Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Heroes Takes the Lead

Well, NBC's Heroes is now firmly in the lead with my three favorite televisions shows, overtaking my other two favorites Battlestar Galactica and Rome due to its deft plotting and the clear evidence that they have worked their backstory out in much better detail than BG. Mind you - I love BG and maintain that it's cumulative effect on SF television and the wider perception of SF in the mainstream is overwhelmingly positive, but I'm losing paitence with the way they use the religious beliefs of both sides as a catch all for moving the plot without bothering to work out just what those beliefs are in any convincing detail. It's not good tv when the characters are working from information that is rote to them but vague to the audience and as much time as the crew of the Galactica has spent with "good Sharon", we ought to know a damn site more about the Cylon's core beliefs than we do. I mean, how can the Cylon's not know who the "final five" are? Were they built at the same time? Were they built first? Were they not build yet? For that matter, the Cylons treat the "bullet heads" like morons, but didn't the bullet heads build them? So, wouldn't the bullet heads know who the final five are? How do they even know there are a final five if they've never seen them, don't interact with them, don't receive orders from them, and didn't apparently hang with them back on whatever Cylon homeworld they were on for the last 50 years? It's all a big mess, and I'd like to see it untangled, but I still don't think the writers have an effing clue.

This doesn't mean BG's character work isn't amazing - it's what keeps me glued to the screen week after week, and god, I love Baltar under pressure - and this season's Rome is tremendous even if the 3 months forward jump didn't jar a little bit and undercut a little of the episode's potentia. But these three shows aren't just my favorite shows on TV now - they could easily be my favorite shows TO DATE when the dust settles. Now...

Back on Heroes - anyone not watching Christopher Eccelston's performance is really missing out. His delivery isn't far from what he did on my fourth favorite current show, Doctor Who, but I could watch him spew patronizing vitriol all night. But - and here's a minor spoiler warning for anyone who didn't see last night's episode - I was expecting that shove he gave Peter off the building. When Eccleston came on last week, his character - that of the vagabond mentor wandering the streets - really reminded me of something else - the homeless wizard Tom O'Bedlam of Grant Morrison's brilliant comic book series, The Invisibles, who mentors the young boy Jack Frost, troubled youth who doesn't realize his true potential and all that. After wandering the streets as poor mad Tom's pupil for a while, their lessons culminate with a death defying leap off a London skyscraper. Coincidence? Not with comic scribe Jeff Loeb as co-executive producer. But need more proof that it isn't just synchronicity. Well, come on, just what is Eccelston's particular power anyway?

Update: While I'm thinking of it, it occurs to me that it's instructive to look at the way all four of the above mentioned shows - Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Rome and Doctor Who - deal with Providence. I've blogged before about the fact that the world of Battlestar Galactica is clearly one in which the divine forces have some reality / influence on events, as we've seen multiple charactes experience prophecy that has come to fruition. And while the majority of Heroes' synchronicities can be explained simply by what happens when one character sees the future and shares that knowledge with another who can travel in time, they are racking up enough meaningful coincidence to suggest that other forces may be at work beyond their own self-generated domino effects. Doctor Who second season is interesting for the way it sets up the Doctor as a "lonely god," and remember the episode "New Earth" where he tells a Nun that there is "no higher authority" in the universe than himself. The running theme of that season is that the previous Godlike powers, the Time Lords, are now gone, and thus the Doctor is forced to step in and play God to a hitherto unattained (or at least unacknowledged) degree. So in this series, he is Providence, hence his really interesting decision to forgo sharing the details of his meeting with the devil in "The Satan Pit." I mean, keeping the fact from humanity that a, there was actually a devil and b, he's dead now is a pretty major card to hang onto. Now, what's really interesting to me are the recent developments in the fourth show, Rome. Up unto this point, and despite the widespread belief in the supernatural shared by its cast of characters, we haven't seen the presence of the supernatural at all in its story. But now, with episode 15, "These Being the Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero," we have Pullo, who left Rome several months ago and has only just returned, convinced he has been sent back by the gods to set things right with Vorenus, stumbling synchronistically upon Lyde, who tells him Vorenus' children are still alive. Can it be that the supernatural has finally reared its ugly head in ancient Italy too?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lou, I think you need to put down the crack pipe :)
Allison

Lou Anders said...

Lots of people smokin' it with me from what I can tell.

Paul Cornell said...

You've made me want to watch Rome now. It seems to play better over there than it did over here, where it became something of a media laughing stock. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment. (Perhaps the British can't take seriously a Rome where the Romans aren't entirely English.) A slight perturbing of cause and effect in a background supernatural way is one of my favourite dramatic devices. It's so hard to tell where providence begins and the coincidental needs of the screenwriter end.

hutch said...

I think the makers of Rome are only reflecting the Romans' beliefs in the gods. I do hope the supernatural hasn't come calling; it would make it a different show and I really enjoyed season one.

Lou Anders said...

Paul - I loved OZ, and love what I've seen of Deadwood, and can appreciate the Sopranos even if it isn't my cup of tea, and thought Six Feet Under was always great - but Rome is my favorite HBO show to date. It's like watching I, Claudius on a budget with sex and violence.

Hutch - it probably didn't stick out to most viewers like it did to me, but I don't think you'll be disappointed in season two. What disappoints me is that there is no season three!

hutch said...

Only two seasons? No!!!
I can't remember, did I ever big-up Carnivale to you? I liked that very much. And of course they cancelled that, too.

Lou Anders said...

Yeah, you did, though I never watched Carnivale. Pretty excited bout the GRRM series though.

hutch said...

GRRM? (Everybody goes, `Doh...')

Lou Anders said...

Not sure what you mean. HBO is adapting George Martin's Song of Fire and Ice fantasy into a series, one book per season, with George on as an exec. I'm a little nervous, because the two guys on it haven't worked on an HBO series before and are scripting all the episodes themselves. I'd rather someone who had worked on a previous HBO series was there to bring their experience to bear.

Interestingly, my wife tells me Heroes uses an unusual model - everyone on the writing staff is assigned one character and writes that character straight through the season. I like that approach, as I sometimes think Adama's character suffers from character/ethics inconsistencies introduced by different writers twisting him in service of different scripts. (I never bought, for instance, that he would go along with taking Sharon's child immediately after pretty much sanctioning Lee and Halo's murder of her rapists).

justin weinberger said...

RE: Home Box Office -- Not gonna lie, I never gave Rome a fair shake. I think it came about at a time when niche appeal first-run shows flooded the cable channels and distracted us with many shiny things. I wonder if the audience for TV drama will continue to be congealed enough to support HBO-type productions for very much longer. (Hopefully long enough to give the GRRM effort a proper shot.)

RE: Adama's ethics -- couldn't agree more that the man chooses some very odd battles to fight.

RE: Heroes -- Hypothetically, if a character were to be killed off the show, does the writer lose his job? That's harsh.

Lou Anders said...

Justin, I'd be curious to hear you elaborate about the audience for HBO-type productions. You see a decline in evidence?

RE: Heroes -don't know if anyone pulls double duty, but presumably they'd introduce new characters to replace old. Will say it makes for some smoother writing than BG - Allison's snark notwithstanding. Though, again, we are talking about the last inch in a 100 yard dash - all these four shows are tremendous.

hutch said...

Sorry, Lou, I had what one of my colleagues describes as a `senior moment' and I didn't understand what you meant by `GRRM.' I only worked it out as I was walking to the station this evening; I had heard of the series. I need to get out more. Or stay in more, I don't know.

Re Heroes, it sounds an interesting way to write a show. I think Adama just has a very complicated code of honour...

Robert said...

Lou,

I have not watched a single episode of Heroes, but your comments here have intrigued me enough to give it a try. BUT...if I wade into the season now, will I be hopelessly Lost(no tv-related pun intended here)?

Robert

justin w said...

Lou, it’s not hard numbers I have at my disposal, unfortunately. Those are proprietary, and I’d likely be killed if I saw/disclosed them. It's the 'home run' mentality that I'm questioning (insert call-back to the discussion of ballooning sci-fi movie budgets since the 80s), and perhaps that applies more to the market as a whole than HBO.

First-run shows on cable right now are a great thing for anyone interested in content, but we might regret that in the medium term, perhaps. There's only a certain number of eyeballs to serve programming to, and if you splinter that too far, the ad-supported paradigm as I understand it has a breaking point. At which point we'll see the Return of Reality TV and Other Cheap Entertainment (accompanied by eerie chords and Vincent Price).

A common yardstick of a TV show's commercial success is embodied in the axiom (perhaps soon to be dated?) of 100 episodes. It's the typical number that you need to sell it in syndication to Germany/TBS/Oz and make Profit. Mostly, ad sales for a network first run will cover initial money outlaid to produce the show, if that.

Anyway, I'm sure that's all common knowledge, and my point is that eyeballs are hard to come by in today's flooded market, and one-hour dramas are a big gamble to make it halfway into the fifth season and turn 100. HBO does shows akin to big "summer tentpole" movies, they're events --

But they're not supported by ad revenue. They might remain far enough outside the system to be immune to splintering eyeballs. I'm hoping to be proven wrong.

The larger question remains -- a generation of shows are not profitable. Which leads me to wonder if these shows are produced, to a certain degree, to manufacture Legitimacy. Bringing attention to a brand, like BSG is the battle standard of the Sci-Fi Channel, or Monk the totem animal for USA.

I just wonder where the buck stops.

justin weinberger said...

Okay -- I just saw this week's Heroes, and I think that it might Win. Eccelston was great, but did anyone else catch the license plate on George Takei's car?

Lou Anders said...

Hutch - don't sweat it. I love Adama, but his is inconsistently written. Apollo suffers more though, as his character twists to the whim of story necessity horrible. I like Richard Hatch's character better!

Robert - Yes, this show is very tightly plotted and you'd be doing yourself a disservice to start now. Get the box set of season one, bit torrent, or wait for a marathon. Hopefully they'll have the sense to both do a marathon and release a boxed set before season two. Eccleston ROCKS, btw.

Justin - HBO, being non-advertizer driven, seems immune, though I am wondering if the poor reception in the UK Paul alludes to is why this series was deemed "too expensive" by its European backers. It looks like HBO could cover less expensive shows like the Sopranos (setting - contemporary America) but needed the UK market to cover this historical. I am very curious, as costs drop, particularly SFX costs, to see if we don't see the direct-to-dvd or direct-to-whatever-the-internet becomes release of quality miniseries in the near future.

But you got me, what was Takei's license plate? (Oh, and while I *loved* seeing him speak Japanese, his character was pretty unnecessary for the story, unless, of course, they are seeding him and his daughter as a possible thread to pick up in season two).

justin weinberger said...

Lou, I completely agree. The broadband content is going to be something wild, and is getting there already.


Takei's license plate was NCC 1701, of course!

Lou Anders said...

Ha. I should have guessed.

Seriously, though, I am expecting a brilliant SF miniseries to emerge from the web any day now.

Lou Anders said...

This article in the New York Times is pretty dismissive of the fan base for shows like Lost, BG, and Heroes, a very dated attitude in view of how mainstream these shows are. But interesting to me in that they start out with James Randi saying that "a fascination and increased belief in the supernatural" is "a sign of social decline.”

Here's the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/07/arts/television/07watc.html?_r=1&oref=slogin