Thursday, November 20, 2008

REVIEW: Heroes, Season 2

So when is Space: Above and Beyond going to get a Season 2?

Previously on Heroes...
First, we had a guy on a rooftop, and...
Oh, just read the previous review.

So we’ve gotten through Season 1 of Heroes. Improvement seems inevitable, since superhero origin stories tend to be the weakest. It’s only once we get through the motions of the super-people discovering their powers and establishing their major character traits that we can see the more clever uses of those powers and the most character-bending storylines. Furthermore, while Season 1... Dammit, Volume 1 didn’t get the superhero team mechanic going until the final episode, by Volume 2 everyone has come together.

But waaait a minute. At the start of the season, of course, the Flying Petrelli Brothers are somewhere in the stratosphere and Hiro is doing his Army of Darkness thing in Feudal Japan. But what the hell is up with the other people? Aside from a couple of them who have teamed up, everyone else seems to have forgotten all the other super-people’s existence. Sure makes character conflict easier when you’ve already forgotten that you saved the world together a whole four months ago. Way to go, Suresh, the would-be genius whom you might have thought would keep the super-people together and had them do something useful. Professor X called; he says you suck at this job. Granted, considering the motley crew of Emo twenty-somethings and incompetent amateur secret agents that this show calls a cast, I might have tried to cut ties with them too.

"Look out bees! You have met your match!"

And if last year’s show was goofily amusing, if completely full of itself, this season is bad. Baaaaad. If Season 1 was The Chronicles of Riddick, this is The Chronicles of Batman and Robin, with Special Guest Star Wicket the Ewok and His Amazing Shark-Jumping Water Stunt Show. This is when the wheels come flying completely off the already-strained premise. Remember how I mentioned that certain superheroes, namely time-traveling/time-freezing Hiro and do-everything Peter, had become so powerful that it seems unlikely anyone could ever challenge them? Yeah, they didn’t exactly come up with a long-term solution, such as gleefully killing them off or upping the super villain ante to somebody Galactus-level. Instead, they need to resort to every cheap trick possible to nullify Hiro and Peter’s powers: amnesia, power-suppressing drugs, childishly transparent deception by the bad guys, tactical stupidity, and sometimes just plain freaking forgetting that they have those powers to begin with.

Ralphie stared in frozen horror at just what he and his Red Ryder carbine action 200-yard range air rifle had wrought.

And it’s not like the new exhibits at the rogue’s gallery are going to draw many patrons:

Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky): Yes, the main villain is Bob. If most of the other characters weren't already colorless, Bob's whimsical plainness might be considered ironic. He’s the front man for the vague-as-ever quasi-villainous organization “The Company.” Bob is a nebbish accountant type who happens to be The Company’s main diplomat/head of field operations. Jack Bauer he’s not. It’s also not the best strategy on The Company’s part to put him near the people who want to bring them down, since his power to turn anything into gold (seriously) is their main source of income. If you’ve got a guy with that power, you lock him in a room in the basement, give him an endless supply of garage sale crap, surround him with armed guards, and find someone else to do your dirty work.

"...And your lucky numbers are 3, 7, 21, 45, and 63!"

Elle (Kristen Bell): Bob’s lightning-throwing, spoiled brat of a teenage daughter. Veronica Mars fans rejoice. But if many Veronica Mars fans are pleased with her showing here, that show’s not exactly going to get the show to the top of my Netflix queue. Once again, Mr. Bennett steals the show in one of the season’s better scenes, when he ties up Elle and dumps water on her to ensure that her power would backfire on her if she tries to use it to escape.

Adam (David Anders): British Doogie Howser look-alike who was at one point Hiro’s childhood hero, a great Samurai in feudal Japan. When Hiro meets him, Adam turns out to be a bit of a prick, but he does also turn out to have super-powers (cripes, even random 500-year-old guys have super-powers in this show). He’s pretty much immortal, so he spans both the Feudal Japan scenes and the modern conflict, and has Claire’s super-regeneration from wounds as well. Wow, they’ve already run out of powers. Despite being no offensive threat at all, he does trick Peter into thinking he’s a good guy for a while. Which says a lot more about Peter than about Adam.

It's a wacky cross-over Thursday on NBC! At nine, Peter guests stars on The Office and defends the warehouse from agents of the apocalypse! And then, Dwight guest stars on Heroes and slices Hiro's head off!

The main threat this season is a virus that The Company is developing to neutralize super-powers. Which I’m absolutely certain was an X-Men storyline of some significance, although I never read the comics. But naturally, The Company develops a weaponized strain of this virus that‘s deadly, both to super-people and regular people (y‘know, the 5% of the Earth‘s population that lacks powers), and accidentally causes a holocaust that wipes out nearly the whole world population. How do we know? Because we’re going on the Magic School Bus and visiting the future again! Yep, Heroes is once again playing the “travel to the future to see what happens if we fail” card. The whole virus plot would probably be a bit scarier if we had any sense of its effectiveness or how gruesome its symptoms are, but we really don’t know anything except that it’s airborne and that a lot of people die. Wow, that’s what I own a television for: to hear it mentioned that a lot of people died in some unknown fashion off-screen. When 24 did its killer virus storyline, it actually showed how quickly the thing could spread and how horrific its symptoms were, but here, the virus seems to have been selected by the producers as the season’s main threat because the show didn’t need any expensive special effects to depict it.
Young Trixie and Richard Kiel in love

Oh, and Sylar’s back. And he doesn’t even have powers now, as a result of having the non-deadly strain of the virus. So like Adam, he twirls his curly moustache and convinces a new batch of idiot pseudo-heroes that he’s a Good Samaritan.

And speaking of our pseudo-heroes, here’s the new ones:

Monica (Dana Davis): Girl from New Orleans with big dreams who keeps getting passed up for a promotion at the fast food joint she works at. Maybe they found out that her grandma is NICHELLE NICHOLS, and they were worried that Monica would keep saying into the drive-through intercom, “Unidentified ship, please identify yourself!” And not to minimize the real-life tragedy, but the completely tacked-on flashback Monica has to stock footage of Hurricane Katrina was pretty hilariously awkward. She has the power to mimic any movement she sees other people do, ranging form fancy tomato-slicing to kung fu to fake wrestling moves. Thank God she doesn’t watch The Matrix, or she’d break the space-time continuum. It would be a fairly interesting power, and fairly useful, if other people couldn’t STOP FREAKING TIME and CONTROL FREAKING MINDS. She’s Nikki’s son’s cousin, but other than that, what does she have to do with the virus storyline? Absolutely. Nothing. Whatsoever.

"Are you deaf? I said take me to the airport, four-eyes!" "Your wish is my command, cotton-nose!"

Maya and Alejandro (Dania Ramirez and Shalim Ortiz): Twins from the Dominican Republic. She gets agitated a lot. You wouldn’t like her when she’s agitated. She starts streaming these thick black tears and kills everyone in the vicinity, unwillingly on her part. This is a terrible curse for her, because if she can't get angry without killing everyone near her, she's doomed forever to watch Heroes alone. Her twin brother is immune to this effect and is good at calming her down. Which I guess counts as a power. After Maya accidentally kills Alejandro’s fiancee, their family, and the entire wedding party--something he apparently doesn’t even begin to hold against her--they spend the whole season trying to sneak into the US to seek a cure for her condition from Dr. Suresh. Probably seeking help from Dr. Kevorkian, Dr. Nick Riviera, Dr. Octopus, or Dr. Seuss would be a better bet. This season-long quest through the Americas, which includes Sylar as a co-passenger, naturally gives the producers a chance to include the Minutemen as mouth-breathing Neanderthal villains in one scene. Whoa. I just got a Babel flashback. I think I need to lie down.

West (Nick D‘Agosto): Yes, that’s his first name. He’s a guy at Claire’s new school after her family flees to California. He comes on to her by asking if she’s more of a robot (does what she’s told) or an alien (does things her own way). At which point I decide he really belongs in the villain’s section above, because a million monkeys working for a million years on a million typewriters could not create as idiotic a pick-up line as that. Naturally, every random freaking person in this show has a super-power, so what’s his? Flight. Kind of like Nathan’s? Exactly like Nathan’s. They’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel, and now they’re stripping it for firewood.

Although Season 2 has a lot of storylines, Adam’s is the only one that’s particularly important to that virus I mentioned earlier. Although he was once an anonymous samurai mercenary, Hiro helps him to realize his power of regeneration and become an actual hero, fighting a bunch of generic samurai bad guys. However, the writers were clearly Jerry Zucker fans who wanted to cover for his awful love triangle in First Knight, so they pull off an even worse one by having Adam get all pissed that his would-be girlfriend, Yaeko, is actually attracted to Hiro. So he does something truly heroic--overpower a man who can freeze time and teleport at will. That takes guts. Still, Hiro winds up turning the tables on him, and mistakenly believes Adam to be killed in an explosion. Deciding to leave his beloved Yaeko--he can time travel, so couldn’t he just come back to see her on the weekends?--Hiro returns to the present. However, Adam is immortal, and apparently 400 years isn’t enough for the guy to forgive a relatively minor soap opera betrayal. So in present time, he goes after founding members of The Company, which include Hiro’s father (George Takei; I already mentioned that in the last review, but I like to remind people that George Takei is in this show) and Peter and Nathan’s mother, Angela Petrelli. Adam bumps off Mr. Nakamura, despite the fact that with only the slightest bit of time-altering, Hiro could have stopped Adam then and there, saving his father and actually, for once, doing his fair share to avert the global cataclysm that a villain is planning. But that would do something bad to the space-time continuum, or maybe they just decided that it would be unfair for Hiro to actually use his full effort. So Adam kills Sulu and gets away.

"If we don't get there in three minutes, the world is going to end! But if we do save the world, it's all thanks to our awesome Sprint phone!"

Inexplicably, he knows that Peter’s in Ireland (I won’t bother going into that storyline). Peter’s kind of depressed at the time Adam runs into him, again (again, I’m cutting some stuff here). You see, Peter accidentally warped himself and his new girlfriend into the future, where he learned that the Shanti virus is going to kill off most of the world’s population. Despite having almost limitless power, he somehow failed to bring her back with him. So now he’s got to change the future that he’s left her in, therefore wiping her out of existence. That‘s quite a break-up. But fortunately, Adam comes along to console poor Peter and help him out. He tells Peter that the Company is planning to release the virus, when in fact, Adam himself wants to release it, because he just really, really, really doesn’t like people. And considering that he’s had 400 years to think over that position, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss him.

So a lot of crap happens, and in the end, it’s Peter getting duped by Adam, while Hiro, who understands Adam’s true nature and intention of releasing the weaponized virus to get revenge on the world, tries to stop them from breaking into a vault to get the one vial of the damn stuff. I suppose that a battle between two characters who can move at will through time and space would be quite an incredible thing to witness in the hands of a creative director. But no. Peter doesn’t even need to use his own time-traveling ability, since Hiro fights like an elderly English teacher trying to play Mortal Kombat for the first time, and gets knocked out. Fortunately, Parkman and Nathan arrive in the nick of time. Parkman fills his quota of being flung away at the outset of the fight, but then Nathan talks sense into Peter. Peter destroys the virus, and Hiro buries Adam alive, which is actually kind of unexpectedly vicious and clever.

MEMO: Cisco Marketing Dept.: Prospective clients are concerned about certain security gaps in our software. Specifically, they saw Heroes and were led to believe that we stick the f***ing password out there for everyone to see as you type it.

Nathan schedules a press conference to reveal his super-powers to the world and to expose The Company for… whatever it is. Naturally, he’s shot and killed* before he can do so, by an unknown assassin. Why is this stupid? Well about three episodes earlier, it was revealed that an infusion of Claire’s super-regenerating blood can bring someone back to life, which happened to Mr. Bennett, who had been shot himself (in the face!). So for all the drama at Nathan’s death, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t figure out soon enough that they can bring him back to life easy as pie. Hell, Peter’s own blood could do the trick since he has Claire’s power. If these people want to do good in the world, they should just install mounted cannons, Predator-style, into their shoulders that fire needles filled with their own blood. They’d be the ultimate combat medics, the Priests of the Heroes World of Warcraft team. But no. The show is still deluding itself into the notion that it has some dignity, so crazy cyborg implants are out of the question. And they still want permission to kill people off, so life-restoring blood transfusions of any kind are hereby outlawed until the time comes again when they’re convenient for the writers.

"The feather was fake, Claire! You can fly! Open your ears, Claire, and fly!"

And there’s so much more wrong with the mercifully few twelve episodes (thank you, striking writers) of this season that I don’t have the willpower to talk about in detail:

  • George Takei, yet again. With both him and Nichelle Nichols, this show has the most ex-Star Trek actors with crappy memoirs of any show since… Star Trek.

  • More Nikki good girl/bad girl Gollum crap. She supposedly dies* at the end of the season, which suggests to me that Ali Larter is out of the doghouse and is ready to go back to making movies again.

  • The hilarious notion that Nathan Petrelli managed to steal a congressional election he was supposed get crushed in, get charred, get miraculously cured, get stripped of his office, and fall into alcoholism and--here’s the kicker-- total obscurity in four months. What the hell kind of a job is the press doing? And the Attorney General for that matter?

  • But he wasn’t as busy as Matt Parkman. In that same four-month span, Matt managed to recover from four bullets to the chest, file for divorce and conclude it, move from California to New York, legally adopt a girl he barely knew, and make detective with the NYPD. Holy God. And I thought CTU worked fast.

  • The character of West deserves extra mockery, because the show clearly decided it wasn’t enough to horribly rip off X-Men. It had to get a piece of the Smallville pie too. This guy’s a dead ringer for the guy who plays Superman in that show. What does he add to Heroes? An extra half a rating point in the 12-18 female demographic, that’s what.

  • So far, Hiro has killed zero villains and caused one good guy to turn evil. He deserves some credit for stabbing Sylar at the end of Season 1 (though he should have outright killed him, considering that he can FREEZE TIME), but deserves equal responsibility for the global disaster that he utterly failed to help stop in this season. I think he needs to seriously reconsider his career. Instead of using his powers to fight evil, maybe he should do something that won’t kill us all, like use his powers to improve the NFL’s instant replay ability.

Now, as much as I mock this show, I will admit that I watched these two seasons from beginning to end. Hey, sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your art.

If you flip a coin, I swear...

Stop with the excuses. Stop with the Emmys. However moderately interesting this show once was, it’s now an incoherent jumble. Its heroes are over-powered. Its villains are under-powered. Comic books that have run for forty years have better continuity. The show’s new characters are annoying. Its old characters are impossible to care about. Its fights are ludicrous. Its dramatic scenes are nothing but clich├ęs. Its plot somehow manages to be simplistic and incomprehensible, all at once. Its music frightens dogs. Its acting fluctuates between acceptable and Swordfish. Aside from Mr. Bennett continuing to be the truly great action hero on a show where he’s just about the only one without a super-power, Volume 2: Generations manages to be the Star Trek: Generations of the Heroes franchise.

"Listen, there is no way that I would ever allow people to think of anything unsavory when they think of the Spitzer name."

But don’t worry. Heroes will be back. And I’ll probably review it, again. At which point, I’ll ask Adam if there’s any room left in that coffin.

*Because Season 3 has already started, I should add to this review, drafted several months ago, that neither of these two characters are actually dead. Well, one of them’s alive, and the other one is dead, but has a twin sister. Really.

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