HEROES: SEASON 1
Image A Sound A Extras C
"Genesis," "Don't Look Back," "One Giant Leap," "Collision," "Hiros," "Better Halves," "Nothing to Hide," "Seven Minutes to Midnight," "Six Months Ago," "Fallout," "Godsend," "The Fix," "Distractions," "Run!," "Unexpected," "Company Man," "Parasite," ".07%," "Five Years Gone," "The Hard Part," "Landslide," "How to Stop an Exploding Man"
*½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C
screenplay by Duane Capizzi
directed by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery & Brandon Vietti
by Ian Pugh "Heroes" is perhaps best described as a network-television attempt to recast Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's seminal Watchmen for the mainstream market. It actively reworks that masterpiece's major plot points for mass consumption, yes, but more to the point, it tries to bring superheroes into real-life situations--all the while harbouring, very much unlike Watchmen, an uneducated contempt for comic books. Offering lame turn-arounds and mocking references to superhero clichés without any apparent knowledge of comics published after 1960, "Heroes" believes that the medium is, now and forever, uniformly steeped in silly costumes, fatuous storylines, and unambiguous divisions between good and evil. This contrarian attitude towards its perceived progenitors leads it to pawn off its own superficial characters, scenarios, and rambling diatribes about fate and destiny as infinitely-superior and more complex alternatives. The fact that the final episode of the first season gives us a slightly-tinkered version of Evil Dead II's hilariously downbeat ending should leave no doubt as to the essential falseness of "Heroes" and its pretense of originality: the desire to move what is seen as a cartoonish enterprise into a more mature arena has already been explored countless times by countless artists over the last few decades, often from within the medium itself.
If you've never considered that a superhero might struggle with failure or carefully weigh the pros and cons of his/her powers, and if you've never contemplated the fact that fundamentally good people have the capacity to be real bastards, you might be surprised at what the series has to offer in the way of characterization. Just a few examples: a Las Vegas stripper (Ali Larter) with a hyper-violent alter ego is apparently supposed to be interesting for the very fact of her, as if no one had ever imagined the Incredible Hulk--or Jekyll and Hyde, for that matter--as a metaphor for the duality of human nature; an amiable, dyslexic cop with telepathy (Greg Grunberg) has difficulty accepting the darkness that lies in the hearts of men; and an up-and-coming politician (Adrian Pasdar) who can fly is (gasp!) actually kind of a prick. As their stories intertwine, these unfinished sketches form uneasy partnerships and their ultimate mission becomes clear: they must do whatever they can to stop a superpowered human from going nuclear and wiping out half of New York--the machinations of which are a massive conspiracy led by a single-minded industrialist (Malcolm McDowell, importing the beard and melodramatic rhetoric from Halloween) who promises that it will unite the country and bring about a new era of peace. Such a transparent lift from Watchmen--one that handily washes away any sticky issues attendant to letting the bomb explode (there's little indication that the country is divided or that the world doesn't already exist in a modicum of peace) by transplanting them into tired notions of superheroic self-sacrifice--confirms that "Heroes" subscribes to precisely the same form of moral and structural reductivism it seemingly despises. To this end, the series even inadvertently creates a metaphor in space-time manipulator Hiro (Masi Oka), a foolish comic/sci-fi geek who carries an obsessive devotion to the three-act structure of the "hero's journey," thus demonstrating himself and "Heroes" alike to be slavish acolytes of Joseph Campbell.
Still, "Heroes" manages to compel when it uses its premise to take aim at traditional teenager roles and family dynamics. Such is the case with Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), a cheerleader whose invincibility allows her masochistic streak to blossom; she routinely tosses herself off buildings and takes knives to her skin with impunity. The raw emotion involved in the presentation of a self-loathing teen leads to the series' first real subversion when this pain is filtered through the formula of a prototypical Afterschool Special. Claire becomes romantically linked to the quarterback of the football team (Matt Lanter), who expresses an interest in her upon accidentally snapping her neck and later tries to rape her. (Technically he succeeds by "killing" Claire.) She exacts her revenge by driving them both into a wall with the ferocity of a crash-test dummy. Meanwhile, Claire's dear old dad (Jack Coleman, the series' stand-out) attempts to shield his daughter from a world that theoretically can't hurt her; a shadow government operative, he routinely utilizes a memory manipulator (Jimmy Jean-Louis) to erase his transgressions and keep his family intact but mainly succeeds in giving them neurological disorders. Alas, "Heroes" begins to recognize the breadth of its familial explorations, and following a few more ideas in that vein, it overplays its hand in the name of lame end-of-the-episode shockers, creating arbitrary and downright nonsensical connections among the major players.
Yet it's difficult to completely admonish "Heroes" for said overplaying, as the series rarely, if ever, brings its cards to the table--a trait especially noticeable with regards to super-serial killer Sylar (Zachary Quinto), who at first seems poised to better explore the schisms of a character who is both Man and God. Introduced to us proper in an origin-story episode (1.10, "Six Months Ago") as a bespectacled geek and watchmaker with an inferiority complex (invoking both the anonymous, mild-mannered Clark Kent and Watchmen's distant, omnipotent Doctor Manhattan), Sylar can only acquire superpowers by performing fatal brain surgery on his fellow genetic aberrations. He kills with a brutal hand and hoards abilities like a jealous deity, but once he starts interacting with characters on an interpersonal level, he's reduced to a screaming CliffsNotes booklet of moustache-twirling bad guys. Eventually, the character with the greatest potential provides "Heroes" with its most embarrassing--and most telling--moment. "You're the villain, and I'm the hero," Sylar mutters at the season's climax, draped in black as he locks in mortal battle with the white-clad Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), the series' designated "likeable guy" and fellow superpower-sponge who turns out to be the human bomb in question. Contemplating the possibility that the dudes wearing the white hats are actually wearing the black hats (and vice versa) is a place to start, not to finish--particularly when that finish reveals that the white hats turned out to be white all along.
Of course, "Heroes"' unfounded, blanket contempt for its "source material" shouldn't necessarily imply that the traditional capes-and-tights crowd hasn't screwed up in its long quest to be taken seriously. Take Superman: Doomsday, a direct-to-video animated movie adapted from The Death of Superman, the infamous storyline which, not coincidentally, is responsible for a great deal of modern-day cynicism regarding stabs at emotional growth in comic books. (Supes didn't exactly stay dead.) Divorced from other animated incarnations of the hero, the film finds Clark Kent (voiced by Adam Baldwin), on leave from THE DAILY PLANET (he's ostensibly on assignment in Afghanistan), shacking up with Lois Lane (Anne Heche) as his alter ego at the Fortress of Solitude. Unfortunately, one of Lex Luthor's (James Marsters) various megalomaniacal enterprises accidentally awakens the titular killing machine from a millennia-long slumber, throwing the Man of Steel into what proves to be a fatal skirmish. The world mourns for five minutes, just long enough for Superman--or, at least, an incredible simulation--to rise from the grave and adopt a fascist methodology.
The DC Animated Universe team has a fairly consistent history of offering Supes some fantastic fistfights (his brawls with Darkseid in the series finales of "Superman" and "Justice League" rank pretty highly on a list of fucked-up shit to happen in mainstream American animation), but I fear that the opportunity to go pseudo-cinematic with a PG-13 rating has caused them to abandon their carefully-planned set-pieces in favour of some abstract idea of hipness and relevance. The "action violence" that earns the film its MPAA badge of honour reduces battles to Superman and his opponent-of-the-moment alternately tossing each other into the pavement; recitations of "damn," "hell," and "ass" are self-conscious and forced, while re-imagining secondary villain Toyman--a chalk-skinned probable-pedophile (John DiMaggio) replaces Bud Cort's chilling, doll-faced man-child--appears to be purely a matter of pointless literalization and wild overcompensation. Superman: Doomsday may be the best counter-argument to present folks who were disappointed with the pronounced lack of action in Superman Returns; unable to locate any depth in a hero who has theoretically-anonymous sex with the same woman every night when he's supposed to be in a war zone, the filmmakers take a very superficial definition of what constitutes "adult themes," expecting its overexaggerated violence to carry it through to a satisfying conclusion.
Although "Heroes: Season One" is also available on HD-DVD, the regular seven-disc DVD set from NBC/Universal performs admirably. The 1.78:1 image allows an excellent level of detail to shine through often-shadowy cinematography, while the 5.1 Dolby audio assures that the rich, Eastern-inspired soundtrack is spread out beautifully across all channels. Special features begin right on Disc One, which houses a 73-minute cut of the pilot that introduces mind-reading cop Matt Parkman into the mix an episode early: Instead of searching for Sylar, his psychic abilities aid in the hunt for an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell, where an alternate version of the show's nuclear man resides. This subplot was thankfully deleted from the broadcast version--if it would've added the weight that so often eludes "Heroes", it would have also introduced an unwelcome "24" sheen to the proceedings. Interestingly, series creator Tim Kring informs us in a commentary that this material was deleted at the behest of the network execs, who weren't sure if they were going to run "Heroes" as "an eight o'clock show or a nine o'clock show." The somewhat sedate Kring also offers explanations as to where he pilfered from his other show "Crossing Jordan" and which scenes were shot on bluescreen sets in Los Angeles. A batch of deleted scenes not present in either version of the pilot--including an introduction to Kitty Pryde-powered convict DL (Leonard Roberts)--wraps up the disc.
Dozens upon dozens more deleted plot-gap-fillers are sprinkled throughout the set, though the extended stream of audio commentaries doesn't begin until Disc Four. 1.12, "Godsend," features Coleman, Roberts, and Ramamurthy, who mostly narrate the action and pat the rest of the cast and crew on the back, although a few interesting stories manage to sneak their way through. The same applies to "The Fix" (1.13) and a yak-track with Grunberg and Panettiere, who unfortunately exhibit a tendency to make loud, incomprehensible noises and dumbass jokes. Panettiere is replaced by writer/producer Natalie Chaidez about a quarter of the way through the episode, resulting in something considerably quieter but only marginally more informative. 1.14, "Distractions," finds Ventimiglia and Quinto largely pleasant and conversational as they bullshit around; after the first commercial break, Grunberg replaces Ventimiglia; cue the stupid jokes and long streams of laughter. Episode director Jeanot Szwarc then replaces Quinto and Coleman joins the party; Grunberg demonstrates himself to be a competent moderator, asking Szwarc reasonably interesting technical questions and prompting a few thoughtful answers. Ventimiglia returns for the last five minutes with writer/producer Michael Green, just enough time to regurgitate previous conversations and offer some "Mystery Science Theater" snark. Even at this early stage, the general worthlessness of a lot of this dialogue calls into question the wisdom of bringing in two or three actors at a time to talk about massive ensemble shows like this--essentially forcing participants to vamp during scenes they know nothing about.
Grunberg continues to make my life unbearable on Disc Five's "Run!" (1.15), screaming at the top of his lungs alongside special guest star Kevin Chamberlin while giving the latter a chance to expound on his stage career, referenced by Grunberg about three or four times in previous commentaries. Writers/supervising producers Kay Foster and Adam Armus supplant Grunberg during the last fifteen minutes, offering fairly in-depth discussion of colour palettes and cast subtleties and exuding an ingratiating excitement for the material that perks up the ears after nearly two and a half hours of detritus. I must admit, though, that I'm getting incredibly tired of anecdotes and jokes about Mr. Muggles, the Bennets' Pomeranian--and there are another two or three on the yakker for 1.16, "Unexpected," during which Quinto, Ramamurthy and director/producer Greg Beeman--eventually swapped with writer/producer Jeph Loeb (also the author of the vastly, vastly overrated graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween)--crack stupid comments, point out continuity errors, and scream about who "rocked the house." Does it feel like these descriptions are starting to run together? It should. Luckily things are about to perk up.
It being the only episode on the set that follows a single plotline, "Company Man" (1.17) boasts a decidedly more cohesive commentary, with Coleman, director Allan Arkush, and writer Bryan Fuller discussing the episode's influences (The Desperate Hours and Out of the Past played significant roles), the in-depth, line-by-line work involved in keeping characters interesting, and the excruciating planning necessary to burn the Bennets' house down. Arkush follows up with 1.18, "Parasite," joining episode writer Christopher Zatta and actor Jean-Louis, explaining the delicate writer's room process, the complications of bringing new directors on board, and fond anecdotes about McDowell. Finally there's "Mind Reader", a worthless little game that invites you to pick a two-digit number, subtract it by the sum of its two digits, and associate the result with a portrait of your favourite hero, each labelled with a number from one to a hundred; the subsequent "mind-reading" more or less repeats a trick that was all the rage on the Internet seven years ago. (Here's the secret: they change the portraits every time you play, genius.)
Back to the doldrums on Disc Six: 1.19, ".07%," teams episode writer Chuck Kim with Tim Kring's assistant Andrew Chambliss and exec producer Dennis Hammer's assistant Timm Keppler--all of whom drone on about the minutiae of the scripts and the brilliance of the cast in the hypnotizing monotone of any well-meaning sycophant. 1.20, "Five Years Gone," has Grunberg, Ramamurthy, and Coleman marvelling at, golly, how different everything looks in the blue-tinted dystopic future and, yep, cracking more dumb jokes. 1.21, "The Hard Part," welcomes Noah Gray-Cabey (DL's technopathic son Micah), James Kyson Lee (Hiro's best buddy Ando), and stunt coordinator Ian Quinn, the three of whom narrate the action and attempt to sift through the structural complexities of the series. It's obnoxious by itself but merely shrug-worthy alongside the rest of the tracks on this set. At long last comes 1.22, "Landslide," which sees Oka, Matt Armstrong (Ted Sprague, aforementioned nuclear man in the series proper), and the inimitable George Takei (Hiro's father) gathering together for what may be the set's most enjoyable commentary. They fool around a little, but they also express a refreshing inquisitiveness during scenes for which they were not present and an informed appreciation for their fellow cast members' performances. And--God forbid--they're actually funny.
Disc Seven has one final commentary for 1.23, "How to Stop an Exploding Man," bringing Tim Kring back into the fray along with Arkush and executive producer Dennis Hammer; if they fail to maintain the interest that they did in previous commentaries--mentions of certain "iconic" imagery are thrown around one time too many--then at least they exhibit the purely technical proficiency to bring an entire season's worth of material to a close. The disc also houses the documentaries, beginning with the puff piece "Making Of" (10 mins.), a series of on-set interviews with Kring and the cast that is probably best described as a particularly uninformative press kit. Although "Special Effects" (9 mins.) and "The Stunts" (10 mins.) provide interviews with the CGI and stunt supervisors, respectively, they're too steeped in actor interviews and series excerpts to examine anything that's not already self-evident. "Profile of Artist Tim Sale" (11 mins.) profiles the comic book artist and frequent Loeb co-conspirator who designed junkie-artist Isaac Mendez's precognitive paintings. Once again there are too many clips (to say nothing of a rather unnecessary tour of Isaac's apartment courtesy of actor Santiago Cabrera), but Sale himself manages to keep things afloat with a very clear, unpretentious explanation of his craft. Finally, "The Score" (9 mins.) interviews the show's composers (former Prince collaborators Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin) and audio engineer (Michael Perfitt), who take us through the step-by-step process of creating the largely Eastern-inspired soundtrack. "Sneak Peeks" rounds out this exhaustive and exhausting package with DVD trailers for "Friday Night Lights: Season One", the first three seasons of "House", the first three seasons of "Las Vegas", the first two seasons of the American version of "The Office", "Miami Vice: Season Five" and Bring It On: All or Nothing (starring Panettiere), along with a TV promo for "30 Rock" and an obnoxious commercial for the Nissan Versa--which in the series serves as Hiro's vehicle-of-choice while traveling the United States. A block of eclectic advertisements (a TV promo for the second second season of "Heroes", DVD/HD-DVD trailers for Knocked Up and Hot Fuzz, and short commercials for the Versa and the wonders of upgrading to HD-DVD) cues up on startup of the first platter.
Superman: Doomsday arrives on DVD courtesy of Warner's direct-to-video Premiere division. While the 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image accommodates the film's dark palette, excursions into brighter territory with excessive primary colours--such as Luthor's "red sun" room--tend to look blown-out. The Dolby 5.1 audio and its many (many, many) examples of bodies smashing into asphalt certainly gave my subwoofer a workout, but sound effects that require the use of the back channels are so few and far between that I wonder if a stereo mix would have done just as good a job. Producer Bruce Timm, screenwriter Duane Capizzi, voice director Andrea Romano, and exec producer Gregory Noveck lodge a feature-length commentary, exhibiting an obsession with rebooting their universe into something "dark" and "adult" that speaks volumes for the film's failure to translate those nondescript desires into anything worthwhile. Extras begin with "Requiem & Rebirth: Superman Lives!" (45 mins.), wherein the major players in DC's "Death and Life of Superman" storyline take us through its conception, execution, and media firestorms, attempting to convince us of its brilliance. (I wonder how long it will be before someone makes an animated movie about the more recent, similarly ridiculous "death" of Captain America.)
"Justice League: The New Frontier Teaser Reel" (10 mins.) is ostensibly a preview for DC's next DTV animated movie (a postwar fable starring Kyle MacLachlan as the big "S," David Boreanaz as Green Lantern, and Lucy Lawless--typecast--as Wonder Woman), though it spends an awful lot of time rambling about the awesomeness of Darwyn Cooke, the author of the graphic novel on which it's based. While "Behind the Voice" (5 mins.) is a superficial look at the film's voice sessions, the all-too-brief interviews with the actors manage to convince us that they had some kind of direction going in. "Superman's Last Stand" is a remote-based game that invites you to help Superman fight Doomsday--it's about as fun as you'd expect pounding the arrow keys on your DVD remote to be. Trailers for The Last Mimzy, I Am Legend, "Babylon 5: The Lost Tales", "Spawn: The Animated Collection (10th Anniversary Signature Edition)", Blade: House of Chthon, "Smallville: Season Six", and the 25th Anniversary ultra-mega-double-deluxe edition of Blade Runner wrap up the disc. Originally published: October 8, 2007.