This week's firing of two Heroes producers shows that NBC and fans agree: The show is struggling. Viewers have suffered through Parkman in Africa, the Shanti virus, and those pesky twins. We love Heroes, and want it to succeed, but it's become too complicated and lost some of the narrative sophistication that hooked us in the first place. Series creator Tim Kring has been charged with stepping in and simplifying the show. Here's our take on how he should do it. Share your own ideas in the comments below.
PROBLEM: With so much time travel, who can keep track of all the alternate realities?
SOLUTION: Set the Heroes in time and have them work toward a particular goal with a specific deadline.
Once you open a show to time travel, the mind goes a-reelin' about when exactly the world is supposed to end. Show us only one possible future and scenario that the Heroes have to band together (see below) to avoid.
PROBLEM: There are too many Heroes.
SOLUTION: Kill or otherwise get rid of a bunch of them.
Feel free to play God in the comments section below, but I wouldn't miss Parkman, Maya, Mohinder, most of the Bennetts (save Claire and HRG). I could also do without many of the bad guys, and, it pains me to say, Hiro and Ando. There are still interesting stories to be told about Elle, Sylar, Angela and Arthur Petrelli (imagine that Thanksgiving dinner!), and Adam Monroe (R.I.P.). But there's never enough to time to do them justice.
PROBLEM: The Heroes are kind of self-involved.
SOLUTION: Have them "rescue kittens from trees" every now and then.
The Heroes need to start saving people other than each other. Their inner torment initially electrified the show, but now it's time for them to get over themselves and start using their abilities to help others. In the first season, a small-scale task (save the cheerleader) accomplished a large-scale goal (save the world). The second season's Shanti virus threatened to wipe out humanity, sure, but there was no more human-scaled story. Whether we faced Armageddon came down to Peter's reflexes. (We understand the writers' strike derailed what was probably going to be a richer storyline.)
Already in Season 3, we've seen at least five possible alternate futures, two of an apocalyptic nature. I'm not suggesting that Heroes become a contained episodic procedural, a la Fringe, but what if Claire used her powers to help a cheerleading coach escape a battering spouse? It's clear she wants some action, but what she really needs is practice to understand how and why her power works. Otherwise, the show is absurdly abstract.
PROBLEM: The line between good and evil is too blurred.
SOLUTION: Outline the characters' motivations more clearly.
While gray moral areas are rich with dramatic possibility, they also leave the show vulnerable to obfuscation. Can you really say for sure who the good guys are right now? The Company's Angela Petrelli appears to have the greater good in mind, but she uses perverse methods to achieve it. Similarly, Linderman, Arthur Petrelli & Co. have their own plans for... what, exactly? In this day and age, "world domination" as a raison d'etre is a cop-out.
PROBLEM: The Heroes have no lives.
SOLUTION: Make them go into hiding again and live "real" lives.
Season 3 has consisted of a series of fool's errands. Hiro tries to infiltrate the bad guys, but why is unclear. Claire decides to go rogue and round up the Level 5 bad guys. Nathan mostly mopes and takes the vague advice of a spectral Linderman, as if he's a trusted advisor. The Heroes need to re-enter "real" life, with jobs, spouses, and mortgages. Remember when Peter was a nurse? It added a certain human dimension to his character that no number of scars or overwrought parental confrontations can.
PROBLEM: The Heroes work at cross-purposes.
SOLUTION: Give them a clearinghouse, an HQ where they can exchange information.
The show is overstuffed with plotlines, many of which overlap. Daphne's business-card-distribution operation is a good example. Imagine if all the Heroes met periodically to put their heads together. The Season 1 finale brilliantly showed how exciting the show can be when the kids combine their efforts. It would still allow for the odd plot detour that could showcase each of the actors, but would bring a cohesion and logic to the show's many plotlines.
So that's how we see it, but we lack any special power whatsoever. What do you think? Put on your TV-studio-head hat and tell us how you'd fix Heroes.
Still confused? Watch clips and full episodes of Heroes in our Online Video Guide