Heroes’ must rework its success formula
When Heroes first premiered in 2006, it was acclaimed as a fresh new take on the superhero genre and enjoyed great success both creatively and commercially. Although still NBC’s highest rated scripted series, Heroes has fallen on tough times of late, facing criticisms of recycled plots, convoluted stories and poor character use.
In its third season, the series still seems to be recovering from its sophomore slump of the strike-shortened season two, and NBC executives have grown tired of waiting for it to bounce back on its own.
Earlier this week, Heroes co-executive producers Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander were let go from the show in hopes of shaking up the status quo and forcing the series the take a different, better direction.
Loeb and Alexander had been with Heroes since the beginning and were both heavily involved in the creative process, overseeing the majority of the writing on the series. In the behind-the-scenes hierarchy, they were second only to creator/executive producer Tim Kring.
While both terminations were unexpected, Loeb’s was especially surprising seeing as he is one of the premiere comic book writers, garnering accolades for many of his works; Batman: The Long Halloween, Superman For All Seasons and Batman: Hush" among them. Loeb had also served as a producer on the Superman-based television series Smallville for several seasons.
Whether this turn of events will breathe new life into the series remains to be seen, but there is no doubt Heroes was in need of a new direction after becoming dangerously repetitive in its third year. The series must buck this trend if it is to remain viable in seasons to come.
For example, for the third straight season the central plot has revolved around preventing a devastating catastrophe that is revealed to the characters by either one of them traveling into the future and witnessing it personally, another clairvoyantly painting the apocalyptic outcome, or a combination of both.
This makes for a compelling narrative, but using it as a story template every season makes the writers appear to be one-trick ponies with little else to offer in the way of plot. A show touted as an exploration of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities should be about more than just time travel and paintings of the future.
The creative forces behind the series recognized the elements that had worked so well in the first season and decided to return to them, assuming they would be just as effective the second and third times around. They were wrong.
The characters suffer from the same ailment. Main protagonists Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) and Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) find themselves going through the same personal journeys every season, showing little development along the way. Meanwhile, other characters such as Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) and Nikki Sanders (Ali Larter) continue to be kept around long after their story arcs have concluded simply because of their status as fan-favorites.
Heroes must take more risks character-wise and embrace the concept of a rotating cast to avoid character and story stagnation. Once a character has completed his or her role, either kill them off or have them depart the show in a natural way, but don’t keep them around just for the sake of familiarity.
The overly serialized nature of the episodes could stand for a change as well. A season-long story arc is one thing, but Heroes’ is almost too continuous. This kind of storytelling may be ideal for DVD-marathon-watching, but it makes following the series on a weekly basis rather frustrating, and certainly won’t help to expand its audience.
While still entertaining, Heroes has reached a crossroads as a series and must forge new territory if it is to recapture its initial success and reclaim its status as a cultural phenomenon. If not, it will be remembered as a creative, but ultimately flawed series regulated to the cult-following status of many similar sci-fi contemporaries.