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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Commercial Interruption: What's going on with 'Heroes'? It's actually ... good?

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course -- we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Adam Reinhard and Malavika Jagannathan discuss "Heroes" and the strange, giddy glee the third season has been giving them so far ... a feeling that's almost the exact opposite of getting run through with a sword.

Adam: As much as I hated "Heroes" last season, that's how much I'm digging it this season. And it's not because the writing has improved, or the storylines, or the visual effects ... because those things are basically as weak as ever. No, "Heroes" is simply kicking ass and taking names this season, and the unexpected rush has been exhilarating.

The subtitle to this season, "Villains," has already started paying dividends in surprising ways, mainly by playing with the idea of who is good and who is bad. For example, take Sylar, the show's main baddie. In the course of only five episodes, he has removed the top of Claire's skull, killed another bad guy during a bank hold-up, partnered up with HRG to track down villains, then saved Claire from being sucked into a vortex. Oh, turns out he's also Peter and Nathan's brother. And a recent trip to the future saw him living quiet domestic life with a young son, but then going nuclear and taking out a whole city when his son is killed during a home invasion. So is Sylar a good guy now? Or merely lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike? Whatever the case, it's given new life to a previously one-note character.

Speaking of shaking up boring characters, the previously only-around-for-exposition Mohinder has gotten a kick in the pants after experimenting with a formula to create superpowers ... on himself. The results have given him super-strength and agility, but also creepy scales on his back, and apparently the ability to wrap people in spider webbing -- which, judging by the number of bodies in his lab, he quite enjoys doing. His claim that it's all in the name of finding a "cure" for Maya makes me think he's still basically a good guy -- because otherwise he would have killed that annoying twit by now.

Malavika, I seem to recall there was a particular character (and actor) from last night's episode you wanted to discuss.

Malavika: Before I get into my rantings and ravings about "Heroes," I need to point out that some of the fine actors from HBO's "The Wire" are finally getting some face time on network TV that they rightfully deserve.

In January, creator-writer-producer of "The Wire" David Simon lashed out at Hollywood for ignoring the actors (particularly the black actors) from this critically acclaimed show. Now we've got Amy Ryan on "The Office," Lance Reddick on "Lost" and "Fringe," and Tristan Wilds on "90210." Plus, as mentioned by fellow Channel Surfing blogger Tom Rozwadowski, Clarke Peters aka Lester Freamon of "The Wire" is enjoying a spot on ABC's "Life on Mars," which quite honestly made me actually want to watch that. (A cop show with Det. Lester Freamon? Sign me up!) It's a frickin' "Wire" lovefest out there.

I've got to give a shout-out to "Heroes" for grabbing not one but two other stars from that greatest of TV shows. Prior to last night's episode, I had already spotted Jamie Hector, previously seen on "The Wire" as up-and-coming kingpin Marlo Stanfield, with a key villain role. But I had to recreate the dance of joy when I recognized the vortex-creating fiend that nearly killed Claire last night on "Heroes" as none other than Andre Royo -- everyone's favorite junkie-informant, Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins! Even though his character seems to have, umm, been sucked into oblivion, his short run didn't seem as contrived as some of the other minor characters from seasons past (Moron Twins, anyone?) It doesn't get better than seeing a cleaned-up-but-still-conflicted Bubs getting vortexed into nowhere.

It's sad that the season premiere of "Heroes" only picked up 9.9 million viewers -- a sharp drop from last year -- and although DVR ratings may pull the show from Nielsen hell, "Heroes" fans shouldn't give up on the show because it's finally getting good again. I mean it. For all the reasons I picked on the show last season (the convoluted plots, the pointless characters), I'm beginning to appreciate the careful layering of plotlines and characters that seem to be falling into place as the show examines the thin grey line between good and bad. In a way, it's a lot like -- yup, you guessed it -- "The Wire."

When Hiro -- that goodest of the good guys -- stuck that sword into best friend Ando for the greater good (or bad?), I gasped out loud. Adam, where do you think they're going with this?

Adam: The shish-kabobbing of sidekick Ando was so sudden and so out of the blue that it literally had me in shock, and I was having trouble remembering the minutes that led up to it. I seem to recall Daphne the Speedster walking into the bar where Hiro and Ando were lamenting their misplacement of sneaky Adam Monroe, and offering to team up with them. Her partner -- whose name I don't think we've ever heard, but whose power is he grows stronger when people around him are afraid -- demands that Hiro kill Ando to prove his worth, and hands our intrepid time-stopper a sword. Hiro, his friendship with Ando already in question after teleporting into the future and seeing Future Ando kill Future Hiro -- seemingly doesn't hesitate. He apologizes to Ando, says sacrifices must be made in order to save the world, and then sticks the poor schmuck.

In the split second before it happened, I remember thinking, Well, he's going to stop time, grab Ando and run, or maybe figure out a way to only make it look like Ando died, blah blah blah. But no. As far as I can tell, ANDO. IS. DEAD. And if that's true, then my feelings for Hiro will have changed entirely. He'll no longer be the lovably bumbling goof who gets by almost purely on pluck and courage. Now he's going to be the guy who killed his best friend for the sole reason of hooking up with characters of questionable morals. And if that's true -- and by God I hope it's not -- then my whole feeling for the show will change. Because that's just mean, and not heroic at all.

Any last thoughts?

Malavika: As much as I enjoy the breathtaking array of characters who are introduced on any given episode, my complaint with "Heroes" is that occasionally they cross the line from ensemble casting to who-the-hell-is-that-again territory. Case in point: I completely forgot that the guy at the end who is apparently planting thoughts is actually Matt Parkman's father. I consider myself a smart person, but sometimes I need like a cheat sheet of characters to keep it straight, especially given that last season seemed to end so long ago.

But other than that, no complaints from me thus far. I'm just happy to feel like I can't wait another week to find out what happens next. I like the new shade of darkness that's enveloping everyone -- yes, even uber geek Hiro -- but I also hope they don't completely shift characters from one end of the spectrum to the other. I'm not sure I can handle that.

Oh, and Tim Kring, if you're reading this, feel free to cast Michael K. Williams (aka Omar Little, everyone's favorite gay stick-up artist from "The Wire"). Villain or hero, he's guaranteed to do it with style.

Malavika Jagannathan,, Adam Reinhard,

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