Saturday, 20 October 2007

Just For One Day (And Then Again, on BBC Three)

Ah, Heroes. It's a modern classic, in many ways, and it's compulsive viewing on many levels. Thing is, I find myself utterly unable to work out what those ways or levels are. Lost held my interest by being highly unpredictable, feeding me a trickle of answers just more than sufficient to stop me giving up on it, and having a range of exciting mysteries that need answering in the first place. And Heroes doesn't seem to do those things.

It's unpredictable in the limited sense that it's not a parade of clich├ęs like many shows are, so you don't know what specific event will happen next, but you can bet safely that the principal characters will survive. To my recollection (at the pace the show is running on BBC Three), we've had somewhere in the region of two recurring characters killed, and they were unimportant ones -- the closest thing to a main character's death is probably Eden, who may have had incredible persuasive powers but far more probably just asked men to do things and they did them because she was hot. Lost killed the main characters often enough to makes sure that almost anybody could die at almost any moment.

Heroes really only has three mysteries: where the powers came from, why a paper merchant has so much money, and how Nathan Petrelli ever had time to systematically involve himself in everybody's lives from Vegas to New York with a stop in Texas to father a child. That's some impressive canvassing. The problem is that it's hard to create mysteries when you have a character who can fly, turn invisible, read minds, heal himself, move objects with his mind, stop time, and explode a whole city, and another who can hear things 40 miles off, move objects with his mind, liquefy toasters (for some reason), remember everything that ever happens to him in perfect detail, and probably has a whole host of other powers that have never really been explained. There's really no explanation that's going to satisfy, particularly not when they're making such a big show of the whole "evol-yoution" thing -- Sylar calling himself "the watchmaker's son," for example. Evolution doesn't work that way, so we just suspend disbelief, and that's not the same thing as being curious like we are with Lost.

And yet, I still find myself watching it. It's well written and entertaining. It's a damn good show. But I guess my point is that it's not the ground-breaking piece of TV history it often believes itself to be. Not, that is, unless you watch Heroes Unmasked afterwards and listen to what Greg Grunberg has to say.

Grunberg is the thoroughly-oddly-named actor who plays Matt Parkman, the psychic cop who thinks his mind-reading ability is tearing his life apart when in fact his life is falling apart because he's a bit of a twit. And his job, on Heroes Unmasked, is to sit open-legged and excitedly extol the virtues of the preceding show. He'll say things like "I think it's incredible the way the writers gave these powers to just ordinary people", or "this is a really exciting thing to be involved in because I get to play a man who can read minds! Imagine that!" or "my character is having marital difficulties -- nobody's ever done a show about that before".

Grunberg is also entertaining to watch but not the profound creator of TV history he believes himself to be. And again, I can't help but like him for it.

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