Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I love “Heroes,” NBC's new show with the tagline “Ordinary people. Extraordinary abilities,” but unfortunately, it seems to belong squarely in the “Coffee Tables Cure Cancer” genre of fiction. Other choice examples are the Wheel of Time series, and some of the conflicts on “Smallville,” and probably many more that I just don't happen to be familiar with.

Conflict in fiction generally comes from different motivations - good or not, plausible or not, significant immediately or not - of the characters. (Duh.) Sometimes, though, it comes from incomplete or inaccurate information; the perfect example is the end of Romeo and Juliet. And that works here and there, but when it becomes the main or only force driving a plot, it really sucks.

"The Wheel of Time” fantasy novels are the obvious example. If half a dozen characters in that series were to sit down around a coffee table and spend an hour catching up, it would solve almost every one of their problems, and indeed most major problems in that whole fictional world. They get along, they have common goals all the way, they aren’t generally stupid, between them they influence or outright control most of the major powers of Randland...

But they’re butting heads because they have the wrong idea about what the others are doing or no idea at all. They have no idea because they rely on spotty communications and dubious allies to find out. And they rely on those sources, at least half the time, because of serious psychological issues or just contrived chance. Argh.

And "Heroes," unfortunately, seems like that a fair amount. Matt Parkman MILD SPOILERS could tell Claire Bennett a lot about her father’s secrets, but he was thrown off the case, so at this rate he’ll probably never meet her. He could straighten out Niki’s mental problems (that is, if his powers were more developed. At the very least, he could warn her family that Jessica is in charge), but it looks to him like she’s a hitman. Niki, Nathan and Hiro could show each other that there’s a lot more to Linderman than meets the eye, but Hiro has never met Niki and Nathan is avoiding them both. If Nathan talked to Claire, which he refused to do, it would be a safe and easy way for her to find Peter again. And so on. And these are not small points; they’re half of the storylines on the show.

Despite this, I like the show, really. It’s got clever writing, and it has a few really interesting, compelling characters. Plus, of course, the totally airwolf superhero/science fiction stuff. Episodes where it seems like nothing happens are a bigger problem than this, and even those are the minority. I just got to thinking about all of this because when I try to guess the exciting, fan-pleasing denouement to last night’s cliffhanger, it felt weird to picture something as mundane as two characters getting locked in a closet and having a long talk.

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