Heroes’ lack of self-awareness
I haven’t blogged about Heroes, a show that I watch regularly and enjoy only intermittently. When it’s on its game – episodes like “Six Months Ago,” “Company Man,” and “Five Years Gone” – it’s pretty engrossing, playing with dense mythology and engaging characters. But at its worst, the dialogue is horribly on-the-nose (especially every line Suresh says), the characters become wooden game board pieces, and the storyworld is treated sloppily. Oddly enough, I find that the show’s worst episodes are written by creator Tim Kring – he seems to take credit for episodes with the worst dialogue and plotting.
The season finale was a quintessential Kring episode. The shows leading to the finale had set-up both an inevitable scrum with Sylar and an intergenerational mythology about the parents of the current heroes. Beyond the annoyingly stilted dialogue and failed attempts to make us care about Niki and D.L., the episode completely dropped the ball about telling us anything (or setting up suspense) about Linderman’s partners. And then the fight with Sylar was clunky and didn’t take advantage the characters’ powers, along with a whole host of plot holes and “why didn’t they do this?” questions (for instance, with all the various powers available to be used, why do they try to take down Sylar with a conventional sword?). Underwhelming at best, and the online discussions have not been kind.
But after reading MediaMaven’s discussion of this brief explanation from Tim Kring, I’ve lost all faith in the showrunner’s understanding of his own show. When asked why Peter didn’t fly away himself, Kring first says “You know, theoretically you’re not supposed to be thinking about that.” He then gives a tepid rationalization of the action, but admits that it’s a stretch, saying “It requires the proverbial suspension of disbelief” to justify the heroic rescue from Nathan. That’s right – the climactic moment designed to be the emotional payoff & culmination of the season-long plot requires us to suspend our doubt and critical judgment.
It has been widely reported that Kring knows nothing about comic books, as he relies on his other writers to provide superhero conventions while Kring focuses on making a show appealing to the mainstream, non-comics viewers. But the show’s plotting and mythology encourages a mode of “forensic fandom” similar to many narratively complex programs, like Lost or Battlestar Galactica. Viewers are encouraged to think about how everything fits together, the mechanics of the superpowers, origin stories, and the backstory web of relationships – this is what makes the show distinct from the average primetime drama, fueling its best episodes and cementing its ties to both comic books and serialized television.
To say that we simply shouldn’t worry about continuity and allow ourselves to be swept up by the emotion of the fraternal rescue shows two aspects of Kring’s lack of understanding of his own show. First, such suspension of disbelief needs to be earned by creating emotional engagement so engrossing that we ignore logic and rationality – I can’t think of a single moment in the show’s first season that achieved such depth of involvement, and if Kring thinks that emotional investment in character is what’s driving the show’s popularity, I think he’s quite mistaken. Second, comic book narrative and its associated fanbase is all about filling in gaps in continuity and contemplating the rules of the storyworld, especially the distinctive elements of superpowers. To suggest that we shouldn’t be thinking about the heroes’ powers during a climactic battle would be like saying we shouldn’t be thinking about the medical abilities of the doctors on House when they’re working with patients – that’s only what the show’s all about!
MediaMaven thinks that this comment shows that Kring doesn’t respect his viewers; I’d say that it shows more of a complete lack of understanding of the narrative tradition and form he’s working in, and a disconnect between the creator and his own show. Given that, my hopes for the show’s future are dwindling fast.
Filed under: Narrative, TV Shows | 9 Comments