I was a Heroes bitter-ender. That’s right – I watched all 76 episodes of that dang show, and not in a DVD marathon or Netflix binge over one long weekend. Nope. I watched every single episode on NBC.
That means I put up with a lot of crap. Amnesiac Peter (Milo Ventimilia) with the Irish gangsters! Hiro (Masi Oka) trapped in feudal Japan! Those Mexican Wonder Twins (I’m not looking up their names) and the show’s thinly veiled commentary on immigration! Sylar’s search for his father! Moreover, Sylar’s (Zachary Quinto) bizarre yo-yo’ing betweein “hero” and “villain,” and that weird stretch where Sylar had permanently morphed into Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) after Matt (Greg Gunberg) tricked him into believing he was the real Nathan!
So, believe me, I completely understand all of the snark the internet is throwing NBC’s way after the truly out-of-nowhere announcement yesterday that Heroes is returning in 2015 for a 13-episode miniseries event called Heroes Reborn:
Beyond that teaser video, here is what we know (which all comes from NBC’s official Heroes site):
- Heroes Reborn will be standalone, yet they “won’t rule out the possibility of some of the show’s original cast members popping back in.”
- Heroes creator Tim Kring is back as executive producer
- Until we get closer to 2015, the plot is being “appropriately shrouded in secrecy”
- NBC will launch a digital series prior to the 2015 premiere that will introduce the characters and new storylines.
NPR’s Linda Holmes pretty well spoke for the skeptics, addressing the generally sorry state of NBC as of late:
Tara Ariano, co-host of the Extra Hot Great podcast, took to Previously.tv to call bullshit not just on NBC but TV in general for completely devaluing the meaning of “miniseries”:
“You and I know that NBC should be taking big swings to shore up its ratings and reputation. And we also know the last crazy-ass thing NBC did that everyone thought would be a complete shitshow — the live Sound Of Music — ended up being a gigantic success, so maybe the thinking is that Heroes Reborn will get the hate-watchers in the door and then win them over with its undeniable awesomeness.
I don’t begrudge the network any of that. My problem is the miniseries bait and switch. Because first of all, thirteen episodes is not a miniseries. It’s a series. It’s the number of episodes in a season of any cable network series. It wasn’t a ‘limited event’ when Sleepy Hollow‘s first season was that long. But networks try to gin up excitement by calling select series ‘miniseries’ or ‘event series’ or ‘limited run series’ or whatever so that we think, ‘This is going to take the culture by storm and I can’t be left behind!’ Then it gets renewed and we feel foolish to have been tricked.”
She’s not wrong. It’s not completely dissimilar to Paramount promising Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter would be, oh, I don’t know, the actual final chapter in that film series in 1984 only to make enough money that a Friday the 13th: Part V was in theaters less than a year later.
As of late, the TV miniseries migrated away from its once cherished home on network television (remember Roots? North & South?) to the sunnier, perennially award-winning confines of HBO, TNT, A&E, Sundance and The History Channel (Hatfield & McCoys, Bag of Bones, Top of the Lake, and The Bible). Now, the networks want back in the miniseries game, with NBC hiring Quinn Taylor as its executive VP of Movies, Miniseries and International Co-Productions, calling upon her experiencing shepherding countless Stephen King mini-series projects at ABC in the 90s. NBC has announced multiple miniseries projects for development; Heroes Reborn is just the latest example.
So, yes, this is a move on NBC’s part which can be met with cold cynicism, or with matter-of-face business sense, such as THR‘s conclusion, “Heroes Reborn gives NBC instant brand recognition, giving the network a leg up with marketing costs and fanboys.” Because of Under the Dome, we must adopt a Who-like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” attitude in response to any new “event/limited/miniseries” because just like normal TV shows these things will keep coming back until they cease being profitable. That’s a shame because you know what would be absolutely perfect as a one-and-done miniseries? Heroes.
There’s a reason Heroes was a huge hit that first season, as argued by Entertainment Weekly at the time:
“Superheroes speak to the part of us — and we all have it — that hopes, deep down, that we’re special. By tapping into our longing, these tales become legend. The one who can fly. The mad scientist. The one who’s invulnerable. The Jekyll-and-Hyde. The one who can teleport. The psychic. The seer. And that’s why people flocked to Heroes: because it was filled with stories that we already knew, presented in a completely different way. And Heroes learned from the mistakes of continuity-laden shows like Lost, which promised fire and delivered smoke: Viewers were constantly rewarded for their vigilance with a series of mini-arcs (”Save the cheerleader…,” ”Are you on the list?” etc.) that provided closure while dangling new threads. “
We watched these more archetypes-than-actual-characters progress through a compulsively watchable season, terrified of the monstrous, mostly shadowy killer Sylar, and desperate to discover whether or not saving the cheerleader would indeed save the world. Plus, supporting (and at least one regular) characters died left and right, leaving us ever-uneasy as to who might survive into next week. In the end, all major characters gathered (somewhat improbably) in New York, combining to defeat Sylar and save the city in a decent finale to a phenomenal if at-times goofy season of television.
The problem was that beyond that point they lacked the courage of their own convictions. Characters who should have stayed dead, like Sylar, Peter, and Nathan, were brought back, thus robbing their universe of one of its great strengths: actual narrative consequences. As became painfully obvious in successive seasons, there just wasn’t a whole lot more to Nathan or Peter or Claire or Hiro or Niki (Ali Larter). The writers simply didn’t have a whole lot more story to tell. What had been some of their greatest strengths effectively became their biggest weakness. There were, of course, other contributing factors to the decline in quality, such as the WGA writer’s strike during the 2nd season, NBC’s odd Heroes: Origins spin-off that never made it to air, and co-executive producer Bryan Fuller leaving after the first season to do Pushing Daisies.
They continued structuring the show after that first season as a series of mini-arcs, dubbed chapters, two per season, and that’s what Heroes Reborn could very well end up being: just another chapter. Without Fuller involved (he wrote the classic first season episode “Company Man,”) it’s unlikely Tim Kring can actually recreate the magic of the first season. However, if we could actually trust NBC’s declaration that this is to be a stand-alone 13-episode event with a set endpoint and feature mostly new characters then at the very least this thing could be worth watching. Nearly 60% of EW.com readers have agreed so far, picking the “Eh, I might check it out” option to whether or not they intended to watch Heroes Reborn. That’s probably the right amount of enthusiasm for this project, an “eh, maybe…” They haven’t earned anything more than that./ Heroes is a show which did not have enough story or character to really transition past its first season, regardless of how amazing that season was. A 13-episode miniseries might turn out to have always been its ideal format.
What do you think? Am I being too hard/easy on NBC and Heroes? Let me know in the comments section.