Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Camera Obscura
    by John Joseph Adams
September 2006

An Xtremely Uncanny Resemblance

NBC gives The X-Men the Unbreakable treatment in its new series Heroes.

"Chapter One: Genesis" (Pilot)
Creator: Tim Kring
Director: Dave Semel
Writer: Tim Kring
Starring: Santiago Cabrera, Tawny Cypress, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, Adrian Pasdar, Hayden Panettiere, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Milo Ventimiglia, Noah Gray-Cabey
Air Date: September 25 at 9:00 PM on NBC
Rated TV-14 / 60 minutes / 2006
(out of four)

Heroes is the story of a group of people who suddenly start exhibiting strange paranormal abilities: Peter Petrelli (Ventimiglia) can fly; Isaac Mendez (Cabrera) can see the future in his art; Hiro Nakamura (Oka) can teleport himself with the power of his mind; Claire Bennet's (Panettiere) wounds heal rapidly of their own accord; and Niki Sanders (Larter)—well, she has some kind of mirror-twin.

Meanwhile, an Indian professor, Mohinder Suresh (Ramamurthy) discovers that his father has died. His father, also a professor, had been studying the supposed next step in human evolution, which apparently involves a vast array of mutations which will imbue people with superhuman powers. So Mohinder sets off for New York City, where his father was doing research and driving a cab, to find out how and why his father died, and to continue his father's research.

The ensemble cast is rounded out by a few other "normals": Nathan Petrelli (Pasdar), the slick politician brother of Peter; Simone Deveraux (Cypress), the girlfriend of Isaac, and friend of Peter (who works as a nurse, and is administering in home care for her dying father); and Micah Sanders (Gray-Cabey), Niki's son, who while apparently normal, is super-smart.

There isn't much plot to the pilot, except to introduce the viewers to each of the characters, and to show that these strangers seem to be somehow connected; some connections are obvious, while others not as much, but it's clear that there's some force at work (destiny?) that's drawing them together to do battle against some impending evil. And there appears to be some sort of (government?) agency keeping track of the late Professor Suresh's research, and presumably the titular heroes as well.

Strangely, several of the primary characters have suffered the loss of a father in some way—Peter's and Mohinder's fathers are dead, and Simone's father is dying; the father of Niki's child is MIA. Fathers seem as though they will be important somehow, though how or why they're relevant to the plot of Heroes remains to be seen.

This all sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but Heroes doesn't quite pull it off, and even manages gets started on the wrong foot. We open on a rooftop, with Peter standing on the edge, apparently ready to jump. A voiceover ponders where humanity's compulsion to answer life's questions comes from. But the voice does not belong to Peter, as one would think; instead, it belongs to a different character—Mohinder, who, of course, we haven't met yet. After pondering the alley below him—just long enough for Mohinder to finish his narration—Peter allows himself to fall toward the ground, and as he plummets, we cut away to Peter, in a nurse's uniform, sitting in a room, at the bedside of a dying patient. The images we opened on—of Peter standing on a rooftop and then falling—were (cliché alert!) just a dream.

But there are other problems as well—for one, the treatment of the superpowers. When we first see Claire, she runs up to the top of a big staircase (70 or 80 feet high), and leaps off, and plummets to the ground...and slams into it. She doesn't think she can fly; she knows she's going to hit the ground, but she does this to further test her newfound ability to heal wounds. Is it just me, or does this seem an incredibly stupid way to test your powers? Admittedly, she informs us that this was attempt number six, so she'd tried five other death-defying stunts to test her ability, but is she suicidal? If her abilities fail one of her tests, she'll be dead. Doesn't seem like the best plan.

The acting and dialogue are just about as poor as Claire's logic—with characters uttering lines like "Why would I understand that you think you can fly?" "Because you're my brother." Oka and Ventimiglia are particularly appalling, Ventimiglia all the more so for being on screen for most of the episode, and stinking up every scene. Oka meanwhile is a caricature rather than a character, seemingly inserted for comic relief, but instead only served as an annoyance. Ramamurthy and Gray-Cabey seem to be the two exceptions in that they can actually act, the latter more than the former, despite the fact that he's just a small child. But Ramamurthy looks to be a solid lead for the show to anchor itself on, though how much screen time he'll get from week to week is anyone's guess. With such a huge ensemble cast, I expect it's going to be difficult to find adequate time to further the stories of each of the characters each week. It was so difficult in episode one, it seems, that we didn't even get to meet all the characters in it: other principals not seen in the pilot include Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and D.L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts).

The dream sequence opener was the first clue that Heroes wasn't exactly going to be full of original thought. The pilot is your standard comic book superhero origin story, given the Unbreakable treatment—which is to say, treated in a more realistic light: no spandex, just people with freaky powers. But its most grievous sin is the characters' rather uncanny resemblance to the X-Men. Not only because they appear to be mutants, or the next step in human evolution, but also because some of the characters have direct X-Men analogues. For instance, Hiro has the same abilities as Nightcrawler; Claire, Wolverine; Peter, Storm (or any of the other flying X-Men). Stan Lee should consider suing somebody.

Heroes isn't complete rubbish, and it seems like there's a lot of room for improvement after this very shaky start, but as it is now there's very little to recommend it. If you really want a superhero fix, go read some comics instead.

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