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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

HEROES (the TV show); ALL OVER THE MAP

As my already-moderate interest in HEROES begins to sink slowly beneath the horizon during the show's third (and final?) season, I have to admit it may be unique in one way. I can't remember a show with this many characters that was literally "all over the map," and in which there was no "home base" or "headquarters" to which the characters returned.

In the show's first season, much was made of the need to assemble all the resident quasi-superheroes in one place, New York, in order to "save the cheerleader-- save the world." This was, to be sure, a nice narrative approach that had me interested just from sheer strategic considerations, since the show started with the notion that the heroes were scattered hither and yon but would have to be brought together somehow.

However, once the New York arc was done, the heroes all split apart like so many Dragonballs, and the show hasn't had a coherent storyline since then.

I'm not saying that the characters should have formed their own Justice League or the like. That would probably have been much worse than the plotlines that did develop. But something should have been done in order to give the majority of characters-- except maybe time-hopping Hiro-- some stable location around which to foregather.

Television is, after all, a domestic medium. Weekly and even daily serials work better in that medium because of the expectation that you can always get the new episode "at home" and don't have to go anywhere for it. TV even dethroned its closest rival, the newspaper comic strip, which by about the 1970s had lost all steam as a medium for promoting serial adventures.

Now, adventure-series do sometimes feature characters who hop all about the globe and possess no "home base" whatsoever. In all the seasons of the 60s series I SPY, I don't think I ever saw the protagonists check in at a headquarters or report to a boss. But that's not a problem when your regular cast is small. It's also possible to do a ensemble series when the "home base" is the protagonists' mode of transporation, as the Enterprise was for the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.

With a show like HEROES, possessing about eight or nine regulars whose stories are supposed to get frequently updated soap-opera style-- rather than being neatly rounded off in short arcs as with later TREK shows-- it's madness.

Moreover, in HEROES' first season, the producers made some attempt to be realistic about the exigencies of characters crossing huge distances for their meetings. But in the second and third seasons, that's all been thrown out the window. Characters come and go willy-nilly and I for one can't keep track where anyone is or where they've been in the last few days.

That's a good reason most soaps are built around particular towns or cities, so that it's not illogical for various characters to interact.

HEROES' debt to the ABC show LOST has been asserted by many, but here the bigger debt may be to ALIAS (also a show worked on by J.J. Abrams), which frequently had its main character bopping off to two or three exotic locations per episode. But even the ALIAS spy had a home base and a regular support-cast to balance all that waywardness.

Lack of location-stability is certainly not the only problem with the HEROES show. But I consider it to be a major reason why a tolerably-entertaining show went totally down the crapper.

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