Kill the Cheerleader, Save the Heroes

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Written by: Mike McCafferty (Slice of SciFi Contributor)

5 things the producers of Heroes need to address to keep the fanboys and the public tuning in

Heroes is coming back for season 2.5 or 3.7, or… well, I honestly don’t know what to call this season anymore, so let’s just say it’s coming back. Heroes is that girlfriend I know is bad for me, but I just can’t seem to stay away. Every time the show does me wrong, I swear I’m never coming back, only to show up the next week hoping it’ll treat me right. Sometimes it does (George Takei and Nichelle Nichols popping up) , and some times it doesn’t (The Maya/Alejandro spring break road trip of boredom) . So as we reach a critical turn in the series, I offer unsolicited advice to Tim Kring and the rest of the producers on how to revive and refresh the series. It’s in a list form — a literary device that needs more attention on the internet — so look over the list and see what you think.

1. Tone Down the PropheciesHeroes stumbled into the so-ridiculous-it’s-great phrase “Save the Cheerleader, Save the Worl”. It became the catchphrase of the show and an internet meme. It got repeated, parodied and eventually driven into the ground. Everyone knew and the audience flocked to see if they could save her.

And they did, twice already. Future saved, now it’s time to concentrate on the present.

Prophecies are usually about ordinary people who rise up to become extraordinary in times of peril. Superheroes are already extraordinary, they deal with the here and now. The bad guy has a plan, springs it upon our unsuspecting hero, it’s up to them to use their super powers, their intelligence and their moral superiority to win the day. There’s no need for a “One day a hero will arise.” That day has already come and the hero has arisen and is now flying overhead.

On a more practical note, 22 episode arcs are just too much for audiences to follow these days. Miss one and you’re Lost (Note capitalization), follow them all and you’re disappointed that 22 hours of your life didn’t payoff as well as you wanted to (Try college!). The writers suffers well, constantly trying to focus each episode on the last 15 minutes of the season while making it an entertaining hour of television.

The writers strike turned out to be a gift. A shorter season with a resolved story arc was a proof of concept that you could break each season into smaller chunks, and still maintain overall quality. Kring has stated that the next season will again be split into two arcs. A good start.

2. Lighten Up! — This is the thing that has always bugged me about the series. People who have the following powers:

  • Flying
  • Invulnerability
  • Invisibility
  • Telepathy
  • Split personality that can kick ass

are constantly distraught, depressed and embarrassed that they have the aforementioned powers.

Uhhhh, what?

Seriously, who would not take a least 5 seconds in their life, upon learning they had an amazing new ability, to find a small room, close the door and do the frakin’ Snoopy happy dance? You can fly? Go to Vegas! Take a bullet and spit it out? Hell ya! Telepathy? Come ON!

I don’t need to belabor this point too much. The characters who DO actually enjoy their powers, Hiro and Sylar, are the most popular in the series. Good or evil, they have fun and share our sense of wonder at what they can do. Now that the world has been saved, please, let the heroes catch their breath and notice how special they are.

3. Better fights — ANY fights. For a show about superheroes, they sure talk a lot. The first season had the big let down fight with Sylar that lasted all of 30 seconds and was a draw at best. The following season(s?) again had people milling about, avoiding each other until the last possible minute and then doing everything they could not to use their powers. I’m sorry, but Heroes is firmly in the comic book genre and as such, needs a good old round of fisticuffs every once and a while. I’m not saying this becomes the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), replete with folding chairs, but please, let’s not let it become the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) and have everybody talk things out calmly and intellectually over a Diet Pepsi Max. As Hawkgirl once said, “Less talking, more hitting!”

4. “Heroes, Assemble!” — I’m getting a little tired of everyone sulking around, afraid of being caught by government agencies and shadowy organizations. I’m also losing patience with major characters never interacting with each other longer than a day or two. It’s time for these incredibly powerful people to be incredibly smart and realize that there is strength in numbers.

I’m not talking about becoming the Avengers or the Justice League; I just want everyone to have each other on speed dial. It will open up more intriguing story lines and allow the leads to mingle without it being a coincidence or “fate”. It’s a natural progression that has been pushed too long.

5. Kill a major character — Networks hate this idea. See, when a show is a hit, they follow the mantra of “If it ain’t broke…” . Series regular characters are locked in and untouchable not only because they had a significant fan base (presumably) following them, but more importantly because series regular actors have “Pay or Play” contracts. This means that they get paid for a certain amount of episodes per season (9, 13 or 22 episodes is the usual contract) whether they appear in them or not. This is a significant investment for the network and damned if they’re gonna see it killed off by a capricious writer.

But there’s an old (and non PC) saying in the writing world: “You gotta kill your babies”, meaning that part of the script or story that you hold dearest may have to be cut for the greater health of the rest of the project. Offing a regular would be exactly the thing to stir the pot and let the audience know that anything can happen. J.J. Abrams is famous for doing this and it’s almost always paid off.

Who’s my pick? It’s Claire: for a couple of reasons. First, she’s the poster child (literally) for the series, the cheerleader that needed to be saved. Second, they saved her, thus tying up her character arc nicely. Finally, she’s invulnerable. This makes her the least likely to be truly hurt and thus, the most shocking. Besides, being that this is comic book land, you can always bring her back.

Lastly, I say this. Heroes has always had the potential to be the great graphic novel/comic book live series that we’ve all waited for. Kring and NBC need to embrace that with open arms and minds and like Peter Petrelli, step off the ledge of “safe” into the open air of possibilities. If they can do that, we’ll all be there to catch them.

‘Cause that’s what heroes do.

About Mike McCafferty

Mike McCafferty is an actor, writer, director and producer who has starred in such movie and television features as “The Invisible Man,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” HBO’s “True Blood,” “The Shield,” “ER,” “Six Feet Under,” “Changeling” and on the internet with several episodes of “Acceptable TV” and “Chad Vader.”

Comments

  1. I don’t watch the show, but Sam… man that was brilliant!

  2. Agree with it all except for the first point. I for one am capable of following a 22 episode arc, and I think a lot of viewers are as well. What we don’t need is a ten minute recap every episode. Babylon 5 never had that much trouble doing it.

  3. Jim, you can thank our good friend Mike McCafferty for those remarks. It is his op-ed piece done for Slice of SciFi.

  4. Completely agreed. They just need to shake things up a bit – I started watching Heroes online b/c of the writers’ strike and this will be my first opportunity to watch it week to week instead of back to back. I really want it to be worth coming back every week, but part of me wonders if we have more of the same (i.e. the aforementioned road trip of boredom) it’s just going to be a waste of a good thing.

  5. Well spoken! Looking forward to the new season, hope they’ve followed your advice!

  6. I like the long story arcs too

    But yes please some fights

    Great article

  7. A lot of good points, but where I think a lot of sci-fi shows fall is writing around a budget. Epic powers mean epic scenes, wether it be relief type efforts or big fight scenes. How cool would an animated Heros show be, or get old school Doctor Who with the effects until the studios are willing to pay for awesome effects?
    And unless there are willing to increase Kristen Bell’s air time there is no reason to get rid of the eye candy, plenty of guys they can kill off.

    And is Mom P evil or what?

  8. I can go either way on killing off Claire. But please kill Mohinder! And Peter.

  9. Just release the Sentinels please!

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