Friday, October 03, 2008

My Heroes

I haven't been watching but I've heard some grumblings about the new season of Heroes. To be honest, I kind of got lost last season. For me the show has always had a lot of great potential but not a lot of satisfying follow-through. The more characters they added the less interesting it became to me, because even in the relatively sparse first season I had a hard time keeping all of the storylines straight.

And I do have to admit I still blame Heroes for the cancellation of The 4400, which was a vastly superior show. The producers of 4400 seemed to be trying to cop some of Heroes' more comic-booky moves, a strategy that flattened the show for a quite few episodes in the middle of the fourth and last season. I always called The 4400 "X-Men meets X-Files," which is appropriate considering the first two X-Men movies and the classic X-Files were filmed in Canada, as was The 4400 (Vancouver was the prime shooting venue here).

All three labored to make the fantastic tangible, a prime component in selling this kind of drama. When doing a more obvious fantasy you can get away with characters shooting lasers from their eyes or plasma beams from their palms, but a character-driven drama that is trying to create a true sense of jeopardy- a sense that these characters can lose it all- really needs to keep those 80's kinds of comic book moves to a minimum. Singer certainly did so with the first two X-Men films, which is why they are far and away my favorite-ever versions of those characters.

One thing that The 4400 took from the X-Men mythos was a palpable sense of persecution and paranoia. You get a sense that these powers make these characters more threatened, more vulnerable. There are traces of that in Heroes, but The 4400 put across the fear the characters felt in a vastly more intimate and cathartic fashion. The producers of The 4400 also refrained from casting overly-pretty actors, which added to the sense of realism, but probably cost the show ratings from some of America's more superficial couch potatoes.

The 4400 was much bolder politically speaking as well, tackling head-on the nascent surveillance state we are all stumbling towards. In Season Two, the head of a government agency tasked to deal with the 4400 problem devised his own final solution- a genetically-altered virus meant to kill anyone with these powers off. As with The X-Files, you could see all sorts of themes plucked from conspiracy sites sprinkled liberally throughout the four seasons of The 44oo. There were religious themes inspired by Evangelical dispensationalism allegorized, as well as those of Scientology. Quite the heady brew for what was essentially a superhero show.

Like all fans of dead and buried genre shows, I hold out hope that the story will be continued in some way. Perhaps creators/showrunners Scott Peters and René Echevarria could follow Joss Whedon's lead and do Season Five in comic book format. The story- and the issues raised by it- deserves better than to be thrown on the heap of discarded quality television that couldn't reach enough viewers amongst a steadily dumbed-down populace.