Gomen Nasai, "Heroes"
If you're pressed for time, and can only read the first sentence of this piece before clicking off to your favorite blog, hardcore pornography, or hardcore pornography blog ("pornblography"?), here's everything you need to know: I'm basically completely wrong about everything.
And by "everything" -- thanks for sticking around, non-pornblography readers! -- I mean my initial impressions of NBC's Heroes and Studio 60. The former has snowballed into an mighty juggernaut of relentless entertainment, while the latter ... well, I'll get to that in a bit.
I still maintain that Heroes' pilot was a dismal, frequently inane hour of television. My theory is that creator Tim Kring -- who'd reportedly never read a comic book before coming up with the show, and may perhaps have wanted a taste of that sweet, sweet comic-book-movie zeitgeist -- devised a terrific concept for a series. He just completely lacked the skills to actually carry it out. Thankfully, he had the good sense to hire people who did -- people like Bryan "Wonderfalls" Fuller, and screenwriter/comic scribe/man responsible for both Teen Wolf and Commando Jeph Loeb, whose entire warehouses' worth of absolutely wretched comic books are still somehow counterbalanced by his handful of superb ones. The result? While Heroes may not have gotten any better since its lame-duck pilot, it's gotten exponentially more fun with each passing week.
For starters, most of the characters have gotten steadily more likeable and well-rounded. Cheerleader Claire and split-personality stripper Niki have both displayed welcome courage and vulnerability. Claire in particular has gone through a believable and entirely winning character arc that revealed the intelligence and goodheartedness behind her cheery pep-squad facade.
Masi Oka -- who, as if he could not be more awesome, actually supplements his acting career with his original job designing complex CGI effects for Industrial Light and Magic -- has only gotten more endearing and sympathetic as Hiro. James Kyson Lee's Ando has evolved from horndog jackass to wise and loyal counselor, and it's neat to see him grow more noble and idealistic as Hiro gets sadder and more jaded.
Greg Grunberg's psychic-cop-as-Everyman is every bit as awesome as I hoped he'd be, especially when paired with Clea DuVall's delightfully grouchy FBI agent. (Also, hooray! The show finally has one female character with an actual career! Even if it's implied that said career makes her a dour, unattractive harridan with no perceptible social life!)
Heck, even Milo Ventimiglia's marble-mouthed Peter Parker -- er, I mean, Petrelli -- is growing on me. Perhaps that's because he started showing up to the set entirely awake, just for a fun change of pace. Or maybe it's because they've been pairing him more with interesting characters, and less with his Tawny Cypress as his horrible, simpering love interest. Seriously, whoever actually wrote the line "I need some time to catch my breath before you take it away again" -- I refuse to believe it was credited writer Bryan Fuller, unless he was phoning his rewrites in from the midst of some emergency dental appointment -- deserves to be beaten roundly about the head and shoulders with a hardcover edition of Watchmen.
To my considerable surprise, Heroes has also shown surprising skill in the portrayal of its villains. Adrian Pasdar's Nathan Petrelli does some pretty lousy things -- cheating on his crippled wife, taking money from the Mob for his congressional campaign, treating his brother like dirt -- but somehow, you can still sympathize with him, and cheer for the brief flashes of his better nature whenever they surface. And Jack Coleman, as Claire's secret-agent dad, is rapidly becoming one of TV's most compelling bad guys. He's creepy, manipulative, and ruthless, but you never stop believing for a second that he really loves his daughter.
Best of all, Heroes never fails to make fun and fascinating use of its premise. The writers have found all sorts of delightfully icky ways to show off Claire's regenerative powers, though they'll have to work hard to top her waking up in the midst of her own autopsy. Hiro's unexpected jump six months back in time made an outstanding vehicle for a flashback episode. And Sylar, the brain-eating superpowered serial killer, is terrific, as charismatic as he is genuinely unsettling.
Unlike Lost, which too often goes around in circles in the jungle, waiting for its next shocking and increasingly pointless character death, Heroes feels like its going somewhere. The characters are actually showing growth and development. The plot twists are surprising, but they make sense, and always lead to fun new places. And there's genuine suspense in the show's countdown toward New York City's date with nuclear armageddon.
In short, Heroes has shaped up into one magnificent guilty pleasure, a blast of popcorny goodness that's got me waiting for Monday nights with only a modicum of shame. And with Christopher Eccleston, last seen kicking five kinds of ass on Doctor Who, reportedly coming aboard in the New Year, I'll be surprised if the show's fun quotient doesn't continue to soar up, up, and away.
If only I could say the same for Studio 60. What seemed like a promising if formulaic drama has rapidly devolved into a terrifying high-speed funhouse ride through the sordid depths of Aaron Sorkin's brain. Better minds than mine have catalogued the many, many ways in which Sorkin has used his nationally televised drama and its hugely talented cast to deliver a series of petulant schoolyard insults and flimsy moral justifications to everyone on his real-life spit list. And the whole "the comedy isn't actually funny" bit has pretty much been beaten into the ground, through the earth's crust, and somewhere into the middle of the mantle by now.
Yet somehow, there's still more strangeness to write about! Take the show's approach to romance, for example. In the latest episode, Bradley Whitford's character magically falls in love with Amanda Peet's network president the very instant he discovers she's impregnated with another man's baby. So he drags her out of a meeting with the her boss, with her mouth full of sandwich -- she's pregnant, and she can't stop eating! Hi-larious! -- to declare his love with a page right out of Ted Bundy's Guide to Wooing Women: "You can run away if you want, but you'd better get a good head start, 'cause I'm comin' for you." In the real world, this sort of behavior would be greeted with a thorough Tasering and at least five restraining orders. In Sorkinland, it means Bradley's character is the awesomest man alive.
This is, of course, the same episode in which Matthew Perry's character drags Sarah Paulsen away from the set, with mere seconds to go before she goes live on the air to do sketch comedy in front of an audience of millions, to suddenly stick his tongue down her throat. Having effectively sexually harrassed his own employee and ruined her concentration, thereby jeopardizing his own broadcast, he then becomes even creepier when we realize that he did the whole thing not as a sincere expression of his feelings, but as a smug, juvenile bit of one-upmanship to spite the hunky director who wants to date his lady love. Yes, in Sorkinland, nothing says romance like using the object of your affection as a bargaining chip in your latest insecure, alpha-male pissing match.
I'd also be remiss not to mention the show's patronizing, vaguely creepy treatment of black people. I'll freely admit that my own melanin-deprived status hardly makes me a natural or apt champion for racial equality, but I hope I'm not the only one bothered by the way that Sorkin seems to think all black people come from the 'hood. I mean, criminy, D.L. Hughley's character can't shut up about his childhood full of drive-bys, heroin dealing, and other things Sorkin probably saw in Boyz N' Tha Hood.
And then there's the weird way the show treats Darius Hawthorne (Columbus Short), the black comedian -- also from the 'hood! -- who isn't so much hired as press-ganged into service for the Studio 60 writing staff. Seriously. Hughley and Whitford's characters show up backstage after he's delivered a profoundly unfunny set of stand-up comedy at a local improv, tell him he's working for them whether he likes it or not, and basically explain that if he keeps his mouth shut and nods a lot, the overwhelming brilliance of Matthew Perry will shape him into a Great Writer. Like the rest of the show's truly superb cast, Short's a fine actor, but thus far his character has existed primarily to timidly make suggestions for unfunny sketches, or tell Matthew Perry's character how awesome he is.
Also, I think it must be some sort of crime to bring the wonderful Lucy Davis, from the BBC version of The Office, all the way to Los Angeles, and then do nothing with her save having her kiss Matthew Perry. (Perry may, of course, disagree.)
I'm not sure why I keep watching Studio 60, except perhaps for the morbid train-wreck appeal of it all. (God knows my entertainment time would be better devoted to the hugely funny 30 Rock, which proves week after week that Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan are vastly more amusing than their respective appearances on Saturday Night Live would ever have suggested.) Heroes keeps viewers hooked with the promise of an all-consuming firestorm of destruction, but why wait? Studio 60's got it every week, provided you replace "New York City" with "Aaron Sorkin's reputation and career."
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