Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 55 – Heroes Edition

Remember Heroes, the 2006-2010 show about ordinary people discovering they have superpowers?  Well, NBC hopes you do as the network plans to relaunch the show later this week as Heroes Reborn.  This is, of course, the latest in a new trend to resurrect once-popular shows for a one-off season for a ratings grab.  The new series plans to incorporate new and returning characters for a superhero mystery which will span 13 episodes.


While it might be hard to remember, the original Heroes was an incredibly popular show when it first premiered, both in ratings and with critics.  However, Heroes didn’t really leave much of a legacy as the internet has largely shunned the show since it left airwaves five years ago (which is partly why some are confused on why NBC is trying to bring it back).  What happened to it?  Why isn’t it remembered fondly?  Where did things go wrong?

Heroes was one of the many shows that tapped into the weekly episodic television formula made popular by Lost.  Unlike many of those type of shows, Heroes quickly caught on with viewers and had lasting power.  With fun, relatable characters and an engaging mystery plot, it is easy to see why that first season was a huge hit.

When the second season began, the show ran into some trouble.  The original premise for Heroes was that it was supposed to be more of an anthology-style show, in that each season would deal with a new group of “heroes” and a new story separate from what came before (but set in the same fictional world).  An ambitious idea (and one that is only now getting some traction in television with shows like American Horror Story) and seemed safe given the high concept that Heroes was.

However, Heroes proved to be a bigger hit than expected and, from the outside looking in, NBC nor the show’s producers knew how to handle it.  Abandoned were the original plans, and the adventures of Bennett, Hiro, Sylar, and the rest were continued.  On the surface, that makes sense.  Audiences like these characters – why get rid of them?  But in hindsight, many of their stories were finished and really didn’t need to continue.

They didn’t do that.  While the second season started off strong, the quickly declined as the story began to come apart and characters would start to make out-of-character and questionable decisions.  Not helping matters either was the 2007 writer’s strike.  What was planned for the majority of season two was cut down and reformatted dramatically (only eleven episodes).  Largely outside of the writers’ hands, some plot lines were completely abandoned (remember how Peter’s girlfriend was trapped in the alternate future?), others dragged on too long (Hiro in ancient Japan), and the ending of the season was completely rewritten.  The second season on the whole was a bit of a mess because of the strike.

Now, one would think that the show might course correct itself during the third season.  Nope.  If anything, things got worse.  I should interject here that I actually liked parts of season three, but I am not blind to its faults.  The mythology of the show became overcomplicated, and suddenly, every main character’s families were connected to one another from long before.  Other characters, such as Nathan, were no longer the same characters; the show reformatted them to fit the plot (when it should be the other way around).

The stories they were trying to tell were not bad in theory, but its execution was incredibly disappointing.  If there was any evidence that the show should have stuck to its original plan by having a new cast each year, it was this.

As I write this, I do wonder how much of this was contractual.  I keep thinking about Ali Larter’s time on the show.  They killed her character, but brought the actress back as her previously unknown twin (a fact that was so inconsequential, you’d wonder why they even bothered with it in the first place).

Heroes were bleeding viewers by the end of that third season.  No one cared anymore.  It miraculously got a shortened fourth season, which had a lot of promise.  Though the show centered too much on fan-favorite Sylar, there was a back-to-basics approach to the fourth season.  It still suffered from some of the out-of-character moments from before (Hiro wanting to “save” Charlie, despite just realizing his time travel was selfish prior to this), but there was an improvement.

However, it was too little, too late and the show was cancelled.  Viewers had completely checked out and what was once appointment viewing became a shell of itself.  I think back on this show, personally, and feel that it was such a high quality product during its first season and by the end, it was middling and unremarkable.  Maybe the novelty was done and with the quality not there, what was the point?


Redemption or doomed to repeat the past?

Heroes Reborn, airing this Thursday, looks like it wants to redeem the show’s past mistakes.  Going with a mostly brand-new cast, there seems to be a real effort here that will take the show back to its 2006 roots.  Will it succeed?  I have no idea, but I kind of hope so.  Heroes was such an enjoyable show, and it can be again.  Perhaps five years removed from the first run has given creator Tim Kring a new perspective on the show and where it can go.  I guess we’ll find out.


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