Category Archives: Heroes

Cultural Flashback: Tim Kring and the Fall of ‘Heroes’

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Cultural Flashback:

Tim Kring and the Fall of ‘Heroes’

My brother asked me this week why I hadn’t yet commented (like Mo Ryan at the Chicago Tribune or James Poniewozik at Time) on the emerging story wherein Tim Kring, creator of NBC’s former-hit Heroes, referred to people who watch his show live weekly “dipsh**s” while discussing the show moving away from serialization in a recent appearance.

Now, clearly, this is hideously uncool and condescending coming from someone who runs a show that is only surviving due to these kinds of devoted fans, and who is being forced to dial back serialization as opposed to it happening naturally. But to be honest, my emotional attachment to Heroes is so low right now (five episodes behind and counting, I think) that it didn’t really affect me: I just shook my head, wondering whether the man seriously even understands his own show.

There was another element to my detachment, though, and that is an element of “I told you so.” Last March, only two months into the life of Cultural Learnings (aka when likely very few of you were reading), myself and Matt Elliott (formerly of BE Something, a TV-focused blog, and now writing very intelligent pieces on generational workplace scenarios at Y Working) got into a lengthy discussion about the state of the two big serial shows of the time, Lost and Heroes. Remember, this was at the point before Lost’s tremendous third season really hit its stride (and before the amazing twist of Through the Looking Glass, which led Matt to renew his faith in Lindelof/Cuse), so Matt’s original article discussing what Heroes could do to avoid “becoming like Lost” was not as crazy as it might sound today (in other words, don’t hate on his article, he meant well).

Matt made a tremendous number of fantastic suggestions for Heroes’ future that would have done some good, but in writing my response my point was simple: with Tim Kring at the helm and with an already overbloated cast, I did not foresee a scenario where they would, or even could, implement the things that could save the show. I was not, in fact, a believer.

I don’t repost this to toot my own horn, though, so much as I repost it to remind us of a time when Heroes could have been saved, where the man at the helm could have made decisions that would keep him from having to degrade his own audience in an attempt to make his show seem…I don’t even know what he was trying to do. And, as they again attempt to reboot the series to become more relevant, maybe some reminders of Matt’s suggestions could prove beneficial to Kring or, ideally, whoever they get to replace him.

What you’ll find below the fold is my original article with some inserted commentary (consider it to the Director’s Cut) – enjoy!

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The Search for a Showsaver: Heroes, Bryan Fuller and NBC’s Big Little Problems

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The Search for a Showsaver

November 4th, 2008

In case you didn’t hear (I’ve been out of commission in terms of blogging due to a major presentation, so my Twitter feed has been the best source of information/reaction), NBC over the weekend let go Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb, the two head writers at their highest rated scripted series, Heroes. Note how I make the distinction: no longer a hit, the show has been relegated to simply being the highest rated amongst NBC’s anemic fall lineup.

This is a fact that NBC wants to fix, a purpose I find admirable if a tad bit idealistic. At this point, Heroes’ problems are that awful mix of inevitable (that some viewers would tire of the serialized narrative), creative (an admitted lack of quality and consistency ever since the first season finale), and logistical (budget overruns, an overabundance of cast members, etc.). Taken individually, the problems might be easy to handle: you offer more social networking integration to hook in what hardcore viewers you have, you bring in a new showrunner who is capable of bringing some quality writing the show’s solid foundation, and you cut some cast members and focus more on character than action or setpieces.

But, solving all three at once can’t be done: any creative or logistical changes could alienate the existing fanbase, and there is no guarantee that a showrunner will be able to balance the creative side of the series with the budget cuts that NBC is forcing on the series. Plus, at the same time, Tim Kring is still in charge of the series, and while Loeb and Alexander may be the scapegoats I’d tend to think the problem goes beyond them to the man truly in charge.

So while names like Bryan Fuller are bandied about, it begs the question: can NBC save Heroes?

Keep reading to find out.

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Heroes – “I Am Become Death”

“I Am Become Death”

October 6th, 2008

When “Five Years Gone” debuted last Spring, I was amongst those who were a bit lukewarm on the episode. Sure, it was interesting to see this potential future for our Heroes, but at that point the “here and now” drama of the series was actually quite compelling. Every time since that point, though, the future has been getting more and more attractive: with the future comes a promise of getting away from the doldrums of the present, of the slowly changing landscape actually getting around to changing before we all grow old or, worst of all for NBC, impatient to the point of tuning out.

What “I Am Become Death” does is follow in this same tradition, as Heroes plagiarizes itself in an effort to keep people interested. I would love to report that it doesn’t work at all, but the episode throws enough “Isn’t the future wacky and crazy?!” at the viewer to give them some (likely irrational) hope that the series is heading in some exciting directions. The entire thing plays out as, in combination, Future Peter ushering Present Peter into this new world, and Matt Parkman witnessing the thing while in a hallucinatory state in Africa, and while there are some interesting broad divisions being drawn as related to the key theme it feels like a lot for the future to live up to.

And Heroes isn’t good at living up to its promise.

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Heroes – “One of Us, One of Them”

“One of Us, One of Them”

September 29th, 2008

Is it wrong that, at the end of the day, I’m so satisfied by an episode of Heroes that doesn’t suck, acting as if it’s as much a triumph as an episode that is extremely good? My standards have certainly fallen for Heroes in the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean that “One of Us, One of Them” isn’t still a good indicator for the strength of the coming season. There are some elements, including a smart return to the dynamic of the Company’s two-man teams and Hiro and Ando’s comic escapades, which feel like a return to a Heroes that knew what it was doing.

But let’s be frank: the strength of this episode is based on what is missing as opposed to what is really here. It’s an episode that focuses on the most interesting characters (HRG and Sylar), the most well-tested ideas (such as our new Isaac that Parkman met in Africa), and those storylines that could actually improve the show in the future (Claire training to become a hero in her own right). On those fronts, the show is smart: it’s what viewers like, what offers hope for the future, and what doesn’t outright suck.

Really, though, the reason the episode works is that the parts completely dragging the show down (Maya and Mohinder, in particular) are wonderfully absent in this third episode; when the show returns to their characters, something tells me that I won’t be willing to give them a free pass on some of the weaker execution seen in parts of the episode.

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Season Premiere: Heroes – “The Butterfly Effect”

“The Butterfly Effect”

Season Premiere, Part 2

[For my thoughts on “The Second Coming,” the first part of the premiere, click here]

When a butterfly flaps its wings, Heroes finally seems to emerge from a season-long cocoon.

“The Butterfly Effect” is not close to capturing the wonder that got the show’s weak writing and poor balancing of the ensemble cast through its first season, but what it represents is a show that is trying to expand its world without flailing about wildly. The show isn’t introducing any new heroes who require long periods of repetitive exposition, or trying to bring in whole new conspiracies and the like; instead, the show is letting its existing characters travel on new trajectories that all relate to a central theme of morality as opposed to a central theme of the end of the world.

If the first half of the finale was about starting to introduce these ideas, the second half puts most of them into motion: Peter’s storyline takes form, Noah Bennett finally returns to his kick-ass self, Kristen Bell is given (at the very least) something interesting to potentially expand upon, and Ali Larter’s new role certainly still raises intriguing questions.

At the same time, though, there’s a feeling that certain storylines are already repetitive, already derivative of past storylines and now dangerously going through the same motions in two straight episodes. If the show can iron out some of those difficulties, I think that the positive can outweigh the negative – if this can happen, Heroes might become enjoyable without qualifications again.

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Season Premiere: Heroes – “The Second Coming”

“The Second Coming”

Season Premiere, Part One

[For my review of the second part of the premiere, “The Butterfly Effect,” click here]

I don’t hate Heroes – I just find it really difficult to like Heroes.

There is a difference: there are elements of the show that I really want to like, and parts which remind me at every turn that there is something unique about what the show offers. But after a while, these can only go so far – I’m to the point where I’m the epitome of a cliche when I start prattling on about how nothing on the show will ever live up to “Company Man.”

So I don’t want to open this review with the new cliche, the understandable if overused complaining about the show’s second season. When it comes to coverage here at Cultural Learnings, the kiss of death is not outright negativity but rather sheer disinterest: I stopped recapping Heroes at a certain point primarily because I stopped caring about its characters. That was the second season’s biggest problem: not that its new characters were amongst the worst I could possibly imagine, but rather that they went so far as to render previously acceptable characters worthless. When even Hiro ends up feeling like we’re wasting time, the show is in trouble.

But as a television critic of sorts, I’ve got to keep an open mind – the end result of this is that the first hour of the evening’s premiere represents an important step forward in that the storylines we are seeing develop as part of “Villains,” in particular within “The Second Coming,” are about discovering what makes these characters tick as opposed to them saving the world. Yes, the show has every opportunity to fall off the rails, but I can understand why the Comic-Con crowd was satiated by this hour: it offers more hope for the future than the show has offered since…well, probably since “Company Man.”

…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some issues.

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10 Shows to (Hopefully) Watch in 2008: #10-8

Cultural Learnings’ 10 Shows to (Hopefully) Watch in 2008 is a list which reflects not the best series to possibly air in the calendar year, but rather those which shall prove most interesting to watch both in terms of the show itself and the buzz surrounding it. Some shows have made this list due to curiosity, hype, or a genuine interest in their creative future. Some of these shows may not air a single new episode of television until the fall, but it’s never too early to look ahead. On with the list!

Last year, I designated an episode of Heroes (“Company Man”) as the #1 episode of television during February Sweeps, and perhaps during the entire year. Ultimately, I’d probably give that distinction to an episode from another series, but the fact remains that Heroes did some great things in the past year that should make them something to watch in 2008. Unfortunately, almost all of that goodwill has been squandered.

As a result, Heroes barely makes this list due to a sheer curiosity as to how low Tim Kring and Co. can sink this ship. If the season one finale took the wind out of its sails, the show’s “Volume Two” was a shipwreck of epic proportions. Everything that went wrong did: new characters fell flat, beloved characters were stuck in awful storylines, and there was no “Company Man” to save a sinking ship.

Before the last few episodes of Season Two, I was at least optimistic that Tim Kring’s apology would at least ensure that the series would right itself heading into Volume Three. However, what Kring sold us as an altered course was still in a fundamentally wrong direction, and an awful fall finale was enough for Heroes to become entertaining not due to its quality but due to its continue descent into mediocrity. If I’m watching in 2008, it will only be out of a morbid curiosity…and that’s kind of sad.

Heroes will not go back into production until the Writers’ Strike is resolved. Chances are it will complete its 22-episode second season with a string of 11 episodes to air in the fall of 2008.

YouTube: Heroes Volume Three Preview

I feel obligated to place one of the season’s midseason debuts on the list, but don’t view this as a token selection – Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is perhaps one of the most interesting drama series to hit the airwaves this year. This attempt at spinning off the Terminator franchise seems a terrible idea on paper, but its execution is solid: the pilot presents a level of action and drama that at the very least appears to offer a smarter and more cohesive alternative to NBC’s fading sci-fi series.

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