(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on May 20, 2010)
It was the series that debuted in the Fall of 2006 and became one of the few ratings winners for the flailing NBC. Some even said its critical and commercial success saved the network. It featured ordinary people from across the globe who suddenly developed super-powers not knowing where they came from or why. Masi Oka became the breakout star as Hiro Nakamura, the only actor from the ensemble to get an Emmy nod for “Best Supporting Actor.”
But then the season finale, which finally brought the disparate heroes together to battle villain Sylar, fell flat. So did the second season finale. And the third. And the fourth.
The episodes seemed to take forever to unfold. In the second season, a new hero, Maya, was introduced. Her power was destroying everyone around her whenever she got upset. With heroes like that, who needed villains? Audiences rooted for her to be murdered. In an October 2008 Entertainment Weekly cover story, Jeff Jensen offered ways to save the show. The first two: There were too many heroes. Get rid of some. The second: Get rid of absurd plot twists.
Instead, although one character played by Ali Larter was killed off, we were soon treated to her… twin sister. Senator Petrelli decided to turn against his brother and fellow cast members by imprisoning people with super powers… even though he himself can fly.
Each season, creator Tim Kring kept saying they’d learned their lesson and were going to make the storylines simpler. Whether or not that was true was overcome by the fact that those characters began acting really stupidly just to further the latest story arc (e.g. through videotape, Hiro’s late father tells him not to open a particular safe under any circumstances. So of course, Hiro does, and a female speedster steals a document, which sends the heroes in search of their new plot for the season). Virtually every character died only to be saved when someone went back in time to prevent their murders. So nothing was really at stake. The motivation of characters changed even between commercial breaks.
The producers ran into the Superman syndrome: If the hero is too powerful, how can any adversary really challenge him? So Kring and company just made their heroes dumber. Peter Petrelli absorbed everyone’s power, making him able to fly, teleport, not die, and read minds. Yet when another baddie, Adam, was lying to him and all of Petrelli’s friends told him not to trust Adam, Petrelli conveniently forgot to read Adam’s mind to see if they were right and decided to fight his friends instead.
Entertainment Weekly probably got tired of giving bad reviews to the show week after week, and about 85 percent of on-line commentators agreed the series was embarrassing. The magazine finally stopped doing weekly recaps. The magazine listed a handful of television characters they’d like to see killed off. The first one listed was Dr. Mohinder Suresh, the clueless Indian doctor who, season after season, was fooled into helping the bad guy and who stupidly injected himself with an untested formula which turned him into a human fly with a thirst to kill.
“Heroes” became the show you loved to ridicule. And yet NBC kept renewing it. A couple of months ago, cast member Greg Grunberg boldly predicted it would come back because it did well internationally. Despite the diversity of the cast and three Asian regulars—Hiro, Ando (James Kyson Lee), Suresh — many of us hoped that it wouldn’t.
This week, our dreams were finally answered: NBC cancelled “Heroes.” Shortly after reading this news, I went to bed and had the strangest dream where I interviewed the creator of the series.
Here’s how I remember most of it:
Aoki: Well, first of all, thanks for including so many Asian regulars on the show.
Kring: You’re welcome.
Aoki: Too bad they were all foreigners. There are Asian American people in the world too you know?
Aoki: There was a nice romance between Hiro and Charlie. Too bad, like most Asian men on television, he didn’t get lucky.
Kring: What do you mean? He survived that brain tumor! That’s certainly lucky!
Aoki: Never mind. In the first season, you smugly said “Heroes,” unlike “Lost,” wouldn’t take as long to reveal its secrets. Yet we never got the main answers like, why did these people get their powers in the first place?
Kring: Well, we were gonna get to that.
Kring: When we figured it out.
Aoki: Why is it that every season finale of “Heroes” was a let down? At the end of season 3, we see the big showdown … in the eyeballs of Claire the cheerleader.
Kring: Well, NBC was hurting so I was trying to do them a favor by cutting a few dollars off the budget.
Aoki: A couple years ago, NBC brought back producer Brian Fuller (“Pushing Daises”) to help you with the writing but he left after six months. Why?
Aoki: What? I can’t hear you.
Kring: Something about “lost cause…”
Aoki: Here’s the statement you released after learning “Heroes” was kaput: “For NBC, I certainly understand the challenge of creating a business model around a show which arrived precisely as the audience was finding new ways to watch traditional content on multiple screens.” You’re making the excuse that the audience was divided between watching it on television and the internet? So what? That’s true of every other program on the air and they got better ratings than yours.
Kring: Hey! Look at that bluebird! Isn’t it pretty?!
Aoki: Last I heard, you’re still negotiating with NBC to do a TV movie which would wrap up the series. Why bother?
Kring: Why bother?! That’s an insult! Why, to give closure to the millions of fans who devoted their Monday nights to following the show!
Aoki: That audience fell from an average of 14.5 million in the first season to 4.4 million for the season finale. You’ve asked for second, third, and fourth chances and never returned the faith by actually delivering. Why would we expect a two hour movie to actually be any better than the weekly series? … Well?
Kring: Give me time! You’re making me nervous! I need some time to think!
Aoki: I heard you were already worried that this might be the last season for “Heroes” so you were working on other projects. What happened to those?
Kring: Oh, I was gonna direct my daughter’s Fourth Grade play. But uh… they fired me.
Kring: They said they liked the way it began but felt I lost my way the more I got into it. I asked for a second and third and fourth chance but the characters just started acting dumber and dumber. And the audience kept walking out of rehearsals.
Aoki: Not that that parallels anything else in your life.
Kring: Uh, right! Certainly not! In one version, the Fairy Godmother got drunk and turned one of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters into a beauty at the ball, and the Prince fell in love with her instead.
Aoki: Stop. You’re pissing me off.
D-Day For Network Shows: This week, the networks announced their new Fall line-ups. With the influx of new shows came the cancellation of old ones. Those “losers” most relevant to Asian Americans: The aforementioned “Heroes” (but, well, you know…), “Trauma” featuring Cliff Curtis, and “FlashForward” featuring John Cho.
There was great chemistry in the cast of “Trauma,” but its ratings weren’t much better than that of “Heroes,” which preceded it last Fall. The ethnic identity of Curtis, who’s Maori, was never revealed on the show, so the impact on Asian Pacific Islanders was questionable. One of the main plotlines of “Flash” was if Cho’s character, Demitri Noh, would meet his demise as predicted on April 29th. Luckily, he survived. But like many serialized shows, it took too long to reveal its secrets. Especially annoying was a shady character who knew he could die the same day as Noh, yet when he met a FBI agent who could save him, he was still stuck uttering ridiculous riddles like, “You will saved by a woman you see every day.” Turns out there was something in the Queen chess piece the agent had on his bulletin board. Why not just say, “Open the Queen chess piece on your bulletin board?!” Pretentious.
As predicted, the new “Hawaii Five-O” made the grade for CBS. So you’ll soon be seeing “Lost” actor Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly and Grace Park as Kono. Unfortunately, the very funny but ratings-challenged “Parks and Recreation” with Aziz Ansari, has been moved to mid-season replacement status, meaning we might not see it until 2011.
Sad Passing: I was saddened to hear of the death of DJ Hideo. I met him around 1996 when he was just starting out at KKBT-FM. After MANAA’s battle with “John London’s House Party” (they kept running skits of Asian Americans with foreign accents who didn’t have them so we went after their advertisers), I was invited to be a guest on their public affairs show. I’m not sure if Hideo was nearing or getting off his shift or if they asked him to come by just to show the station did believe in diversity, but he seemed like a very nice guy with that constant smile.
Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.