Okay- I’m bouncing off the walls. I just watched episode 17 of Heroes, and my faith in that show has been fully restored. Here’s a breakdown of some of the US TV stuff that I have been watching. Fear the Spoilers…
I’ll admit- I was a little worried. After building up to a knockout run of episodes, Heroes came back from its hiatus not quite functioning at optimum level. To be honest, it started turning back into the show I was worried it was going to be in the first place, as the shonky writing came more to the fore, and there was a higher preponderance of the writers simply marking time. Certainly, while Hiro is still a guarenteed scene-stealer, the plotlines they gave the character were pretty weak, and even with certain forward steps, the whole Niki/Jessica/Micah/D.L. plotline is still feeling like it’s from a completely different show. The direction wasn’t quite as inventive, and there were too many points where it was either in danger of being a little too campy, or a little too average. However… while it might not be 100% on-form every episode, they’re still capable of knocking it out of the park when they need to. Things started getting back on track with ‘Run!’, which was silly in places, but also featured an excellent Parkman/Jessica face-off, and which also led to last week’s improved segment, and a general feeling of building up to something big. Which, as it turns out, we were, as Episode 17- ‘Company Man’ focuses on the Horn-Rimmed Glasses man Mr %£^@ Bennet, and even dumps the whole ‘multi-stranded’ structure for an incredibly tight piece of storytelling that manages to pay off a tremendous amount (It even stripped the opening credits down to three regulars, which is something I’ve never seen done before), and has made Claire’s father into one of the most genuinely interesting characters in the whole show. We also got a sans-beard Christopher Eccleston, another appearence from George Takei (which I wish they’d kept from the credits- it did slightly spoil the surprise of his appearence, but now we know that Hiro is a hell of a lot more connected than he knows), Eric Roberts as H.R.G.’s boss, and a whole selection of ‘Holy cow, I can’t believe they’re actually doing this’ moments, leading up to Ted Sprague going seriously thermonuclear. It is, to be honest, the one true strength of this show- that they’re great at setting up mysteries, but they’re great at paying them off as well. If they can keep serving up TV as good as this, I can cope with the less satisfying ‘inbetweener’ episodes, as when it’s on top form, Heroes is a gigantic amount of fun.
And then, we have the flipside of the coin. I’ve been waiting patiently for Lost to really kick in and start delivering the barnstorming episodes that I know it’s capable of… and we’re now nine episodes into the third season, and the only one I’d really nominate as outstanding would be the season opener. Since then, there’s been a hysterical amount of wheel-spinning, and what’s most bizarre is they’ve edited out the ensemble aspect of Lost. One of the things I liked about the first season is that you’d see just about every single character every episode. Even Locke, who wouldn’t always be a central figure, would occasionally just wander out of the jungle, utter something enigmatic, and wander back in again. There might be episodes that focus on less interesting characters, but you’d at least get to see everyone else. This started changing in Season 2, and now, we can go for weeks at a time without seeing certain people. The episodes centre around certain characters to the exclusion of everything else- and this would be great if we were getting good, meaty drama, but too often, we’re not- we’re getting wheel spinning. We’re getting to the end of an episode, and not enough has changed. The resolution to the cliffhanger from the ‘mini-season’ was relatively enjoyable, and there were some strong moments in ‘Not in Portland’, but not quite enough to make it feel worthwhile, which then led us into the unexpected time-travel episode ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’, which used an idea that would have been cool for about twenty minutes, and stretched it out for too long. Again, the pure focus on Desmond and nobody else was suffocating- it’s almost as if they’ve forgotten what made the show enjoyable in the first place. They’re comitting the X-Files’ sin of getting too worked up over the central mysteries, when the Others just aren’t interesting enough to be driving the whole mystery forward. It feels like nobody is at the wheel- particularly in an episode like ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, where the answer to the question ‘Why did Jack get tatoos in Thailand?” turns out to be… “Because he met a tattoo artist. And… er… that’s it.” Whatever metaphor they were trying to explore with the tatoo simply didn’t work, and I’m getting a little bored of the way that all of the ‘head’ Others seem to talk as if they’re stoned. I would love for there to be a massive turnaround and to be eating my words in a few weeks, but at the moment, I have the terrible feeling that even if they pulled out something absolutely astonishing, it’s going to be too little, too late.
Similar problems are affecting the good ship Galactica, but this week’s episode did, at least, re-establish a little of my faith, even if it was yet another political fable that was a little too heavily weighted. Ep16- ‘Dirty Hands’- was the first of this season’s ‘filler’ episodes that actually felt close to the standard of the episodes in the first season, and while overly didactic in places (and I’m not sure about Baltar apparently being a natural Yorkshireman), it wasn’t hammering home any kind of allegory, instead it was just taking what would be a very big problem for a fleet in that situation- how to handle class divisions and labour conflicts- and presents it in an earthy, real way. It still felt weighted towards Adama and the President’s point of view- it didn’t feel like they’d fully backed down from the dangerously arrogant attitude they were showcasing at the beginning of the episode, and the constant reinstatement of the military status quo- here with Adama putting down a strike by threatening to have Tyrol’s wife shot- is occasionally a little troubling. They de-claw it slightly by having Adama basically agree to discuss the terms afterwards, but regarding that as ‘the only way’ feels like a dangerous route to go, and pretty damn close to what Colonel Tigh attempted at the beginning of Season 2.
This was certainly a massive improvement from most of the second half of this season, particularly the most recent episodes which have been pure filler of the most worrying kind. The show’s been getting bogged down in domestic relationships, especially the seemingly endless Kara/Lee/Dualla/Anders Love Quadrangle, while it’s all been getting very predictable- ‘The Woman King’ featured the traditional ‘Character gets obsessed but is vindicated in the end’, when it would have been much more interesting if Helo’s suspcions had been misplaced (for a brief moment, at the end of that episode, I thought it was going to turn out to be good old avuncular Doc Cottle who was offing Sagitarrons in religious hate crimes, but they weren’t brave enough to go that way). This all reached a peak with last week’s episode, the seriously clunky ‘A Day in the Life’, which was essentially a chance for Adama to have a god-awful debate with an imaginary version of his wife that had very little relevance to anything, and was one of the most unwieldy dramatic devices I’ve seen in a very long time. When I heard that BSG had gotten a fourth season, but that it was only going to be 13 episode, my first thought was “Good”, as they’ve never really got used to the idea of doing a 20 episode season. Giving them fewer stories to work with may get them to get back some of the focus the show desperately needs, and stop them from cramming episodes full of stuff, and then having to edit out so much that the impact is lost (particularly in this season’s Boomer plotline, which was spectacularly badly handled). It’s still showing sparks of what I like about the show, and I’m interested to see what happens next week in the episode where one name disappears permanently from the opening credits, and the nature of the show is supposed to undergo a serious change. I don’t think it’s ever going to get back to the standard it reached in the halcyon days of the first half of season 2, but if they can cut back on the nonsensical filler episodes, there may be a glimmer of hope for BSG yet.