Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Confusing World of "Heroes"

So...I was a fan of NBC's Heroes. I say 'was' because...I was. I admit, it took me about five episodes of the first season to get into it but I kept coming back and then it got good. Really good. Like...must be home on Monday nights to watch it good.

The second season was kind of silly but I watched it. When it was halted by the writer's strike, I was left wanting more.

And now it's back. I missed the first five episodes but I caught up this past week and, I admit, I'm not sure if I'm going to keep going.

There's an article in this weeks' Entertainment Weekly that details what they think is wrong with the show and how to save it. Mostly, they're right. Yet they don't point out what I think is a major flaw: the confusion about who's a hero and who's a villain.

I think I might have figured it out. I think that Tough Claire and her gang of merry, super gifted, men from the future are villains. But I'm not sure because they seem to be trying to stop Peter. And when it comes to Peter Petrelli, I am stumped. There were two Peters. One was future Peter, one was present Peter. They both wanted to save the world but apparently it gets destroyed because of Peter...Future Peter (I think). Except I think that Peter didn't mean to destroy the world. Which should make him a hero. Except people like Matt Parkman think he needs to be stopped. Parkman is, let's face it, a tad extranous these days anyway. I like him and I like his turtle but he's really not much use and hasn't been for a while. But I thought Parkman was good which would make Peter bad. And Parkman's super fast-future-wife, Daphne, is trying to stop Peter. Which makes her a hero. She's working with Tough Claire and co. so...they are heroes?

You see my confusion? It all goes back to Peter Petrelli. I don't get him. He always seems so earnest but then he does something dumb like take Sylar's-tinged-with-evil power even though he knows it's probably not good to do so. And why did he do that, anyway? It was supposed to help him figure out how things worked, all their pieces. Then again, if I were in the Heroes universe, I'd probably want that power too- it'd make the line between heroes/villains WAY less confusing. Except...Peter already can read minds, become invisible, fly, live forever, use telekineses, start fires with his hands, etc. Wouldn't those powers combined make it fairly easy to figure out what was going on? And he's already been in contact with Sylar before so...why didn't he have his powers before. He can absorb other heroes' powers just by touching them so....

Also, if that's his way of getting his powers, shouldn't he have been able to fight his father's power-sucking-hug by taking his father's power at the same time?

And then there's Claire. I'll ignore the fact that poor Haydn Panetierre is WAY out of her element in the future scenes. She is about as convincing as playing Tough Future Claire as Keanu Reeves is at doing Shakespeare. (I like Keanu...but, well, he's no Kenneth Branaugh- that's all I'm trying to say). Future Claire is ridiculous. They darkened her hair, slicked it back and now she's supposed to be an emotionless robot. It's just not working.

At the moment, the only things that are working are Jack Coleman (Noah) and Zachary Quinto (Sylar). Their partnership was awesome- funny and clever and just what the show needed. David Anders (the late Adam) was also fantastic because he, too, had fun and you could see it.

And maybe that's what's wrong with the show. No one's having fun anymore. No one's realistic, anymore. The first season was awesome because it gave us a fairly believable universe in which ordinary people discovered they had extraordinary gifts. They lived in the world we live in. Then came time-travel and the show started to try to make comic-book plots. Now, it's all a comic-book-esque show with nothing left that makes us relate. The time jumping is confusing, the characters are WAY too many and way too one-dimensional and they keep stealing plot devices from other sources as well as themselves. Mohinder as a giant bug? Really? Claire as Trinity from the Matrix? Really? Parkman spirit walking? Really? Buffy did that WAY better when she met the spirit of the first's been done before. In fact, most of it has.

And Hiro...the first true breakout star from the show. He was goofy, funny, geeky and cute. Now he's a cliche. We get it, he represents fanboys and geeks worldwide. We get that he reads comics. But if he says "Nemesis!" one more time to Daphne, that's it, I can't watch anymore. He's become ridiculous and unnecessary. Adam should have killed him and been done with it. Even Ando is more interesting merely because he gets nothing but abuse and scorn from Hiro but he's always there for his friend, anyway.

What it comes down to is the same thing that kills most good TV shows eventually; they can't stick with what made a show popular in the first place, they always have to try to make it bigger, to get even higher ratings, to be more talked about. The network and creators can't accept that a show is fine as it is; they always have to overshoot. It happens to the best of them. Sometimes, a show corrects itself mid-course (see Lost as an example), sometimes it just goes so downhill, people can't watch. Because for every second and third season of a show that was great in its first, there's a new show that's premiering that's better and it's only a matter of times before the fans leave.

I only hope Heroes comes back swinging.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Demise of Television Without Pity

Once upon a time, there was a website that used to recap television. It was a website that had some attitude, a healthy amount of perspective and some very funny, if blunt, opinions of the best shows on TV. It was a site in which a collective of writers covered select TV shows and did a thorough recap of each episode, peppered with snark and sarcasm and a healthy dose of realistic editorial opinion. It was a site for which TV loving writers would have loved to write, especially those writers, like myself, who can objectively and sarcastically talk about TV shows, beloved or not.

There were some flaws, naturally. Some of the writers were much better than others. The collective of writers were a little clique, their FAQ proving that they didn't take well to outsiders and didn't care to. The forums were too heavily moderated, almost communistic in some of the ways in which comments were censored. Sometimes their writers were downright cruel to the readers who criticized them, coming across as petty and mean rather than snarky and funny. But, aside from all that, it was a fun, entertaining website in which one could easily get lost in reading the witty, funny and mostly dead-on recaps of television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, America's Top Model, etc. They were always shows that would have the type of following to seek out recaps, shows that were so good they deserved a recap, even when they had bad episodes, or shows so bad that they simply had to be recapped in all their cheesy nonsense.

The site was Televison without Pity (TWOP for short), once glorious, now a commerical site in which the snark is lost in the glitz of Bravo Television.

But let's back up to the glory days. The site was founded by three individuals, known on TWOP as Sars, Wing Chun and Glark. They built the site based on their original effort, Mighty Big TV, a site originally built entirely around one TV show: Dawson's Creek. Mighty Big TV eventually became TWOP. The site was tightly run, the recaps well edited and mostly hilarious. The forums would entice undercover Hollywood players like Aaron Sorkin who would defend his show. There were interviews with writers of TV shows, humble, well-written interviews in which you'd actually learn about a show. It was evident that those that worked for TWOP loved their job, even when they were assigned awful TV shows to recap. Though other sites sprung up, most notably TWOP Sucks, that would bash TWOP and its writers, these sites did little except emphasize the point that TWOP had become a pop culture must, a place for TV lovers to congregate, virtually and it the case of events like TARCON (The Amazing Race Conventions), in reality too.

And then, the site was sold to Bravo. It was most likely financially a smart business choice for the founders. After all, what had begun as a blog had become a viable business. It hosted advertising, so there was definitely some profit being made as well as a store that sold TV gear, referencing obscure moments in TV. Yet, Bravo came calling and it's likely a lot of money was offered. To founders like Sars, Wing Chun and Glark, there probably seemed little to lose. They would make money, the writers would be guaranteed payment and the responsibility would be off their shoulders.

Bravo took over and one year later, Sars, Wing Chun and Glark left the site. There is little to be discovered about their departure, whether it was part of the original buyout contract or whether the site went so far from the original conception that they were disgusted enough to take their big checks and leave. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that Bravo's takeover of TWOP has killed the site in almost every way that matters.

Certainly, the site still exists and the archive of recaps is still there. The writers still recap the shows still airing that they recapped before the buyout. Yet now, there are recaps for shows that the original site didn't acknowledge, shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Law and Order: SVU and The Biggest Loser. There are many more photos and images. There is much more advertising. There is a spin off called Movies Without Pity. There are videos now. All in all, it's very glossy and shiny. It looks like a big budget site.

But the heart is gone. The soul of TWOP has fled, perhaps with the founders, perhaps when the contract with Bravo was signed. Some of the writers from the glory days are there, like Jacob and Couch Baron. But without the editing and tight reign of Sars and co., they have also declined. Jacob, always prone to waffling, has become boring. He has always brought the fact that he is a gay man into his recaps, often a tiresome aside, but nowadays, it has become the forefront of the majority of his recaps. We get it. We get that there is homosexuality on TV. But it would also be nice to read about the show instead of the recapper's issue with Americas acceptance of homosexuality (His American Idol recaps and Ugly Betty recaps especially). Jacob has started loving the sight of his own words and without a strong editor to reign him in, he's become pompous, irritating and unreadable. Couch Baron, still one of the strongest writers on the site, has become lazy. His perceptions are still sharp but without editing he, too, often rambles and sometimes its hard to get through the recaps of shows like Heroes. The writing is no longer snarky, it's just outright mean. There are now many Weecaps, shorter versions of recaps that basically give the episode in a nutshell. The site used to nail much of why a show was silly, Clifford the Big Red Ball from Alias is still one of the funniest references ever. But those references and recaps are few and far between these days. The effort to get a recap up quickly means that editing in minimal and there are grammatical, spelling, punctuation and factual errors in many of the recaps that are published.

The forums have grown worse. They are more heavily moderated than ever. The moderators have the right to delete a post, commenters must carefully phrase emails so they're not accused of flaming someone just because they don't agree. They are no longer fun to read and it's often hard to remember they're there anymore. The number of posts has declined dramatically and it's hard to find a reason to visit anymore.

Bravo attempted to get more people onto the TWOP site by hosting the TV Bigshot game in which participants attempted to create a TV network and picked shows to air. Points were assigned based on a show's ratings; if your network owned a show that did well in the ratings, you won points. It was a good idea, in theory. In reality, it was a game that wasn't well moderated; the rules would change, the points were miscalculated and the top scorers were always the same. Players would attempt to use strategy to pick their shows and then, because of a 'server error' or other such excuse, points for the week weren't calculated, thus ensuring no way to climb up in the rankings. As seems to be the case of the new TWOP site, it looked pretty on the outside but it lacked substance and guidance from within.

TWOP remains. It is still a place to read a decent recap or two; Drunken Bee's Friday Night Lights recaps are examples of beautiful, lyrical writing, especially the early episodes. Yet because there is no soul, the site seems empty. The personality is gone, clouded by corporate commercialism. Though it's still a site to read about TV, it has lost the sheen of talent that made it great and given way to a gloss that makes it mediocre. It's always a shame when greatness falls, even when it's just a site for television geeks and in the case of Television Without Pity, greatness has fallen far.