21 September 2009

Media Idea: HEROES Find Redemption Tonight

One of the only two reasons I park my butt before the boob-tube each week is back tonight for its two-hour season premiere. I guess you could say I'm more than a little excited. But like the cast of NBC's Heroes, its producers, writers, and the viewing public that hasn't already abandoned the show since it's hallmark first season, my excitement comes well-tempered.
Since it's first season four years ago, where Heroes easily became king of the Nielsen's as well as a pop culture phenomenon, the prime-time super hero drama has consistently fallen in the ratings game. ever since. A casualty of the 2007 Writer's Strike, Heroes cut its second season short, airing only three months of new shows and, as a result, left many story threads largely unanswered and many viewers unsatisfied.
The show's creators, which included comic book luminaries such as Jeph Loeb (Hulk, Superman/Batman, Batman: Hush) at the production helm, upped the ante for Season Three.
Yet despite the addition of plenty of super-powered combat and the much clearer line drawn between the show's forces of Good and Evil -- two staples of the comic book fare from which Heroes stems -- convoluted plots, over-the-top dialog, and the over-reliance /over-use of comic-booky themes like "Father/Son" served not to draw Heroes fans back to the fold, but to estrange them even more.
That estrangement equated to over a 22% drop in the number of folks who, like me, found themselves glued to the television on Monday nights for Heroes. And despite their superhuman powers, Heroes, like us ordinary Joes, aren't as powerful as the political or economic forces which shape their destiny. At NBC's behest, Heroes creator and executive producer Tim Kring dismissed Loeb and other producers from the series while injecting writer-producer Bryan Fuller back into the mix last Spring.
This mid-season "shot-in-the-arm" was no super-serum, but it wasn't a placebo, either. Heroes not only picked-up their ratings; the last five episodes which brought their Heroes & Villains storyline to a close also gave fans a glimmer of hope that tonight's new season, Heroes Volume 5: Redemption, will set the show back on it's character-driven track.
From their sub-title "Redemption" and the show's fourth season tag lines "Greater Good, Greater Evil," it's very clear to me that Heroes cast and crew know full well that 2009-2010 is the year for them to do or die. To prevent the twisty story-arcs that lost too many followers last year, NBC will air only 19 episodes this season, as opposed to last season's 25 and the 22-24 episodes of Heroes Volume 1.
This decision, it's hoped, brings their storytelling back to its comic book roots: necessarily limited by the constraints of length, story has to be taut, concise, character-focused, and above all, efficient.
In a September 15th interview with Wired Magazine, series star and Heroes poster-boy Masi Oka ("Hiro") admits, "In Season 4, we understand our backs might be a little bit against the wall but because of that we’re creatively swinging for the fences and taking bold risks."
Some of the risks have been well-advertised, from July's past-capacity presentations at San Diego's Comic-Con to the interview circuit, where Oka and co-star Hayden Panettiere ("Claire") have been making the rounds. At the forefront of those advertisements is the revelation that Oka's "Hiro" will be facing a terminal illness as a result of using his powers, though the reason for this has been much-less advertised. I've done a bit of digging, and it seems Hiro's powers to stop time are powers meant for him and him only. Hiro's inclusion of fellow supers "Ando" and "Suresh" into his time-stopped world last season is proving to be his demise.
Panettiere's "Claire," always the show's most publicly-positioned character, is again in the spotlight, this time illuminated by the possible undertones of a lesbian relationship with a new college roommate. And Greg Grunberg, who plays the psychic character "Matt Parkman," revealed to SyFyWire.com last week that as a result of the way Matt used his powers last season against Heroes popular main villain, Sylar (played by Zachary Quinto), he'll swear off from using his powers at all, even as Quinto's Sylar confronts him physically and mentally to break that oath.
To me, these "risks" seem more like the "hooks" TV viewers have come to expect from shows desperately looking for an audience. But I believe they're obvious bait -- more than what they seem. The surprises of the new season have been, in my opinion, kept mum.
For an early idea of what to expect from tonight's opening episode, "Orientation / Jump, Push, Fall," which promises to introduce a "mysterious carnival clan whose intentions are unknown," Collider.com has put together a fantastic video segment of six different clips from tonight's Heroes premiere. It's straightforward viewing fun all in one place!
Comic book fans, especially if they're long-time readers, don't easily give up on their favorite series, even if story lines grow dull and tedious or the book's creative teams aren't living up to expectations. There's a love, indeed a relationship, with the characters of the title that keeps fans coming back, month after month, to purchase the next new issue. The faith that improvement and excitement and that something worth experiencing is just around the corner keeps the home fire burning. Sometimes longer than it should, but burning nonetheless.
The same is true for many viewers -- and it's true for me -- where this television show named "Heroes" is concerned. Like the early but not long-passed days of super hero cinema, super hero television is a very new genre, one that even comic book industry insiders are still coming to terms with. Even more than the CW's Superman-based Smallville series, Heroes stands alone at the genre's front lines. Mistakes made have been costly, but unlike many other television shows that come to mind, the mistakes of Kring and Company were made despite their best intentions.
Heroes' public, joined by many a TV pundit, overlooks this fact. If Heroes were a monthly comic book, it's my opinion that far fewer fans would have abandoned its story and characters already.
If anything, and as they proved in their now-classic first season, Heroes does quite well understanding the medium of comic book storytelling as well as the super hero genre. And I've got the feeling, and the faith, that things will only be getting better.
Media Idea: I'm casting my vote along with Oka, Panettiere, Kring, and the still-numerous fans of Heroes. Season 4 will be a tremendous improvement over the down slides of its past. I'm hoping it's not an overtly self-conscious improvement, as existing hints tend to suggest. But then again, the more subtle nuances of top-notch storytelling don't generally translate well to television's large audience.
To established fans as well as to all the folks never having experienced Heroes before, I invite everyone to join me in spirit, if not in body, for the two-hour premiere tonight. After all, who among us doesn't need Redemption?
Heroes arrive on Monday, September 21st, from 8-10pm PST, on NBC.

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