(2006, Drama/Superheroes/Television, color)
Mike Nelson and Disembaudio
Let's just reach into our bag of Things People Only Say on TV and see what we get.
In a nutshell:
Various otherwise unremarkable individuals become aware of their extraordinary powers.
Having researched the subject on Wikipedia, I can state with a reasonable degree of certainty that Heroes has a plot; it just doesn’t come up during the first two episodes. What we get instead are several threads of plot, as the characters, their powers and conflicts, are introduced. In no particular order, these characters are:
Claire Bennet: A high school cheerleader in Texas with near instant healing powers. Simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by her abilities, she wiles a nerdy fellow teen into filming her while she jumps from the tops of grain silos and trots through flames to emerge unscathed on the other side. The flame incident happens at a train accident where she discovers a survivor and helps him through safely. The firefighters search for her at the school later, but Claire doesn’t want to make her powers public. She allows an opportunistic fellow cheerleader accept the glory. Things take a turn for the sinister when her cameraman informs her that the video tape chronicling her regenerative shenanigans has been stolen.
Hiro Nakamura: A geeky Japanese cubicle farmer with the power to alter time and space. He demonstrates this by making his clock go backwards one second at a time, and by teleporting into the ladies room of the local bar. Later, he teleports himself from Tokyo to New York, where he finds a comic book that details the discovery of his powers. He tracks the comic book to its creator, an artist named Isaac Mendez. Mendez is, unfortunately, indisposed (someone twisted the top of his head off like a jar lid and made off with his brain). The cops burst in and find Hiro in front of the corpse; they arrest him as a murderer. In the course of their questioning, Hiro discovers that five weeks have passed since he popped of Tokyo; he is not just visiting New York, but New York of the future. An explosion rocks the city. A shockwave rolls towards them, obliterating everything in its path. Hiro manages to pop back to his own time and place before it arrives.
Isaac Mendez: An artist whose heroin addiction allows him to draw the future. His most disturbing piece depicts the fiery destruction of New York. His long-suffering girlfriend/art dealer brings a nurse friend named Peter Petrelli to help him, but Peter discovers Isaac has painted a picture of him flying.
Peter and Nathan Petrelli: A hospice nurse and congressional candidate, respectively, with the power to fly. Peter has been imagining for years that he can fly, but has never dared to try until he sees Isaac’s painting. He calls his selfish politician brother Nathan out to see him do it. Peter jumps from a building. Nathan flies up to catch Peter before he can go splat. Peter is too heavy to catch, but fortunately he figures out how to fly too before anyone gets hurt. The second episode rehashes this as Nathan tries to convince Peter it was a delusion as a way to keep this story out of his congressional campaign, but Peter eventually learns the truth.
Mohinder Suresh: An Indian geneticist with the power to deliver heavy-handed, self-important voice-overs. His father was working on a way to find people with special abilities, and moved to New York to become a cab driver while he searched for them. He was killed in his cab for unknown reasons, so Mohinder comes to take his place and resume his research. He meets a sinister man with horn-rimmed glasses who says vaguely threatening things about his father’s research, and a gun-toting utility man who attempts to bug his apartment.
Mr. Bennet: A sinister man with horn-rimmed glasses who investigates people with special abilities. His adopted daughter is Claire. Near the end of the second episode, we learn that he is responsible for the disappearance of Claire’s incriminating video tape.
Niki Sanders: An internet stripper with a brutal murderer hiding in her reflection. She borrowed a lot of money from the mob to get her gifted son into a private school, but hasn’t been able to pay it back on time. The mob enforcers come looking for her; they force her to strip on camera. She looks in a mirror and blacks out; when she comes to, the enforcers have been rather messily killed. She runs to recover her son from her sister’s house, but blacks out again. She wakes up four hours later with a new car, a clean house, and a map showing where to bury the enforcers’ bodies.
Matthew Parkman: A chunky cop with the ability to read minds. We meet him at a crime scene, where a now-brainless victim has had the top of his head twisted off like a jar lid. The little daughter is missing; but Matt hears her thoughts well enough to find her under the stairs. Matt hears the thoughts of the detectives as well, and under questioning, it is apparent that this means he knows more about the case than he should. They arrest him as a possible accomplice to the murder.
To be (of course) continued...
Heroes is repackaged X-Men, and doesn’t care who knows it. Of course many of the special abilities have Marvel Universe analogs: Claire’s regeneration works the same as Wolverine’s, Matt’s telepathy was cribbed from Jean Grey, and so on. But then, analogs are status quo in the comic book world, where companies routinely capitalize on the successes of their peers by adding people with different names and similar powers to their superhero continuities. Heroes takes this further, though, clinching their claim to copycat-hood with Mohinder’s opening lecture—a longish paraphrase of Patrick Stewart’s mutation speech from X-Men’s opening credits. The exactness with which they duplicate this story conceit reads somewhat like a challenge. To wit: “Yes, we’re just like the X-Men. Get over it.”
And you know what? I got over it. Because, when you get past the issue of originality (specifically: the lack thereof), Heroes is really, really well done. The series’ many good points include: a) a step back from comic books in that they refuse to give their characters silly names and costumes; b) lots and lots of heroes—a strength of being a television series. In a movie, if your cast gets to big, your plot loses focus; c) interesting characters. Not that they’re realistic. Oh, no. Comic books are all about broadly painted people with archetypal personalities and Heroes captures this, with just enough quirks to make them seem human; d) not exactly a plot, but threads of plot interwoven just enough to hint at something bigger. Granted, I’m biased towards this kind of show (I hope they give Bruce Campbell a minor role next season) but this is probably the best example of an hour-long scifi adventure program that we could hope for. I bought the first season on DVD after the viewing, and look forward to watching an episode every other day or so for the next couple of months.
This is not to say that the commentary isn’t funny. Quite the contrary. Any show about people with superpowers and broad, archetypal personalities is sure to possess a thick, rich vein of ridiculousness regardless of any other qualities it may possess, and Mike does his best to exploit it. Near the beginning, he notes the model-esque New York skyline by saying, “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe is really built up, now.” Later, he comments on Mr. Bennet’s creepiness by describing his signature costume piece as “eyewear from the Belltower Sniper line.” During Peter’s anguish while Nathan attempts to convince him that their powers are a delusion, Mike cries, “I don’t want to live in a world where congressmen can’t fly!”
Of note: For the first time since The Fifth Element, sentient voice synchronization program Disembaudio pipes up so often that he has to be given co-riffing credit. He has several lengthy tirades; the funniest is the one where he claims that he is the true star of Rifftrax, having hired Mike to make him look good by comparison, or “burnish my image.” These usually happen during the Peter Petrelli segments, as that character seems to have a penchant for lengthy, confessional, and usually irrelevant speeches.
So anyway. Good show. Good Rifftrax. What’s not to recommend?
(2006, Drama/Superheroes/Television, color)