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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Heroes is the Best Sci-Fi on TV

I'm a big fan of the television show, Heroes. In fact, I think it's the best show with a science fiction theme on TV. Season two starts this coming Monday, and as it approaches, I have been thinking about why I am so excited. I decided to write the reasons down for you, in case you do not already watch the show. They are all good reasons for you to get involved!

Killer Episodes

Although the series is consistently good, with each and every episode worth watching, there are a few that are phenomenal. These killer episodes include two of my favorites, one that delves into the past, and one that peers into the future.

In Company Man we get to see the gradual transformation of the character Mr. Bennett from an agent, just doing his job, into something greater. This moving episode shines with its interplay between Bennett, his adopted daughter Claire, and his associates in the sinister organization known as The Company. It's probably the episode that made him my favorite character in the show, despite his not being one of the heroes. With episodes like this, not only do we get great action and fancy special effects, but we get powerful drama as well.

Five Years Gone shows us a future world, one in which the event the heroes are trying to stop has already happened: an atomic blast has devastated New York. The episode centers around the time-traveling Hiro Nakamura, and it really is a piece of work. There is major character development among all of the surviving characters, and clues for future development. The best part about the episode is that it leaves you grasping at the possibilities. Based on how certain characters act, what they know when, and what happens to them throughout the rest of the season, it becomes difficult to tell if and how the timeline will be altered. Will Hiro and the rest of the heroes stop the explosion? And if so, how much will play out the same? And what really happened to cause this dystopic future, because clearly some of the characters have their facts wrong (including the ones driving the episode, which is somewhat similar to the unreliable narrator trope). The episode reminds me of something I would find in a book I'd recommend.

Mood, Atmosphere, and Details

Heroes excels at creating a good atmosphere. Every show is opened and closed with a brief topical voiceover from the character Dr. Suresh. His topics range from evolution to the nature of loss. And normally, I'm not a big fan of voice overs, but his charge each episode's atmosphere. And the music during his little monologues enhances the effect. I don't really notice music throughout the rest of the show, but this music, along with the show's theme, draws you in. It's haunting, mysterious, melancholy, and it wraps a cord around your heart and yanks. There is just something about it.

Furthermore, there are other details in the show that make it breathe. These are just little things, but they add up. Some examples:

  • Each episode name is shown as a part of the scenery in the opening scene of each episode.
  • In one episode, Hiro creates a model consisting of timelines for all of the heroes in an attempt to change history. It is a hanging model of string, newspaper clippings, and pictures, tied together at various junctions where major actors in the story meet. It's a neat little piece of scenery that adds to his character and the story.
  • The viewer is continually taken back to certain key locations, among them a specific balcony overlooking New York. On its ledge, we are shown the destruction of the city, and a number of other significant events. By going back time and again, we get a feel for the Heroes universe, and we learn clues about the relationships between the characters.
Character Death Done Right

Major characters die in this show, sometimes unexpectedly. However, when they die, they die right. They don't die of stupid random occurrences with no meaning. And even when they suffer, even when we see a friend's death coming, it's pulled off well. The old lines about "life not being fair," "bad things happen to good people," and, "sometimes people just die," do not apply to character death. The writers seem to understand that we don't want this kind of silly, overdone lesson. We know it already from real life. We want heroic deaths, meaningful deaths, deaths that add to the story. And we get them.

Plot Forethought, Consistency, and Pacing

A consistent science fiction plot differentiates a work of art from simple entertainment, and Heroes nails it. The plot of season one was written before the show was filmed. You can tell this when you watch it. It has consistency and foreshadowing, and the season finale wraps up the major plot points for the season. Thankfully, the writers are not making it up as they go along.

Now, it's not perfect. If you follow news about the show, you know that minor changes have been made to the plot. However, this is inevitable with the nature of television, and it's better than any other show I've seen. Previously, I had thought that Battlestar Galactica had this as well, but then season three came along. The head writer admitted that he had not determined the identities of the cylon (bad guys) sleeper agents until then, and his laziness was visible when the revelations came. However, Heroes succeeds where BSG fails. Sure, some minor characters left during season one because of contractual issues. Also, Mr. Bennett's role grew from minor to major character as his fan base grew. But the meat of the plot stayed true and consistent, like a good book. And that's something to which every show should aspire.

Pacing is also tremendously well done. There are no one-off episodes for viewers to tolerate (see BSG season three) as they wait for the main plot to unfold. Instead, we get regular wow moments, and a plot that continues to move forward each and every episode. Following from that, we get a complete story for one whole season, not a drawn-out series of empty episodes pushed by some exec cheerfully grabbing for the show's udders. Unlike with many other shows, I rarely found myself yelling at the TV to, "Come on! Get on with it already!"


I know I'm going to be watching the first episode on Monday. If season two is as good as season one was, I will be ecstatic. If you're as into Sci-Fi as I am, you should check it out as well. I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised, because it really is the best Sci-Fi on TV.

For Fans
If you're interested in some Heroes discussion, hit the comments or meet me in the forums.


Unknown said...

Ok, ok, ok, I must rent this show and catch up and see what all the fuss is about. I've not watched a single episode. It was under the radar for me for quite sometime. No, I don't watch much TV and if it's on at all, it's on CNN and only then did I see Larry King interview the stars of the show did I realize what a hit Heroes was with the world. I am so out of the loop. When I do watch it, I'll be ready to discuss with you.--Keishon

Joel said...

Sounds good! I look forward to discussing it with you! I hope you enjoy it!

Mister Troll said...

Hey, now you're making me not want to get into BSG! I was just about to request it from the library, too.

Never did see Heroes. I don't think it comes on any of our 5 channels.

PS Doesn't anyone find it odd that I, as co-owner of this blog, have to verify that I am not a comment spammer? Ahem.

Joel said...

You should still get BSG. Despite its little problems, it's still one of the best shows on TV. Don't let my complaints put you off it.

I don't have to verify that I'm not a comment spammer. I don't know what YOUR problem is. :)

Mister Troll said...

I guess that means I *am* a comment spammer. Dangit. Please don't ban me! :-)