotted-out sun was almost as annoying as the mountains depicted outside Lawrence, Kan.! SMALLVILLE notwithstanding, there are no mountains in Kansas, people — there aren’t even any hills! Last week the producers spent the money to create a background shot of endless flat cornfields, but it was only used once. I think it was Truman Capote who wrote about how the vastness of the flatlands could drive a man insane, but HRG didn’t have that excuse for getting overanxious and blowing his shot at shooting Sylar and Elle. Sylar fought HRG, who indulged his rage and beat up powerless Sylar instead of immediately shooting him the head. Sure, Noah got his act together and slit Sylar’s throat with a box-cutter, but then he turned dumb again and left the villain for dead instead of making sure. In his defense, he was probably worried about Claire, who was in a hospital with her entire abdomen sliced open (evoking her first-season autopsy). The good thing about this plotline: Hayden Panettiere got a chance to do some real acting as the feverish Claire, who was happy to be able to feel pain again, but not so thrilled to be dying.

The bad thing about this plot was the way powerless Peter was out to prove himself. (Doesn’t he remember Ireland?) Pete and the Haitian wanted to make his brother, Baron Samedi, bleed in order to prove he wasn’t a god, but Pete’s brother Nathan ended up proving himself a clod. When Pete sprung big bro from a dungeon, he insisted that since Nathan is a senator he’s more important and thus should flee while Peter covered his escape — and Nathan fled! Dude, never leave your little brother behind! That yellow move made it no surprise when the elder Petrelli decided there was wisdom to big daddy Arthur’s plan to give everyone superpowers.

Eventually Claire died. But then that lingering eclipse cleared up and she got better. So did everyone else, whose powers returned. Which meant Sylar came back to life, too. And he was back to being a pure baddie. Hiro, however, needed help finding himself, so two workers in a comic-book shop helped him figure things out using the9th Wonders! comic book. In fact, when Sam (played by Seth Green) made an inspirational speech that restored Hiro’s faith in the value of heroes as symbols of hope, Sam seemed to be giving a kind of mission statement for rebooting the series heading into the second half of the season. But can they do it? Sylar is once again the clear antagonist, and HRG never stopped being made of awesome (He provoked Sylar by suggesting Arthur and Angela are lying about being Gabriel/Sylar’s parents). But time travel is still prominent, as the episode ended with Hiro spiriting Claire 16 years into the past to witness Kaito entrusting her infant self to HRG. That can’t be good…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/30/08

The theme of last night’s GOSSIP GIRL was secrets — from the cool (Lily revealed she once modeled for photographer Richard Mapplethorpe, prompting Serena to declare, “You just became the coolest mom on the Upper East Side”) to the destructive (Rufus found out that Jenny has been skipping school). Anger and revenge were also central tenets of the episode. Wearing his best scowl, Chuck manipulated Dan — who secretly (there’s that theme again) mined Chuck’s life for material for short stories — just because he was bored without Blair. (Line of the night: Dan to Chuck: “How do you know so many twins?”) Dan’s latest writing mentor encouraged him to learn the secret of Chuck, the “young Mephistopheles,” and Dan thought he uncovered it; Chuck claimed his mother died giving birth to him, but later recanted.

Blair, meanwhile, was resenting Serena for not only usurping her throne with the girls at school, but daring to meet a new friend, socialite Poppy. Blair was so angry that she was willing to ruin her mother’s fashion show just to spite Serena. And Jenny; Blair hates Little J as well. Over and over, Blair sabotaged the gala in an effort to show up her enemies, but things continued to work out for the best, culminating in Serena strutting down the catwalk in a dress designed by Jenny. (May I just halt the blog here for moment to point out how heart-stoppingly gorgeous Blake Lively looked in that green dress? Amazing!) I don’t think we’ve ever seen Blair this evil — it was great!

“There are bad people out there. I feel like I should help.”
— Claire

My favorite character on HEROES is H.R.G., hands-down. He is flat-out made of awesome, as the kids say nowadays. How brave do you have to be to walk, unarmed, into a den of super-powered villains who want your blood? Noah did it without hesitation. His motivation was partly to protect the world from the baddies, but also to bide his time and exact revenge on Sylar for threatening his daughter, Claire. Speaking of parents and offspring, do we believe Angela is really Sylar’s mother? We know he had to have “special” parents, but it’s all just too…well, incestuous to make everyone related to everyone else. Not to mention lame to keep making a secret-parent reveal over and over and over. (When will Parkman be revealed as Claire’s crazy Uncle Matt?) Claire herself is currently motivated by a desire for revenge against the brain-sucker, as her birth mother, Meredith, forced her to admit. (“You have to save yourself before you can save the world,” she advised.) Claire took off with her dad’s files on the villains — but why didn’t he take those with him to Poughkeepsie, N.Y.? BTW, Poughkeepsie is a real place in upstate New York. It used to be part of the vaudeville circuit back in the day. I thought the setting was interesting, juxtaposed against the revival movie house in Berlin, which was showing Buster Keaton movies. Hiro and Ando encounter our old friend the Haitian there; he was retrieving the other half of the formula that allegedly will destroy the world. And did you notice whom he got it from? It was dark, but that was definitely Olga Sosnovska, ex-Lena from ALL MY CHILDREN. (Funny how Bianca’s old lover resurfaces just as word filters out that Binks herself is returning to Pine Valley.) And that was another AMC veteran, Ronald Guttman (ex-Alexander Cambias) as Dr. Zimmerman, the pediatrician who boasted that he “created” Tracy. It was nice to check in on Micah, but I’m glad to take him in small doses.

Did you notice how the Haitian did not seem at all upset about losing the formula to speedster Daphne? My personal theory is that the formula is not what is appears to be — Mr. Nakamura clearly wanted Hiro to remove his half from the safe, or he never would have tempted his son. Perhaps it is something harmless — or even some kind of cure for something, disguised as something dangerous?

My colleague Mala took time out of her life to proselytize about LIFE, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I watched one episode last season, and beyond being impressed with the integration of music into the storyline, I thought it was just a pedestrian procedural that relied on self-conscious eccentricity. Well, the eccentricity was still there last night, but the show seemed more self-assured than self-conscious. Clearly, the-powers-that-be had found their groove. The actual case was still just a MacGuffin that gave star Damian Lewis an excuse to act…unusually. This show relies totally on its stars to rope in viewers, so LIFE is lucky that Lewis and co-star/foil Sarah Shahi (ex-Carmen, THE L WORD) have charisma to burn. While Lewis is impressive as the oddball Det. Charlie Crews, I’ve seen the ol’ Englishman-as-wacky-American bit from Hugh Laurie on HOUSE. The real revelation for me was Shahi, who is much more than just another pretty face; she can really act. No doubt this quality works equally well for her character, Det. Dani Reese. Donal Logue (ex-Chuck, ER) has been added to the cast as a transplanted New Yorker, and he works well. There’s something slightly sleazy about Capt. Tidwell in general — and the way he dotes on Reese in particular. How long until the sexual-harrassment suit? Then again, Reese seems more likely to punch him in the throat than than file suit. LIFE moves to its regular time slot, Fridays at 10 p.m., this week.