Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Little More Background on the Heroes Project

(warning: includes spoilers for Eureka and Heroes)

My brother and I got into a fight the last time we saw each other - and it was over Heroes. After several years of getting along really well, we're now back to fighting again, and it tends to be over the same general things. Generally, he's always right and I'm either taking things to personally or not seeing the big picture or making snap judgments.

Which is kind of ironic, because the fight started when I said that I had tried to watch the first episode, but couldn't stand it and turned it off. And that nothing I'd heard since had changed my mind. All of which he seemed to find personally offensive because how dare I question the obvious awesomeness of the coolest show ever. He couldn't possibly be that wrong about it; I must be. My obviously better understanding about what I like was completely irrelevant to the discussion. I am stupid for not giving it another try just because he says it's cool. How dare I trust someone else's review over his.

Now, I'd always meant to try Heroes again when it came out on dvd and I could fast forward through the annoying parts if need be. I had been looking forward to the premiere last September and part of my great annoyance was due to great disappointment that it wasn't what I had hoped for. So when it came out on dvd, I did so, hoping that it did, indeed, get better.

Yes, and NO.

I was trying to figure out why it felt like such a big NO to me the other day as I was watching Eureka, a show that is arguably not anywhere near as good as Heroes and yet makes me want to throw things at the TV much less often. This particular Eureka episode did make me want to throw things at the screen, and it was when I realized why that I realized why Heroes can. get. so. damn. annoying.

Eureka is exceptionally formulaic: "Mystery arises. Sheriff is on the case. The Sheriff points the finger at Global Dynamics. Global Dynamics says that's not possible. Sheriff proves otherwise. Global Dynamics solves the problem." I like it partly because despite causing all sorts of ruckus, GD rarely comes off as the bad guys. The Government, especially the Military, does - but scientists are never to blame. At least not any more than they deserve the praise for saving us from their mad colleagues - and giving us insanely cool gadgets. Plus, the Sheriff may not be a genius, but he solves the case through a good mix of objective observation and creative thinking, like any good scientist. Besides, how can you not love a show that includes some sort of "[blank] of Death" in every episode. Especially when Carter goes out of his way to call it that.

Why can't you people just *say* 'ice funnel of death'?

It's also full of smart and powerful women. Zoe, the Sheriff's daughter, is smart and hardworking. The head of GD is (now) a woman. Lots of the scientists (both good and bad) are women. The deputy is a woman. And everyone - Jack, Zoe, Nathan, Henry, Fargo, Allison, and Jo - has to work together at some point. And I do mean everyone. One of the nicest recent developments has been the alliance between Zoe and Jo in an effort to thwart Carter's authority. Even the death of Henry's long lost love doesn't feel like a WiR, because it wasn't done to hurt him, but to stop her work, and because the most visible person to blame at the moment is another woman.

Unfortunately, the most annoying recent development has been Allison oddly falling victim to the Evita Effect. For some reason, Nathan didn't leave after being fired at the end of last year. I hate love triangles, but whatever. Even weirder and more worrying, Allison has been leaning on him more and more as the season progresses. To the point that, during the it-seemed-to me-very-out-of-character-episode-in-which-she-withholds-information-that-could-help-Jack-solve-the-case, she and Nathan are arguing about whether to turn off the Sleep Machine of Death (the death part only being suspected at that point) and, instead of arguing about whether they are going to turn it off, they are arguing about whether he is going to turn it off. Did I mention that the Sleep Machine of Death is in her house? Yeah, whatever.

I don't always like Allison, but I rarely hate her. I hated her in this episode. She wasn't vulnerable; she was weak to the point of avoiding responsibility. She wasn't a desperate mother making a desperate choice, she was a desperate mother letting other people make bad choices for her. (Gee, remind you of anyone?) Go away fake Allison, I want my head of GD back.

The thing is, Eureka rarely does shit like this simply because if they started doing shit like this all the time to all their female characters, you'd notice because the writers would have ended up destroying half the cast. The main cast too, not just the regular guest stars. That's how Heroes and the like get away with the shit they do. Sara/Eden, whatever, is a regular guest star, you expect her to go away eventually. Simone was so one dimensional, it's amazing she managed to not fall over like a domino in the first episode. And sadly enough, they can get away with what they've made of Niki for the same reason every word she utters makes me want to send stink bombs to the writers - because it's so damn cliche. If you know a cliche is a cliche, you see it for the crap writing it is. But if you see a cliche as The Truth, you think people who complain about it are delusional. And the more common a cliche is, the more likely it is that people will see it as The Truth.

But, how do I explain this to guys like my brother? Is it possible to? Maybe, maybe not. But, unfortunately, logical arguments alone aren't going to cut it. Even those require trying my shoes on for a while, and he's not going to willingly do that. Unfortunately, it has to be pretty dramatic for him to include the empathy the logical arguments require. Otherwise, I'm just being overly sensitive.

I was watching another episode of Heroes not long after the Sleep Machine of Death episode, and it occurred to me that there were a lot of women with speaking parts on Heroes - but that they all tended to be Andos rather than Hiros. Ando minuses, quite often, because a lot of them are only there for a single story line. (I think this was about the time I was watching the Charlie storyline.) In fact, there, seemed to almost be a pattern. It was like the writers had been hit by the clue-by-four often enough that they would notice when women were completely absent for too long, but they were still so clueless that they couldn't see (or didn't care) that the women had so little substance that they were little more than window dressing to make them feel like they were being all "post-feminist" and shit.

So I thought about this, this, this, and this, and if I wondered if there wouldn't be a way to measure it. And if the measuring would be as stark as this.

Thus the recent project. Which has now been revised per comments and questions and instead of keeping track of whom talks to whom, keeps track of how many men and women - and Heroes and non-Heroes - have speaking parts and how many lines they have, and to whom. And no, it won't be exhaustive, because I'm just doing it as I watch season 1 again before season 2 starts. Hopefully it will be interesting, however.

I do have one last question for anyone that has made it this far, though, does Niki talking to herself count as a conversation or a monologue?

(By the by, one odd thing I've noticed in doing this, there aren't a whole lot of conversations that include more than two people at a time. It's really weird to go from Angel season 4 to Ando watching while Hiro and Isaac talk and then back to Eureka's staple Carter and several scientists arguing all at once. It shouldn't be as easy to do this as it is. I wonder if the season 2 will be different in that respect now that more connections have been made between Heroes.)


Lyle said...

Hm, interesting commentary about Eureka and you may have hit on a major reason why I stick with it despite being bored to death with most procedural-with-a-twist series. (Though I do like Alison.) I'd say that dynamic extends to racial minorities.

I totally had a love/hate relationship with the show. It disappointed in so many ways, but when it had a great moment it was pure love. For example, I hated the Nikki/Jessica storyline for the majority of it, but I stopped hating it the moment it became a triple role for Ali Larter and she'd let you know who she was with just a glance. There was something about how Larter played it the moment she was finally given a chance to do something with her talents that got me to forgive all those scenes where she had nothing to do but whine.

On two semi-related tangents, are you planning on checking out PUSHING DAISIES? I'm hoping this turns out to be another Bryan Fuller show with great female characters, though it does stand out to me that this is his first show that didn't have a female lead character.

But, also, you've got to check out JECKYLL when it gets a DVD release. I doesn't start that way, but there are some great female characters in the series (and the weak characters in the beginning can be excused as setting us up for the surprise of transformation).

Mickle said...

"I'd say that dynamic extends to racial minorities."

Yeah, and that's something I should comment on more.

"For example, I hated the Nikki/Jessica storyline for the majority of it, but I stopped hating it the moment it became a triple role for Ali Larter and she'd let you know who she was with just a glance."

Oh, dear god yes. While I still don't like the character that much, there is no doubt that Larter's performance kicks ass - once they actually let her perform. The first time I saw her do that transition (without cuts) my first thought was "whoa!" my second was "why the hell did it take them that long to do the transition that way?"

"On two semi-related tangents, are you planning on checking out PUSHING DAISIES?"

I wasn't, but I will now.

"But, also, you've got to check out JECKYLL when it gets a DVD release."

Is it playing on BBC America? We get that at my house - can't not have Robin Hood, etc.

"I doesn't start that way, but there are some great female characters in the series (and the weak characters in the beginning can be excused as setting us up for the surprise of transformation)."

See, I'm ok with that, although I'll often wait until I get confirmation that this is what happens before I bother to watch the show because I don't trust TV shows to do this. In fact, that's actually what I was hoping Heroes would do, and the fact that they barely did was part of why I still love and hate it.

Lyle said...

Jeckyll aired recently on BBC America but it's one of those series where they were advertising the DVD with the first ep (and, checking Amazon, it's already out on DVD). It's really quite a surprise, because the first ep leaves you with one set of expectations, but then the story changes quite a bit (as do the characters). (Unfortunately, Michelle Ryan's character stays kinda meh throughout.)

On a related note, the third season of Doctor Who is also worth a rental. Martha Jones is instantly one of my favorite sci fi females ever. I liked Rose Tyler, who Martha replaced, but she frequently sat back and played damsel towards the end, one time literally laughing in the face of danger confident she'd be rescued in time without doing anything herself. But there's an amazing interplay with Martha and The Doctor, she's quite strong on her own, despite being paired with someone who's near-omnipotent. (Actually, seasons one and two aren't bad, Rose proves herself at several points. She's just has her limits as a character -- namely, a bit of laziness that's established in the character's first appearance.)

Sigh, yeah the thing that drives me crazy with Heroes is that it has these moments where it really gets things right, only to go back to being 'same old same old'.

At least it's miles ahead of Lost, where the only woman who doesn't sit back and let the men do the work is the island's equivalent of Danger Prone Daphne.

Mickle said...

"At least it's miles ahead of Lost, where the only woman who doesn't sit back and let the men do the work is the island's equivalent of Danger Prone Daphne."

What the hell? What happened to my Kate!!!! (I am so glad I stopped watching that show.)

Thanks for the heads up re: Jeckyll.

And have you seen Dexter yet? I enjoyed it so much that I think there must be something wrong with me. I'm very bummed that I don't have Showtime and so will have to wait a year to watch season 2!

Lyle said...

I gave up early in season three, but my general memory of Kate in season two consisted of her insisting they boys letting her along in their little confrontations with the others, them telling her no, she follows them anyway and then screws things up. Maybe it got better in season three, but I'd be surprised.

Okay, you have me convinced with Dexter it's in the already-lengthy Netflix queue.