Friday, 25 April 2008

Heroes: A superhuman fall from grace

There’s been so much talk about how the writers’ strike has affected programmes like Heroes, you’d think I’d have lowered my expectations for the second series. Certainly BBC2 had taken note. In contrast to the fanfare that heralded series one, the arrival of the US drama this week was somewhat more of a low-key affair. Only the most committed hero worshippers like myself will have noticed it as it was slipped out in the schedule somewhere between Top Gear and Graham Norton. But despite all the warning signs, I was just as excited about the heroes’ return as I was about Rocky Balboa’s big comeback. And just like Rocky, I was setting myself up for the most spectacular fall.
The series opens four months after the end of the first season, which saw the heroes finally defeat the evil Sylar. Invincible cheerleader Claire Bennet and her family have moved from Texas to California where they have assumed new identities and are trying to blend in; telepathic policeman Matt Parkman has divorced his wife and is looking after little Molly, the child superhero; Nathan the flying politician has grown a beard, started drinking and has generally deteriorated since the disappearance of his brother, Peter; and Hiro, the Japanese comic figure and star of series one, is stuck in 1671.
Having spent months wondering what happened to the heroes after the brilliant climax of series one, I was rather disappointed to discover they had all gone back to their ordinary lives and were living in virtual obscurity. The show spent far too long reintroducing the characters - presumably for the benefit of any newcomers - which made it drag unnecessarily. And if the aim was to hook new viewers in, there was nowhere near enough use of the superpowers and special effects of the early Heroes.
On Claire’s first day at school, her dad, Noah, tells her: "You have to be entirely unextraordinary." But as her family finds out that night when they attempt to have a conversation about their "entirely unextraordinary" days around the dinner table, "unextraordinary" is dull. The only glimpse of Claire’s superpowers shows her holding her hand over a bunsen burner (hasn’t everyone done that?) and mending her leg after un unsuccessful back flip in any empty gymnasium.
Matt gets his detective badge by secretly reading the mind of a fake hostage in a test, but again is doing his best to hide his powers. And Nathan’s just getting drunk. Only Hiro is having any fun. He meets his childhood "hero" Kensei, who turns out to be a rakish Englishman. Their encounter seems completely incidental to the main Heroes plot, but nevertheless, far more entertaining than the rest.
Realising the old heroes were proving a bit of a disappointment, I could only hope the new cast members might light that spark of series one. But all we got was a pair of Dominican twins leaving a trail of bodies as they tried to flee a murder charge and reach the US border. It was a glimpse of excitement, but there was not enough substance to the characters to really grab the viewers.
The programme ends with a snapshot of Peter Petrelli as he’s discovered in a box in Cork on the west coast of Ireland by a bunch of supposedly Irish workers with very dodgy accents.
As I understand it, series two has been cut short as the producers didn’t feel it was up to its previous high standards. And they weren’t wrong. I’ve already written off series two as a "when I’m in" programme. I only hope that just like Claire Bennet, Heroes can repair itself from this fall and bounce back for series three.