The first season of Heroes was a hit in the television world. It won “Best Network Television Series” at the Saturn Awards, “Favorite Television Cast Ensemble” at the Diversity Awards, “Favorite New Drama” at the People’s Choice Awards, “Program of the Year” from the Television Critics Association, and even the “Future Classic Award” from TV Land Awards. Fans anxiously awaited Season 2. However, the Writer’s Strike cut the season to 11 episodes, and the show was met with criticism by those with high expectations. NBC gave the show another chance, but in Season 3, ratings continued to dive. For Season 4, the creators promised to get back to the show’s roots. But ratings dropped even more - hitting new series lows every week. Finally, after another awful finale, the show was cancelled.
Being the Heroes fan and critic that I am, I decided to re-watch the seasons and while doing so, try to discern the differences between the award-winning first season and the disappointing seasons that followed. How did this show, a show once praised as among television’s best, completely fall apart?
There are 4 seasons and 5 volumes. (Season 3 consisted of 2 volumes.)
The names of the Volumes are (1)Genesis, (2)Generations, (3)Villains, (4)Fugitives, and (5)Redemption.
Actors are cast as either “principal”, “supporting”, or “guest”. The “principal” cast portray the “main” characters.
There are spoilers ahead.
If you have any questions on the show, use http://heroeswiki.com.
“12 Tips to Restore Heroes to its Former Glory” or ”Why I Should Replace Tim Kring”
Tip #1) Cliffhangers. Every episode in the first season of Heroes left audiences with a plot twist - a cliffhanger, that kept the audience wanting more. In episode 1, Peter jumps off a building - but we don’t know whether he can actually fly or if he is delusional, like his brother believes! In episode 4, Peter turns around to find Hiro, from the future, who says that he has a message. Episode 9 ends with: Sylar’s capture (finally), Peter getting arrested, Mohinder making an important decision, Jessica aiming a loaded weapon at her husband and firing, and Hiro successfully finding his boo alive in the past.
That is how you end an episode of a serial adventure/mystery show.
In the final 2 Volumes, Heroes began to move away from this type of conclusion. Instead, episodes just…faded out. In episode 10 (of Vol.5), Peter walks away, saying that he’ll find a way to bring his very-much-deceased brother Nathan back. Episode 16 ends with Samuel giving a motivational speech to his carnival people (which could be a good ending if he hadn’t already given 5+ speeches to them already). Why did Heroes kill cliffhangers? Maybe laziness. Or maybe they just had no idea where the plot was headed…
I believe that the last few minutes of an episode can determine whether or not a viewer tunes in next week - especially in a serial drama, where one needs to see every episode to experience the entire story. It’s an investment. The lack of cliffhangers in the latter seasons may very well have contributed to the poor ratings.
Tip #2) Mystery. On a similar note, the mysterious quality of Heroes that was so effective had almost entirely vanished by the first season’s end. In Season 1, there were so many questions - Who is the killer? What does the Company do? Who is the Haitian? Who is behind the radiation attacks? Who is kidnapping heroes? Who is going to explode? Who is Linderman? Is HRG good or evil? Why are people discovering powers?
Most of these questions were answered as the season progressed. But the problem, as creator Tim Kring revealed in an interview, was that they answered almost all of the questions in Season 1! All of the above-mentioned questions were solved by season’s end! Therefore, before each season, the writers needed to come up with more mysteries (which apparently proved to be difficult). Not all mysteries need to be explained or revealed in a single season. Lost didn’t even begin to explain the existence of the smoke monster until its 6th and final season! The only mystery in Volume 5 was - “What is Samuel’s plan?” (And to be honest, I could have cared less.) When his plan was finally revealed mid-season, that was that. Heroes used to be a mystery show. But when all of the mysteries are revealed, the element of suspense is lost.
Tip #3) Action. I know. Heroes isn’t a superhero movie. But it does need some action. And while there were a handful of fight sequences (such as Hiro and Adam sword fighting in Season 2), most confrontations were avoided being shown on-screen. Why? Perhaps budget issues. Maybe they didn’t have time. But when you spend a whole season building up to a fight between Sylar and the Petrelli brothers (Season 3), just to (literally) slam the door in the audience’s face and have them imagine the battle is not fair to the viewers and turns them off and away.
Why was Volume 5 boring? Because during the first half of the season, nothing exciting happened! The Heroes just…chilled out. Claire chilled at college. Noah chilled at home. Emma chilled with her cello. Sylar chilled in Matt’s head. Hiro chilled in the hospital. The carnies chilled at the carnival.
While an all-out war is unnecessary and can be a big, sloppy mess (i.e. X-Men: The Last Stand), I believe that physical confrontations add excitement to the show. In “Genesis”, there were multiple physical battles. However, throughout the final 4 volumes, I could count the times that characters physically fought each other on screen on one hand.
Tip #4) Romance. It’s what made the first season real. Watching Season 1, I realized that romance was a big part of the show’s appeal to viewers. Claire got involved with the stereotypical jock quarterback and learned he wasn’t such a good guy. There was a love triangle involving 3 main characters (Isaac, Simone and Peter). There was the strained marriage of Matt, which wasn’t helped by his newly-found telepathy. There was Jessica’s blackmailing of Nathan through intimacy. All of those spoke to the humanity of these characters - their lives aren’t perfect. And guess what, Kring? Jack Coleman (Noah) kissing 3 different women in Season 4 (portrayed by actresses aged 35, 37, and 49) does NOT appeal to your young adult viewers. Chemistry between characters adds another dimension and brings in the viewers who watch TV for the tender moments and the drama.
Under my umbrella…ella…ella..ey…
Tip #5) Comedy. Comic relief was a big part of Season 1 - most of it coming from the crazy antics of Hiro & Ando. Hiro was originally meant to be a minor character who only supplied comic relief, but he became a major character due to the positive fan response. However, his storylines became more and more depressing - (V2) getting lost in time and losing his girlfriend, (V3) losing a vitally important formula, (V4) escaping the murderous government, and finally (V5) facing a terminal disease & the kidnapping of his other love interest.
I found Usutu’s (The African desert guy) lines to be extremely funny. (“You come from America? Do you know Britney Spears? She is from America.”) Mr.Muggles, Claire’s dog, also made every scene he was in a little bit funnier. I also like the running “inside jokes” with the viewers such as “waffles”, which are referenced constantly throughout the series. After watching the episode in Season 4 where Mohinder was trying to escape with a drugged Ando and mind-jumbled Hiro, I was instantly reminded of Season 1 where Ando and Hiro would teleport into the girls bathroom or cheat at roulette or argue about Star Trek facts.
Tip #6) Emotion. While the finale of Genesis, “How to Stop an Exploding Man”, was lacking in the fighting sequence, it evoked many emotions from the audience and was a nice finale that brought everything together. Hiro showed up, stabbed Sylar, and announced, “Yatta.” (A callback to his first arrival in NY.) Mr.Bennet finally revealed his mysterious, unknown first name with “Call me Noah.” When Nathan flew in and delivered the line, “You saved the cheerleader…so we could save the world”, it gave you chills (as cheesy as it was) because it finally gave meaning to the mysterious phrase, showed that Nathan wasn’t all bad, and it essentially wrapped the entire season together. It showed that even Nathan, heartless as he often seemed, could be a hero. Let’s compare that to the final phrases of Volume 5:
Noah: “I never liked carnivals.”
Not every episode of Heroes needs to end on a cliffhanger to be successful. Some television shows will present an emotional ending to an episode, which, if done effectively, can retain the audience. Heroes has only done this once in its entire run. This occurred in Volume 5, where at the end of Nathan’s funeral, Peter finishes a touching eulogy, Angela is presented with an American flag and a fighter squadron does a flyover in Nathan’s honor. Peter smiles and looks up at the planes, perhaps reminded of his brother’s special ability. Those endings are effective in a show such as Heroes, as long as they are used in moderation and when appropriate. Lost did this very effectively in its early seasons.
Tip #7) Don’t Forget Your Characters. In the later seasons, Heroes decided to start focusing on only a few characters in each episodes. This could be acceptable, if characters not in an episode were not forgotten for weeks. Take Season 4, for example. Volume 5, Redemption, seemed very much focused on the story of Tracy, the third character played by Ali Larter. However, after seeing her in episodes 1-9, she did not have another speaking role until the finale (episode 18.) Similarly, Ando was absent from episodes 4 through 11. And of course, there’s Mohinder. He didn’t appear until the final seconds of episode 7. He then appeared in 5 more episodes and then left before the season finale! (As he did during Fugitives). Season 1’s finale was neat because all of the Heroes finally came together. In this show, it’s unwise to have a finale involving only some main characters.
Many Heroes fans are disappointed about the mysterious disappearance of Caitlin. (She was Peter’s Irish girlfriend who teleported to the “Outbreak future” in Season 2.) However, Peter came back to the present and changed the future, leaving Caitlin stuck there, forgetting about her time-paradoxical problem. Claire’s best friend in the entire world was Zach from Season 1! He left Heroes for another show (which is also now cancelled) - but there was no explanation why Claire forgot all about him. He was such an essential part of Season 1, but was written out with no explanation. Molly Walker (her power: she can find anyone) was mentioned in one sentence by Mohinder as being “somewhere safe” and that was the last we ever heard of her. Other characters that vanished - Micah (Nikki’s son), Monica (Micah’s waitress cousin), & Claude (Peter’s invisible mentor) come to mind. Remember Becky - the mentally unstable sorority girl who could become invisible? Of course not! She literally “disappeared” from the plotline of Volume 5! I know actors have many responsibilities - but explanations for their disappearances are always nice to know as a viewer.
Tip #8) Don’t Be Afraid to Kill Characters. In “Genesis”, viewers were concerned for their favorite characters. In the first volume, they killed Isaac! Simone’s death was a shocker! Eden - boomf! Thompson - bye! Linderman - surprise! In season 2, they continued the tradition by offing Niki & D.L. However, while the writers seemed okay with killing off minor characters, they began to become overprotective of their other main characters. The original plan for the series was to kill off most of the main cast at the end of each series. In the season 1 finale, Sylar was stabbed, Peter & Nathan blew up, Noah was injured, D.L. was bleeding profusely, and Matt was dying from multiple gunshot wounds, & Hiro accidently vanished. However, not one, not two, but ALL were brought back for the next season! In fact, Nathan had a near-death experience in the end of every volume until his actual death in the finale of “Fugitives”. (1-Brother exploding, 2-assassination, 3-building exploding, and finally, Sylar ended that stream of luck). While I do enjoy the acting skills of most of the actors on the show, characters need to die in a serial drama. I know. Its sad. I’m sorry. But it keeps the show fresh. In Season 4, I don’t care about the characters anymore. Why? Because I know they’re all safe! They won’t dare touch Claire. No way Peter’s gonna die. Ando can’t heal, but I know he’ll be there next week. That’s bad for a show such as Heroes.
Now - There are times when bringing a character back to life is a good move. When they brought Noah back to life after he was shot in the eye - that was a cool ending. When Peter woke up after a shard of glass was removed from his brain - nice surprise. When they brought back Arthur Petrelli who was presumed dead for 2 seasons, that was really cool and completely unexpected.
However, in hindsight, there were some story-lines that could’ve been…left how they were. Sylar’s end would have had a fitting end had he actually died in the Season 1 finale after the Heroes came together and ended his murderous rampage. Nathan’s explosion should have been his end, making him a hero that died in action. D.L. could’ve died from his wounds in Season 1 - instead, he healed just in time for Season 2 and was almost immediately shot again, this time fatally. (See what I’m saying?)
So the writers need to choose some characters who don’t have much storyline left and write them out of the series. Sometimes they can bring the dead characters back. Sometimes its best that they don’t. And of course, as a result, new actors should constantly be hired to be introduced as new characters into the series. Once again, see Lost. Lost only had a limited number of survivors to work with. But every season they brought in more actors/characters and new talent! Some were minor characters who were upgraded to regulars, and some were introduced in other ways. By doing this, Lost was able to kill off some of their regular cast members without worrying that they would ruin the TV show. Also, THEY WERE ON A DESERTED ISLAND. As Heroes takes place in a world where anyone can show up without much explanation required, it should be much easier to kill and introduce people.
Tip #9) Simplicity. The show kept trying to “go back to their roots”. Do you remember the original tagline for the show? “Ordinary People Discovering Extraordinary Abilities.” That’s what made Heroes different than any old Superhero movie. They did not try to become superheroes - they just tried to deal with their powers and go on with their lives. All the characters each dealt with their powers in different ways - the cop, the cheerleader, the nurse, the stripper, the politician, etc. That made the show so much more lifelike than a teenager with powers putting on a costume and beating bad guys up (although I do love you, Spider-man). I understand that the characters have developed over time, but it seems that lately, they just do…nothing while waiting around to save the world. I give credit to Season 4 for beginning to get back to that (Claire in college, Peter as a Medic, “Nathan” in government, Hiro/Ando at Yamagato), but by then, it was too late.
Tip #10) Evolve the Characters - To an Extent. Characters obviously have to grow as a series goes on, but - Sylar’s plot line got too ridiculous. Sylar was the evil bad guy in the first volume. Had he died, everything would have been fine. He then spent Volume 2 attempting to regain his powers. In Volume 3, the writers began to explain that the reason behind his evilness was a side effect of his power (the “hunger”) plus a desire to be special. Alright - great. Good twist. But then in Volume 4, Sylar became an evil menace again. He remained this way for the first half of Volume 5 until he decided he would become a hero again. Its too confusing, writers! Claire wants a normal life…and then she reveals her secret to the world!? Noah joins the company, then quits, then joins it again, then is let go, then forms a new one, then forms his own…These characters need a clear direction and clear goals. They should learn from their mistakes and grow as people. Peter always thinks he can save the day. Audiences like to see the characters grow.
Tip #11) Connections are cool. In Season 1 (and less frequently in other seasons) there was a recurring theme of “connections”. Example: Nathan is warned by Mohinder. Mohinder discusses abilities with Peter. Peter helps Isaac finish a painting. Isaac paints a picture of Claire. Claire is the cheerleader referenced by Future Hiro. Hiro and Niki passed each other in a bar unknowingly. Niki’s website was viewed by Ando. Ando is with Hiro as they help D.L. save a car accident victim. D.L. is Niki’s husband. Niki’s alter ego is Jessica. Jessica throws Matt out a window. Matt is the head of homeland security in the future, under Sylar’s presidency. But Sylar is disguised as Nathan.
There are so many more connections that are made. In the finale of Season 1, all of the main characters were finally brought to the same place where they defeated Sylar and saved New York. However, this theme has become less and less prevalent. It isn’t gone yet - but I think it was one of Heroes’s unique “cool” factors.
Tim Kring obviously realized this (too late) and created a new show, “Touch,” solely based on his ability to create connections between seemingly unconnected people. I’ll save my opinion on that show for another post.
Tip #12) Finale. Everyone has opinions on television shows and the directions they should take. Here’s my opinion on finales. And yes, it’s only an opinion.
Finales have to be awesome.
The people working on a TV show should give a season finale their all. The Volume 1 finale of Heroes was disappointing (see Tip #3), but a fitting ending (see Tip #6). Volume 2 finale was a bit less action packed (but, of course, it had to be written and filmed quickly due to the Writers Strike). Volume 3 was a little better, as it involved separate two buildings exploding. The Volume 4 finale contained a battle behind closed doors and the Volume 5 finale was the most pathetic yet with a pathetic beating of the bad guy by Peter due to a contrived side effect of Samuel’s powers. I believe Heroes finales should not be missing main characters, as the past few have - connections, connections, connections.
So there are my 12 keys to success: Leave us with cliffhangers, bring back the mysterious element, throw in some action, add some romance for the ladies, spice it up with some comedy, add the emotional element, remember to focus on all the main characters, kill characters whose plots have run out, remind us that these are ordinary people, have the characters grow, interconnect the characters and plot lines, and top it off with a smashing finale!
Heroes obviously didn’t get my e-mail, but if I am ever to create a serial drama/mystery TV show, these are the guidelines I will use to make sure that my show has a little bit of everything.