Nov 4 2008 1:08pm

The TiVo Test

I am developing a new litmus test to see if a show has lost me or not. For want of a more clever title, we’ll call it the TiVo Test.

The other night I was watching last week’s Heroes on TiVo with my husband. I’d had a busy day and I was nodding off. With fifteen minutes left in the show, I told my husband not to delete it when he was done, and that I’d finish it up tomorrow.

It wasn’t compelling enough to keep me for the final fifteen minutes. The next day I’d forgotten completely that I’d not seen the end of the episode.

Future Hiro talks to AndoThe thing is, it takes me a while to give up on a beloved show. I defended Heroes last season by explaining that, sure, Sylar’s plotline was weak, and so was Peter’s, but Hiro’s was awesome (although I sure did miss the sexy future Hiro), and Niki got all badass before the end. I started watching this year with some excitement, but…

I think writers go astray when they give a character too much power. When you give someone the power of a god—which Peter and Sylar both seem to have now—then it’s hard to put them in bad mortal situations. In the first episode, we see Peter arguing with Claire that she can’t come see the dying Nathan in the hospital, as she’s too far away. I was yelling at the TV screen for him to teleport to get her so she could see her biological father before he died. Nope. She was “too far away.”

Later, when Sylar hunted Claire, he used his telekinesis to close all the doors and windows (and drapes and shutters just for effect) so she couldn’t get out (which was wonderfully dramatic), but when he was looking for her, he failed to open the door she was hiding behind. And doesn’t he have super hearing?

And I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. If someone were handed super powers, he might forget which ones he has, especially in times of stress. But often the characters use said powers in battle frequently as if they were second nature. Only when they have the chance to think, “Hm, Claire is across the country and her birth father is dying. I wonder if there’s anything in my vast array of superpowers that could help her?” do they seem to completely forget.

And this all smacks of poor storytelling, indicating that clearly writers need to put characters into situations to fit the plot, never mind that with the amazing talents they’ve been given, they shouldn’t be in that situation. This is akin to Superman forgetting he can fly, or you staring into the fridge realizing you have no food and no way to get to the grocery store, forgetting you have this thing called a “car.”

OK, cars are more ubiquitous than powers, but still, work with me here.

Regardless, Heroes has had me yelling at the screen too often this season, and I think when I went to bed last week without watching the last fifteen minutes, that was me officially giving up. I don’t know if I’m going to watch this week’s. I might forget I have this superpower called a “TiVo” and read a book instead.

TiVo Test subject: Heroes.

Result: Fail.

1. Adam@LiveWorkBalance
My wife and I have had the same conversation regarding the use of powers. There are far too many times where they have the usage fit the plot, not the other way around.

It almost seems that they've written themselves into a corner, and really don't know where to go. Or maybe they even have an idea of where they want to go, but have no clue how to get there.
Josh Kidd
2. joshkidd
**Season One Spoiler (Hey, there might be some people who haven't seen it.)

This has been my problem since the season one finale, when Peter is about to go nova and Nathan tells him that there's another way. Of course, Peter can teleport and fly. There were a handful of options open to him which didn't involve Nathan. Of course, the ending was very dramatic and the slip up was understandable. It's perfectly reasonable to think that, at that moment, Peter was far too stressed to think.

But, as you said, it got worse.
rick gregory
3. rickg
Let's face it - this was a series that should have been a mini-series. Like Lost and some others, they conceived of a good season 1 arc. And then they had no idea on how to evolve the world and the characters.
4. Compiled Tom
Heh... I was telling someone the same thing: I had 3 episodes queued up on my DVR, and I was putting off watching them. The only reason I finally DID watch them was when my hard drive crashed. Of course, being the contrary type I am, that made me want to watch what I'd lost. So I fired up Hulu and caught up.

I think the season is finally starting to pick up some steam, but I'm still not thrilled about it.

A lot of people say "season 2 wasn't as good as season 1". Actually, season 2 (and now 3) ARE just as good - or bad - as season 1 was.

Season 1 had the same plodding story lines and the same characters that you alternate between loving, hating, and just being annoyed by. The only real difference is that the first season was something new (super heroes without the comic book feel).

Quite frankly, I felt cheated by the finale of S1. It was resolved too quickly, and I hated the whole "Peter blowing up" thing. Likewise, Nathan's "magic cure" and subsequent descent in to alcoholism in S2 just ticked me off. Actually, Nathan ticked me off in general. He started out as a respectable character, and by the end, I thought he was slime.

I watch shows because I like the characters. I want to know what happens to these people that I care about. I analyzed the shows I like, and I realize that they're all about likeable and slightly oddball people... the situation really doesn't matter.

Peter was the show's Superman - not in the sense that he was chock full of powers, but in the sense that he was the boy scout. He was pure good, untarnished by evil. Peter from the first season was the guy who we all loved, the one who was willing to do the hard things, and the one who was absolutely NOT willing to let himself become corrupted by his powers. He was also the most normal of all the characters, and so he was our window in to the Heroes world.

But the writers ruined all that. They turned Peter in to this psycho who's willing to kill his own brother. Take away the things I like about the people in the story, and you take away my motivation to watch the show.

Let's not forget that SciFi - another NBC property - did the same thing with BSG, and I'm so frustrated by BSG that I could scream. I don't want bleak. I don't want dark. I want to ENJOY story time, not end the night depressed!

If NBC wants to rescue Heroes, it needs to learn one simple thing: Characters first. The people in the show aren't pawns in a chess game: They're our friends. Ruin that friendship (say, by turning the show's moral center in to a bad guy), and you ruin the show. Save that friendship - make us love the characters again - and we'll stick around for Season 5.
Sean Fagan
5. sef
joshkidd, they explicitly handled that case: Peter said that it was taking everything he could do to not explode right there and then, so he couldn't fly or teleport away.

My only problem with having god-like characters is: what do you do with them later? One of the things I liked in the late first season, was seeing a mature and confident Peter ready and willing to face off a mature and confident Sylar. Sadly, they didn't show it much of it, but I still want to see a well-executed fight between gods. From a distance, of course :).

I can justify Sylar not having super hearing any longer: it was a power he acquired after getting Charlie's memory. So, perhaps, when he lost all his powers, he also lost a lot of the memories he'd acquired after that. And that includes the hearing. (Yes, it's fanwanking. I shouldn't have to fanwank. I completely agree. But it's plausible.)

So... all that said. I still watch the show. But it's not as compelling. Almost every episode of the first season ended with us yelling at the "to be continued" sign. Even quite a bit during the second season. Now, not as much.
rick gregory
6. rickg
Sef... if you have to start coming up with 'might haves' the writing is failing. A good fiction of any sort drops you into its world and thoroughly involves you there. Characters aren't pawns, they don't start doing things because a plot point needs to be advanced and the writers haven't set it up correctly. You don't have a god-like character who's too stupid to open a door or to sense the person behind it just because the writers set the scene that way. That's just poor fiction.
Troy Lissoway
7. Troylis
Tom@4: I agree that Season 2 was much the same as Season 1, but that doesn't mean it was as good. Season 1 was a good FIRST season, but a bad SECOND season—a show that depends on season-long arcs has to show progression, not fall back on what they've already done.

My Heroes experience was that Season 1 was fun (despite a lame finalé) and had so much promise that I was very excited about Season 2. Unfortunately, that second season demonstrated that the writers had no idea what to do with the characters they'd created. As mentioned above, everyone seemed to forget what their powers were just when they'd be most useful. Also, just about everything Mohinder did felt out-of-character, and the character of Adam was badly misused and had no realistic motivation.

(Here's my pet peeve—Adam keeps a grudge against Hiro for 500 years. Why doesn't anyone ever write an immortal as if they actually have centuries of experience. Wouldn't it have been a treat if revenge on Hiro was the farthest thing from Adam's thoughts, a half-forgotten episode from his relative infancy?)

Anyway, it's at the point now where I don't even hate the show—I just found other things to watch.
Jason Henninger
8. jasonhenninger
Your thought about Adam is a very interesting one. Couldn't he have developed beyond revenge during the centuries?

I think he should have come out significantly changed, either in a developed and meditative sort of way like you suggest, or completely batsh*t and bananas crazy from getting the Poe treatment. That he'd go through an ordeal like that and not be altered by it is just damn weak.

I don't know if you watch Touchwood..I mean, Torchwood...but they did the same thing. Buried alive for centuries...barely a hair out of place. Yeesh.
treebee72 _
9. treebee72
re: Torchwood - you forget that Jack was already batsh*t insane before he was buried!
Paolo Chikiamco
10. Pipe
My wife and I enjoyed Season 1 a lot - except, as with troylis, for the ending (which I assume would have been much better if they hadn't known by then they wee getting a second season).

Mur mentions having problems with the power levels of Sylar and Peter, but - as much as I generally like the guy - I'd have to add Hiro to that list. Time manipulation powers, unless delimited well, almost automatically place a character into the over-powered category.
fred campbell
11. fred00
Heroes is just a geek sugar rush for me now.For something that actually makes sense I watch Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show.
12. Nick H.
I hate to defend Heroes, as there is rather a lot wrong with it, but I'm afraid one of the key examples you use in this entry is not valid.

Specifically, the reason Peter doesn't teleport to fetch Claire is not because the writers have had a brain barf, or that they're deliberately ignoring that particular power of his; it's because the Peter in that scene is evil future Peter who shot Nathan in the first place. As such, he purposefully doesn't want the girl with the magic healing blood around.

Your other points are sound (Sylar's hearing, for example), but that you use the above as a key point to structure your argument around rather ends up undercutting it all, I'm afraid.
13. rogerothornhill
Quite simply, yes. The series has failed to live up to its potential.

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