Nymag.comOur Heroes Are Dumb But Addictive (buffy mention)
Tuesday 21 November 2006, by Webmaster
NBC’s Heroes is one of the few breakout hits of the new TV season, and last night was its so-called fall finale. We know people are watching - some 14 million a week - but the question remains: Is it actually any good? New York pop-culture experts Adam Sternbergh and Emily Nussbaum tuned in last night to consider the question. Can two TV critics - one’s a Heroes vet; one’s a Heroes newbie - share an IM window without driving each other crazy?
Sternbergh: As the official Heroes newbie, what did you think?
Nussbaum: So. Turns out it’s a little bizarre for me to watch the quasi-finale of a plot-arc show I’d never seen before.
Nussbaum: Which is not to say it was hard to follow, since it seemed to be made up of the scavenged body parts of shows I’ve already seen.
Nussbaum: What did you think?
Sternbergh: I kept wondering what it was like for someone watching it the first time.
Sternbergh: And hearing them deliver lines like "He’s believes that if he saves the cheerleader, he’ll save the world"
Sternbergh: without laughing
Nussbaum: Actually, I’d already heard that line, since it was somehow floating around in the pop-culture ether.
Sternbergh: It was the big catchphrase: Save the cheerleader, save the world.
Nussbaum: Also, I cheated by reading Wikipedia during commercials.
Nussbaum: Did you find it a satisfying finale, as a person who was actually familiar with the plot?
Sternbergh: There wasn’t much finale there. Basically, just another chapter in the story.
Sternbergh: Speaking of chapters, the chapter titles that start each episode are about the coolest thing in the whole show.
Nussbaum: I’ve got to be blunt about this show.
Nussbaum: It is the kind of unbelievably literal-minded show I can see myself watching again even though I thought it was kind of terrible.
Nussbaum: I’m just a sucker.
Nussbaum: I like teen shows.
Nussbaum: I like geek superhero shows.
Nussbaum: I like arc shows.
Nussbaum: This was a bad combination of all three of my basic likes.
Sternbergh: At first I thought you wrote "unbelievably liberal-minded show that’s kind of terrible" in which case I assumed you meant Studio 60.
Nussbaum: Ha. Well, there’s that, yeah. But the main thing about Heroes to me was that every single line was a cliché.
Sternbergh: Heroes is that strange and vaguely frustrating combination of not-very-good yet compulsively watchable
Sternbergh: Like a big bag of bad potato chips.
Nussbaum: There was zero humor. NO character spoke like a real person. In a way, it didn’t matter, but it was bizarrely noticeable. It was like Kabuki Buffy.
Sternbergh: There’s not a single line of dialogue in which the other character shouldn’t reasonably burst out laughing and say, "No, seriously, come on."
Nussbaum: That’s perfect: You’ve pinpointed it.
Sternbergh: And you’re right about the humorlessness.
Sternbergh: I find it’s like The X-Files meets The X-Men.
Sternbergh: The X-Men-Files.
Sternbergh: All the portentousness of recent superhero movies with some of the catchy yet goofy backstory of The X-Files.
Sternbergh: But none of the delicious psychosexual tension of The X-Files.
Nussbaum: It felt like a script that someone would write as an outline and then rewrite so the lines would be idiosyncratic.
Nussbaum: And then I read on Wikipedia that it does kind of work like that:
Nussbaum: Each writer on the team writes one of the character arcs, then they put them together, and the "script writer" smoothes it out.
Nussbaum: Which is democratic, I guess, but it turns out it makes for awful scripts.
Sternbergh: That makes sense.
Sternbergh: because the scripts are very choppy.
Sternbergh: And the shows move at a glacial pace.
Nussbaum: I liked the cheerleader actress, actually.
Nussbaum: I have this fantasy lately that good characters escape from bad shows.
Nussbaum: Like Addison on Grey’s Anatomy.
Sternbergh: She could run off with the cheerleader and Matthew Perry from Studio 60.
Nussbaum: No! With the evil studio exec from S60.
Sternbergh: What I find funny about Heroes is how popular it’s become. I don’t quite get it.
Nussbaum: Yeah, it’s watchable, but I can’t imagine becoming enthusiastic about it.
Sternbergh: Though Heroes is certainly a nice change of pace from endless shows about forensics.
Nussbaum: What do you think the appeal is?
Sternbergh: It’s like Lost for Dummies.
Sternbergh: And I don’t mean that in a pejorative way.
Nussbaum: I knew there was something wrong when I found myself rooting for the bad characters, like the bad cheerleader.
Nussbaum: "You have a point! That DOES sound like loser talk!"
Sternbergh: It offers the appeal of an arc show, with week-to-week cliffhangers. But the plot’s not particularly complex, and the puzzles aren’t particularly puzzling.
Nussbaum: I liked the good-cheerleader actress, but her role was pretty cringe-worthy: Gain self-esteem and join the freaks! It’s better after high school!
Nussbaum: Lady, it’s not better after high school.
Sternbergh: I thought that was pretty blatant pandering to the show’s fan-boy fan base.
Nussbaum: As a Buffy fanatic, it was maddening to watch, because yeah, as with Lost, it was basically a Buffy paint-by-numbers.
Sternbergh: I wonder if it will sustain its momentum.
Nussbaum: Maybe we just can’t see the complexity.
Nussbaum: Could we be the blind ones?
Nussbaum: Blinded by our evil media cynicism?
Sternbergh: That doesn’t blind me to the brilliance that is How I Met Your Mother.
Nussbaum: Yes, it is a beautiful thing.
Sternbergh: Most underrated show on TV.
Nussbaum: People! Watch this show! The - what was that ep?
Nussbaum: The Sworley nickname episode?
Sternbergh: But I think you were right about Heroes.
Sternbergh: It’s basically a geek-arc show that’s just good enough to get you back every week even though it’s fundamentally not that good.
Sternbergh: Even the catchphrase:
Sternbergh: Save the cheerleader
Sternbergh: Save the world.
Sternbergh: To which most people would say: What?!?
Sternbergh: I will add that I was amazed how bloody the - SPOILER ALERT - killing of the bad cheerleader was
Nussbaum: Oh, my God, yes!! Very sadistic.
Nussbaum: I was watching with close captions and my favorite bit was...
Nussbaum: when Claire reorganizes her mangled body, the caption read...
Nussbaum: "squishing and crackling."
Sternbergh: It was like a bad after-school special that suddenly turned into Carrie.
Sternbergh: "Squishing and Crackling."
Sternbergh: Though come on - you have to admit it was cool.
Sternbergh: And when Sylar cut her head open - SPOILER ALERT - like a can opener.
Nussbaum: That was cool, yes, except that he’d killed the one character who could take the piss out of all these smug, earnest Neo-like fated people!
Sternbergh: All right, it’s back to Studio 60 for me.
Nussbaum: Enjoy the sanctimonious escapades!
Sternbergh: The Culture Wars aren’t going to fight themselves!