Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Slightly Belated Observation

Like everyone else, I read Entertainment Weekly's Nov. 7th interview with Heroes creator Tim Kring, in which he winningly owns up to the show's vertiginous drop in quality since the beginning of its second season, and vows to do better in the future. A week ago, my only reaction to statements like
We assumed the audience wanted season 1 — a buildup of intrigue about these characters and the discovery of their powers. We taught [them] to expect a certain kind of storytelling. They wanted adrenaline. We made a mistake.
was 'no shit, Sherlock,' but today, perhaps in the wake of this week's good-but-not-yet-great flashback episode, I got to thinking about this quote, and I just had to ask: why? Why would Kring assume that retreading season 1 would have good results? Heroes is a show that lives and dies with its plot progression, and it slows down the relentless pace of events and revelations at its own peril. Who in their right mind would think that stalling, and even reversing, that pace would be a winning strategy? For crying out loud, when you finish a chapter in a book, no matter how enjoyable, do you want to read another chapter just like it, or do you want the story to move forward?

To quote Guy Fleegman: did you guys ever watch the show?

It's this observation that's finally got me worried about Heroes's future. I've been rather sanguine about the show's obvious drop in quality, partly because, as it turns out, I'm not nearly as invested in it as I thought I was, but mostly because I still had faith in Kring and his writers. Interviews like this one from the end of the first season, in which he promises not to be tied down by the first season's structure, convinced me that Kring had at least a sense of the direction he needed to move in. Now it seems that Heroes has hit the same pitfall that sank Lost (and, ultimately, Veronica Mars, though in that case against the producer's better judgement)--the belief that arc-driven television can be reduced to formula, and that a well-told story need only be repeated ad infinitum to satisfy its audience.

It remains to be seen whether the failure of volume II (which, if the WGA strikes goes on as it seems set to do, may very well be the entire second season) has truly taught Kring the lesson he needed to learn. It's not enough to give the audience adrenalin (though impeccable pacing did a great deal to hide the show's myriad flaws and mediocrities in the first season). We don't need the illusion of motion--we need to know we're going somewhere.

3 comments:

Iain said...

when you finish a chapter in a book, no matter how enjoyable, do you want to read another chapter just like it, or do you want the story to move forward?

As with Veronica Mars, and possibly just as unwisely, I think a more apposite comparison for Heroes season 2 is not so much a second chapter as a sequel. It's the second book in a sequence.

I warrant you that season one of Heroes is not so complete a tale as S1 of Veronica Mars, but essentially it brought things to a point where you could have left those characters and never returned. Barring a few last minute sequel "hooks" it was done.

For the second book in a series you would, in fact, take time to start slow, reintroduce the characters etc. I think that's the approach they've taken. I agree that it was a mistake, but I don't think it was so obviously the wrong decision going in.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I think a more apposite comparison for Heroes season 2 is not so much a second chapter as a sequel. It's the second book in a sequence.

The word the show uses is 'volume,' which is somewhere in the middle. To bring this back to the realm of comics, what if Neil Gaiman had followed up Preludes and Nocturnes with a story that retreaded the same ground instead of A Doll's House?

At any rate, the issue here is less pacing (hence my comment that adrenalin alone isn't enough to save the show) but progression. I can envision a version of volume II just as slow to ignite as the one we got, but which nevertheless would have captured the audience because it took the characters in new directions instead of repeating their season 1 storylines.

Ilana said...

I thought the first season was pretty mediocre, not to mention adolescent and shallow. I don't really see the appeal.

Nowadays, my husband (who still watches it) plays the Dr. Suresh voiceovers at me because he knows they drive me nuts. Worst, silliest writing ever.

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