The depiction of superheroes on television has traditionally been pretty poor, despite the financial efforts of television studios. The overly camp Batman of the 60s looked like it was made for nickels and dimes, but in fact each episode cost $65,000 and the Batcave alone cost $700,000 to build – no small price in 1966 – and they were going $1million over budget each season. Wonder Woman in the 70s and The Hulk in the late 70s/early 80s weren’t anything to marvel at and even the more recent Superman series Lois & Clark and then Smallville have been nothing to get really hooked on despite being light-hearted and generally watchable. But high-concept television shows have been huge hits over the last few years, and the powers that be have realised that giving a program quality throughout, as well as a big budget, will greatly increase the chance of it being a success.
In this life, you get out what you put in, and NBC, the station behind Heroes, have poured money and writing talent into this, and it looks fantastic and plays brilliantly.
The premise is great too: Average people from around the world suddenly discover they have special abilities and soon, these people ‘will not only save the world, but change it forever’. There’s Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), a nurse who can’t shake the feeling that he can fly; Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), a Texas high school cheerleader who instantly heals from any injury; Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), an artist who unconsciously paints future disasters; Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a Japanese office drone who can bend the space-time continuum and Niki Sanders (Ali Larter), a Vegas webcam girl and single mother, who, when she blacks out, is capable of strength and brutality. Along with them there’s Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), an Indian geneticist who is pursuing the work of his murdered father in the fields of mutations, but is discovering there are lots of people who don’t want the truth to come out.
Despite seeming like a cross between The X-Men and The X-Files this is far more interesting than a spliced and mutated clone of those two classics. These people have genuine, real-life problems to worry about, like the single mother struggling to pay the rent or the artist with a heroin addiction. Its debut in America was a huge success with 14.3 million viewers tuning in, making it the highest rating for any NBC drama premiere in five years. And quite incredibly the cast of Heroes were named in the 2006 Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue under ‘People Who Mattered’. High praise indeed, but it really is deserving and an innovative take on the over-familiar, people-with powers genre.
Given that it’s entirely original and not based on a comic book, it has the freedom to develop and move in any direction the writers want to take it, as there’s no original storyline or rules to live up to. This means there’s no chance of comic book nerds writing angry letters to studios moaning it’s ruined because they got the Green Goblin’s
costume completely wrong, and getting even angrier because they didn’t reply to me.
But this really does work – in fact, it’s one of the best things to hit our screens since Lost or Prison Break. With most recent superhero films in cinemas (from Fantastic Four to the dreadful Ghost Rider) being such huge, fat, disappointments , it seems that the biggest and most watchable superheroes are to be found a bit closer to home. MP
If you ever saw a British film in the early 1980s called Threads then you probably spent a few weeks afterward lying awake in bed, shaking and mumbling ‘can’t sleep, Commies will get me’. It was about the aftermath of a nuclear attack in the English northern city of Sheffield and was the epitome of bleak and harrowing.
Presumably they chose Sheffield because in the 80s it looked fairly post-apocalyptic to start with, but nevertheless, anyone who saw Threads as a child never forgot it. Now the Commies have been replaced with plain old terrorists and the setting is an isolated Kansas town. Fighting to survive are the Green family, headed by Mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaney) and his recently returned son, Jake (Skeet Ulrich). There’s a larger conspiracy in the works, and one stranger (Lennie James) seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else.
It’s not that harrowing, and for having a post-apocalyptic setting it’s surprisingly less depressing and more action based than you’d probably expect. It’s also divided opinion among critics in America, so it’s probably something you’ll have to watch for yourself and decide if it’s your type of series. But do watch out for the bit where Jake is rescuing children on a school bus, while using a drinking straw to give an emergency tracheotomy, and he shouts the wonderfully unlikely line, ‘who else has a juice box?’ Different, if nothing else. MP
P T Barnum once said ‘you’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public’, and the old ringmaster wouldn’t be out of place at the televisual circus called Fox Television. From that stable comes the comedy series The Loop which is another stab at making a sitcom for the 20-something American Pie audience. There’s a decent soundtrack, people call each other ‘jerk stick’ and ‘jack knocker’, the performances are lively and you’re never too far from a crude joke. Boxes neatly ticked.
Bret Harrison plays Sam, the only one in his group of friends to have what they consider a real job – an executive at a Chicago-based airline. His boss is insensitive and Sam gets sexually harassed most days by the office MILF, but he lives with three wild roommates and hi-jinks ensue. When The Loop first came out on the Fox Network it was kicked around the schedules like a ginger-haired stepchild but despite the poor treatment it found its feet, and an audience, and is now on its second series. Some feat for a Fox TV sitcom.
Crude frat boy humour has its place and can be as funny as anything out there, and it occasionally hits the mark brilliantly but you may have to wade though a bit of predictable fare to get to it. Here’s a handy guide: One episode is called ‘rusty trombone’ and if you know what that’s a reference to, you’ll probably like The Loop. MP
For Time Out magazine – Time In April 2007