I finally got round to watching the opening episode of the troubled season 2 of NBC's Heroes on BBC2 last night. I say 'eventually' because I missed both the original broadcast and the first repeat, only finding out at the last moment that there was a 2nd repeat to catch.
Heroes was one of my favourite TV series last year, being the only one apart from Doctor Who that I made an effort to catch each week. The idea of the series appealed to me, and I liked the low-key way that it handled the emergence of superpowers in our own world. And yet at the same time I found the series deeply frustrating, mostly because it was so damn slow. The sprawling narrative with its wide cast plodded on becoming ever more convoluted as it developed and undermining the series' essential premise as it was revealed.
This is something that really bugs me about a lot of modern SF TV. There used to be a time when series like Star Trek (classic and next gen.) were written with no overarching plotlines or continuity so that episodes didn't need to be broadcast in a given order to make sense to viewers. This changed with the success of Babylon 5 (unless my memory fails me), the impact of which can be seen with the adoption of a megaplot in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and in the plethora of more-or-less vaguely SF action/mystery series which have become staple viewing fodder today, eg. Lost, to name the best known.
All of which would be to the good if it wasn't for the lamentable approach to TV storytelling inaugurated by Star Trek: the Next Generation, with its flabby scripts and time-wasting camera work, all of which contrasted poorly with the dynamic pacing of classic Trek. Layer this approach to creating episodes on top of the sprawling multithreaded narrative now favoured and you have the recipie for the frustration I noted.
Compare Heroes with Doctor Who or The Wire to see how limiting this approach is. Whether it is the sheer amount of story in a 45-minute Doctor Who episode, or the richness created by The Wire's multilayered narrative, it is hard to deny that these series demonstrate qualities precisely the opposite of those I find so unappealing.
Ah well, I guess every TV series can't be the best of the best. Heroes will just have to settle for being the best of the rest. Last night's episode was enjoyable enough. I expect I'll be watching as much of season 2 as I can get myself in front of. But it's got some way to go to become 'must-see-TV' like our good Doctor.
Speaking of our good Doctor, Saturday's episode went down a treat. An nice little prologue, then straight into the action, including a dramatic return of Martha from last season. By the end of the episode the Doctor was facing not just armageddon at the hands of an old enemy, but Donna's grandad was about to become a victim of the first wave, and all in less than 45 minutes. Now that's storytelling! ;)