Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Heroes - 'Nothing to Hide' (1x07)

I think one of the things that hasn't been written about enough concerning the recent emergence of the serialized television drama as novelistic form is its unique narrative structure. Until the late 90s, virtually all shows, except for sensationalistic soap operas, were based on a standalone episode structure. Each week would have a new event, and sometimes those events would tie in with the past, sometimes they'd just happen. Even shows that became very serialized as they went on, like Buffy and Six Feet Under, began with a standalone structure. Usually there would be an A plot and a B plot, and they might have parallels in some way, each episode functioned as a statement in and of itself.

That's why shows like Lost and Heroes represent a new paradigm for TV, one where the whole thing is one giant story, and there's no real differentation between the episodes. It's just the overarching story, spread across a bunch of hours. Back when I was watching The X-Files, I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of continuity and longed for a show like this. However, I think there are limits to serialization. In a show like this, or Rescue Me, there's no real distinction between the hours. That means you rarely get a bad episode, but you also don't get something as great as Buffy's Restless. Instead, you get exactly what you expect every week, and that makes it a bit difficult to review Heroes on a weekly basis.

I enjoyed this episode, and it's a necessary piece of the overall story, but it didn't do anything that particularly surprised me. I'm starting to feel that a bit less serialization can work well for a show. I think Six Feet Under season five is a fantastic model, it was very continuous emotionally, but would frequently present the characters with something different from week to week to test them in different ways. An episode like Dancing For Me, in which Nate meets up with an old friend from high school does a great job of forcing the character to assess his life.

However, Buffy and Six Feet Under have a fundamentally different core than Heroes. They are based around character development, so the plots are designed to test the characters and expose their feelings and flaws. Heroes is a mythology based show, and as such, the characters are subject to the narrative. To some extent, they are all manipulated into situations demanded by the story. I think mythology can work really well if it's tied in with the characters' emotional experiences, as in the best moments of The X-Files. However, I think a character based show can get away with a lot more. Buffy could do really risky shows because we had the character attachment to keep us engaged.

Now, that's not to say that Heroes needs to become more character focused. I think they're doing a good job of telling the story they're setting out to do. It's just that they could eventually run into the Lost problem of being all about teasing answers for the audience, while moving the plot slowly along. In Buffy, the plot couldn't move slow because our enjoyment didn't hinge upon narrative development.

I think Heroes could benefit by adopting a bit more Claremont X-Men model, and using the superpowers as a way to test the characters' emotions. I'm not sure what the long term plans for the show are, but I would love to see a third or fourth season do a storyline like The Mutant Massacre, in which there is a massacre of super-powered people, prompting the X-Men to become an underground strike team.

I'm guessing we'll get a big payoff at the end of November sweeps, and most likely a major cliffhanger as well. I do like the way the narrative strands are gradually converging, but I think we're getting less each week than we were before. It's like those Buffy episodes in the 19-21 run of each season, where there's just a lot of plot machinations to set up the big finale.

Well, I don't know if I made enough references to other shows in this review. But, I'm still liking Heroes, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's up next.

3 comments:

Lou said...

The problem for me this episode wasn't that the focus on pure plot was beginning to wear, but rather that the writing of this episode seemed to be far below the quality of the rest. The dialogue, especially for Nikki, was clunky, the plotting of the Greg Grunberg story was downright lazy, and if they hadn't nailed the ending, as usual, i probably would've been pretty disappointed in the episode.

Anonymous said...

Hi...
i'm looking for the name of the song from heroes tv serie..
can you help me pls?
http://rapidshare.com/files/33799091/Heroes_-_Nothing_to_Hide_-_Song.mpg.html

beto said...

Hi...
i'm looking for the name of the song from heroes tv serie..
can you help me pls?
http://rapidshare.com/files/33799091/Heroes_-_Nothing_to_Hide_-_Song.mpg.html