ABW’s TV Corner – Heroes
Someone requested a post on Heroes and I had planned to do one way back at the season finale, just never got around to it. I am very excited about season 2 and hope that it’s even better than season 1. Though S1 was great, it had a few flaws. One major flaw was the end, which disappointed on several levels. Still, it was one of the few shows on television with a diverse ensemble cast that enhanced its best qualities.
Let’s start with a breakdown. The major players in Heroes included the following main characters of color:
(Bob) The Haitian
There were also some notable secondary/guest characters of color:
Charles Deveaux (Simone’s father)
Kaito Nakamura (Hiro’s father)
Chandra Suresh (Mohinder’s father)
NBC lists 11 or 12 characters as the main ensemble on their website. Out of these, 5 – 8 of them (depending on the definition of main) are of color. That’s pretty stunning for a show on NBC that isn’t about racial issues. On numbers alone, Heroes does better than 90% of television on casting. That’s definitely worth something.
But when you move on to the next level, which is how these characters are portrayed, we run into a few issues. Not so many as to make the show unwatchable, like Stargate: Atlantis. But enough to make loving the show a labor. It’s one of those situations where something is really good in many aspects and you can’t help but want it to be perfect.
So, portrayals. One of the biggest problems in this arena is how many of the CoC are first presented to us as negative stereotypes. D.L. is a gangster who has escaped from jail. Isaac is a brilliant junkie. The Haitian doesn’t even have a name, but is dark and scary in his muteness. Over time these characters flesh out and become fully realized people, but it’s frustrating that they had to start out from negative stereotypes and had to overcome them. It’s also telling that it’s American minorities that bear the brunt of this particular evil. Hiro, Ando and Mohinder are all foreigners and, probably not coincidentally, of the “model minority” stripe. Only Simone escapes this, but she’s a woman and will have her own badness to deal with later.
It could be that Tim Kring did this consciously in order to gradually ease white people into different thinking about these characters. After all, each of them becomes incredibly important in their own way. We’re meant to care about them as much as Peter, who subsumed Mohinder as the protagonist, or Nathan, or Matt, or Claire. Still, in the end it’s white boy against white boy and two upper class white men who make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world. Err….
A whole other post could be written about the female characters in Heroes and the various ways they are used and misused. Again, we start with several stereotypes and move toward the specific and deep. Yet did we really need the stereotypes to begin with? Was it crucial to Niki’s role that she start as a (semi) sex worker/beleaguered single mom? Or for Claire to be a blonde, popular girl cheerleader-type? Or for Simone’s only definition to be that of one guy’s girlfriend or another? She dies in the most annoying, pointless way. Literally swept aside by the hand of the writer as a bit of fluff for Isaac and Nathan to fight over and then be emo about because it’s their fault she died.
It feels like this show is written by someone who is aware of the issues surrounding the portrayal of women and minorities in media but is not deeply aware of them, or does not think deeply about them. But what’s good about the situation is that Tim Kring can probably be taught. He’s got the base ideas down, now he just has to move to the next level. And that needs to happen with the second season for several reasons. One of which would be to avoid the complete clusterfuck that was season 1’s finale.
All through the series we were driven to this one point in time — the day Manhattan is destroyed. Over the course of the series, we learn how each of the characters has a role, large or small, to play in creating or preventing this event. And the story leads you to believe that the outcome will depend on the actions of several people. But, in the end, we’re left with Peter and Sylar, two white men, facing off while everyone else just stands around. Sure, Hiro pops in to stab Sylar, but his act is so lame that it really means nothing. He doesn’t use his power to counter Sylar’s, he just runs at him like in some bad anime and goes poke poke. The only reason this works is because Kring wrote that it would, not that it makes sense. This is after Jessica kicks his ass and then is told to step back by Peter. Even Claire is robbed of her part in the deal by Nathan flying in and saving everyone by… flying Peter out. Which Peter should have been able to do on his own. So, essentially, the finale was a big let down.
It was supposed to be a massive battle, with everyone’s powers playing a part in defeating Sylar and keeping Peter from losing control. Instead, Sylar merely gets maimed, and Peter loses control anyway, and everything is lame, lame, lame.
Kring has to avoid that in season 2. He has to avoid the trap that Lost fell in to (though he’s done step one, which is wrap up a story while indicating that there are other stories to tell) and make a season that fixes the problems of the last one while topping all the good stuff that came before. And he must get over the crutch of starting with a negative stereotype when dealing with female and minority characters. I know that he can create awesome CoC. He needs to trust that his audience isn’t going to run away at the first glimpse of brown people who aren’t convicts on drugs.