Lost vs. Heroes

Heroes-vs-LostFollowing up a little on my last post wherein I quoted Peter Suderman lamenting the lack of direction and planning for the show Battlestar Galactica, let me just add that two other shows I watch have fallen into similar traps.

Heroes started out quite good and has since deteriorated into what I can best describe as an ad hoc show full of very lackluster episodic seasons.  There is no over-arching plot that weaves the “chapters” together.  We never do encounter the Hiro Nakamura of the future – the hardened, somber counterpart to the goofy modern Hiro who we first meet in Season One – after that first meeting of Future Hiro and Peter.  Hiro tells Peter to “save the cheerleader, save the world.”  To me this was a long-term project, not just something Peter was meant to achieve that season.  But the writer’s felt differently.  And the apocalyptic future we were introduced to in season one is all but gone from following seasons.  Future Hiro is gone, too.

Villains shift, and plots die off.  The world is threatened time and again by one villain after the next, but we’re never really immersed in an extended battle of good and evil.  There’s no high stakes, because nothing is sustained.  Characters drift apart and then come back together without any rhyme or reason.  There is no long view even now, after however many seasons.  It’s maddening, really.  I don’t know why I keep watching.

I used to feel similarly about Lost, but seasons 4 and 5 have disabused me of this.  By season 3 I came to the conclusion that the writers themselves were hopelessly lost.   The introduction of new characters and new plot lines seemed haphazard at best.  And the constant addition of new extras – new crash survivors – became such a pet peeve I could barely take it anymore.  (this is still a pretty big pet peeve, actually)

But then things changed.  They tightened up the plot, cut out a lot of the unnecessary narrative and back-story, and began focusing on tying together the various plot-threads and points in the past, present, and future in such a way that is both gripping and – for a time-traveling story – makes enough sense to keep us from rolling our eyes.

I would argue this is the difference between a good show and a bad show – the ability of its writers and producers to be patient, to take into account the long view, and to extend the plot out beyond just the season or the episode in question.  That’s not easy.  I’m glad Lost seems to be back on track.

P.S. – I watch all these on my computer which invariably means I’m behind on everything – at least for Lots.  No spoilers please.

(Image via DRM Artwork)

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

19 thoughts on “Lost vs. Heroes

  1. Agreed. Heroes, though, has become such an abysmal show that I don’t bother watching it–I just read the hilarious (and frequently scathing) recaps over at The A.V. Club. Evidently, the last episode included an A-story about carnies in jail, a B-story in which Claire became gay (without, you know, ever having even been hinted about being gay before), and a C-story in which Sylar, dressed like a 1920s weightlifter, hung out in Parkman’s head and manipulated him, Meet Dave style. Now, if David Lynch were the showrunner, that could have been some memorable stuff. Hell, Twin Peaks had weirder things in it. But it’s Heroes. It always hits with a thud.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I agree about the over-arching plot, but isn’t evolution the long view of Heroes? Couldn’t you look at its episodic nature as attempting to show that evolutionary change, even of “heroic” magnitude, need not create apocalyptic drama? They’re always griping about being normal–wouldn’t the shows apparent achievement of mediocrity on their behalf be a good thing?

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. There’s a lot to be said for the effect of having an end date set for shows (battlestar/lost) that helps focus the writing.

    I was thinking about this some a few months back because American soaps just go on and on and on whereas telenovellas are limited run television serials – like stretched mini-series and how, conceptually, that was an interesting approach.

    I wonder if American TV would be stronger if we could adopt that as a business model of film and television production.

    The current model is to crank out something good, hope it’s popular enough to warrant renewal and then milk it until you can’t (ala ER – The West Wing – the Spiderman movies). It’s possible that conceiving of a really self-contained story and serializing it would make it stronger without limiting its ability to spin-off movies and other series to capitalize on a strong fan base (again, ala BSG).

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I agree with this completely, Kyle, but let me just say:

      Babylon 5 did it first and would have done it better if the network let them. Same goes for Firefly.

      Also, most anime series also have a set end-date and a complete story from the beginning (and those that don’t tend to have a LOT of bad filler episodes.) Same thing with British series – the original Life On Mars is just about perfect IMO. (The US version wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either.)

        Quote  Link

      Report

  4. I had the same experience with Lost as it went along in real time as it were. Now I’m rewatching the series during the absurd hiatus (May-Jan.? WTF is that? A normal person would forget the show exists!), and I can’t believe how tight I’m finding the writing (certainly with some exceptions). So much consistency you didn’t know was there first time through. I encourage anyone who kind of likes the look & feel of the show but finds it impossibly tangled to give it another shot while the episodes are still free in HD at abc.com.

    (Disclaimer: neither I nor any member of my family is employed by the Disney Corporation.)

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. It was during Season 3 of Lost that the producers were able to reach agreement with ABC to set an end date for the series. All along they had a plot device in mind (the switch from flashbacks to flash forwards) that they wanted at the mid-point of the series and until they had an end date they couldn’t make the pivot they had designed. That is why Season 3 seems to flounder a bit (though as Michael D. states, not much in retrospect). They were having to “vamp” until they knew they could turn and bring it home. If you look at the structure, you’ll notice the series is sort of a palindrome (Season 5 follows the shape of Season 2, e.g.). The word is the final season coming up will be similar to Season 1 in form.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. BSG got dreadfully haphazard as it went along but was still interesting enough to keep me watching. I think, though, that the final episode holds the prize for episodes that render an entire series into pure reeking drek. Years of struggling space opera to preserve their endangered culture and lives, then suddenly the entire population decides to follow the doughy Lee Adama into hellish voluntary luddite extinction while a series of magic moonbat miracles tie up the loose ends? I actually threw stuff at my screen.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I hear ya…I actually really liked Daybreak until that part. I felt like I had put up with 4 seasons of Lee whining about democracy this and democracy that, then he makes some really unbelievable and autocratic decision and suddenly 40,000 people who’ve been complaining about everything for years now, are like, “let’s go camping…forever!” it was frustrating.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Maddening, yes I was livid. With months of time and contemplation on it now I can look back on it as being almost monumental in how much of an inversion of each characters personal interest it was. It has a kind of grandiosness in the sheer scale of it’s terribleness.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Keep watching E.D. and Al. There are moments that are powerful plus Bear’s music alone is worth the time investment. They even shell out some cash for some bang up battles towards the end. Even the writing, is tolerable for a lot of what is left and even in the way it gets idiotic at the end, it has a certain value as a kind of base line awful to measure other plot lines against.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  7. Odd, I feel the opposite about Lost — the last couple of seasons have found me rolling my eyes quite a bit. I think it’s just viewer fatigue. I was absolutely hooked at the beginning, so I was willing to be patient and to find meaning in absolutely everything. Now that they’ve strung out the viewers so long, they have to start showing a lot of cards, and it get a bit far fetched. There was a stretch of episodes last season where the viewers didn’t know what way was up, where or when anyone was, and it was just exhausting and frustrating. Had that happened in season 2, I’d have been all over it. Now that we’re at the end game, it’s just all looking like a blur.

    JJ Abrams gave a speech at TED last year about the “mystery box,” about how stories are better when the mystery is yet unrevealed. Now that they have to reveal the mysteries, it’s a series of inevitable disappointments. Really, what could possibly be in the “box”? Secrets of time travel? Aliens? Some guy angling for world domination? Nazi-zombies? Whatever it is, better watch that your eyes don’t roll right out of your head.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *