When “Heroes” debuted in 2006, it was amazing and instantly garnered a throng of devoted fans, even launching successful careers for actors Zachary Quinto and Hayden Panettiere. But when season two came along, the creators went off the rails and lost the compelling formula that made the show so incredible. That streak of bad luck continued until the show’s ultimate demise after four seasons.
Let’s take a look what went wrong and how “Heroes” can gain redemption with the upcoming 13-episode miniseries, “Heroes Reborn.”
Keep It Simple
What made the first season of “Heroes” so compelling was that it was centered on regular people discovering they had extraordinary abilities. The show explored the complex reactions of different characters as they figured out how to deal with their new discovery.
Panettiere, the “Cheerleader,” had amazing healing powers, which she discovered after suffering serious cuts to her hand from a shattered glass case. Upon realizing her wounds miraculously healed one day later, she decided to see how far she could take it and cajoled a fellow student to film her doing dangerous stunts that should have left her dead. She walked away from them again and again, adding new meaning to the term “death-defying.”
Although she was obviously intrigued by her ability, it also terrified her. She didn’t know what it meant or what it said about her humanity, which was a common reaction among all the characters with super powers. They all wrestled with the implications of their abilities and went from exhilaration to horror from learning what their special status meant.
Where the show went wrong was moving beyond the simple story of examining ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Branching into sweeping conspiracy theories pulled the story away from the characters we all cared about and made it about something less relatable, and less interesting.
Stick to Good vs. Evil
The first season had pretty clearly drawn lines for good and evil. The goal was to “save the cheerleader, save the world,” and you could tell the good guys were the ones doing the saving while the bad guys were trying to foil them. It was a classic story and gave you clear sides to root for, even if you couldn’t help but cheer a little bit every time you saw Quinto’s creepy-sexy villain, Sylar.
When they delved into the conspiracy and the farther-reaching implications of global organizations and secrets, they introduced shades of grey that muddied the waters. You could no longer trust who was good and who was bad. And plenty of characters no longer landed on any side – just sat mired somewhere in the middle, which isn’t very satisfying.
It can be compelling to introduce internal conflict and moral dilemmas, but when “Heroes” did this, they lost sight of the original formula that made us love the show. What makes the super hero genre work is the classic battle of good vs. evil, and when no one is really good and no one is truly evil, there’s no reason to keep paying attention.
Stay Away from Cheap Gimmicks
Season four of “Heroes” showed us the inner-workings of a circus where people who discovered their abilities could hide in plain sight. The circus was a cheap distraction that did nothing to contribute to the overall story arc and seemed like an attempt to distract us from the dismal state of the show by slapping a big top over it.
“Heroes Reborn” needs to get back to the basics and tell us an insightful story featuring characters we care about and their journey of self-discovery. Sure, we want to see mind-blowing new powers and expect the effects to knock our socks off, but they need to steer clear of mistaking flash for substance.
Hopefully this reincarnation will deliver far more than the dissatisfaction we felt as we watched the Cheerleader rise from the dead for the millionth time. Show creators need to be cognizant of what viewers responded to the first time around and carefully mine those depths if they want lightning to strike twice.
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