Nearly two years ago to the day, I was sitting with my group of friends, having just watched the “fall finale” of Lost, then a freshman sci-fi drama we’d all gotten hooked on. Jack, self-righteous beyond all repair, and newcomer hottie Kate (who at the time still looked like a trashier Kate Beckinsale, not that there’s anything wrong with that) had just magically brought Dominic Monaghan’s character back to life, a move I strenuously objected to. To make matters worse, Locke (before he went button crazy and lame) and soon-to-be-dead Boone had just stumbled upon the infamous hatch. While my friends were wowed by the twist and mused on what may lay inside, I remember turning to them and saying “Man, this show just went off its rails”.
And I was right.
By the end of the season, everyone, Locke especially, had gone hatch crazy, a plot device that essentially flipped off the original concept of the show and nearly caused a mass ABC exodus of Lost-devotees after we were forced to wait till the next season just to see what was inside the damn thing (oh look, an Irishman with his own condo… um, ok?). All those things that had originally gotten me interested in the show: how the group would survive, when are they gonna violently kill off the hobbit, what the deal was with the mysterious metal smoke monster, and of course, the um, prominent display of Evangeline Lilly’s assorted naughty bits, were dropped in favor of Locke’s show-crippling hatch-capades. The metal monster was neglected, the polar bear that randomly attacked them was forgotten, nobody seemed to be sharing crucial information, and the stench of hero worship on Jack was threatening to overpower a small country.
Since I vehemently disagreed with the change and now find myself increasingly hateful towards a show I once threw a party each week to watch, I found myself open to the possibility this fall of finding a new show to slavishly devote all my TV geek energy to.
And lo and behold, I found one on Monday nights.
When the pitch on Heroes first crossed media lines, the buzz was unkind. It was immediately deemed a Lost rip off, which at the time seemed spot on. The two shows have a lot more in common than you might suspect.
They both have:
- A plot revolving around a group of strangers coming together to figure out how to cope with their new situation in life.
- A one-named title with a double meaning
- A multi-racial, multi-ethnic cast of beautiful people.
- A slew of the same type of characters: self-righteous male lead, mysterious older white guy that has all the answers, resident slamming hottie, seemingly unnecessary blonde bombshell, middle eastern guy with emotional baggage, Asian couple with translation problems, kid with special powers and a bad dad, long-haired bearded rebels and of course, an all-important set of numbers.
I went to the broadcast upfronts back in May and saw the extended preview NBC put together. I was impressed by the production value and the scope of the pilot, but was convinced there was no way the show could continue at such a high level for an entire season. I dug the girl from Remember the Titans Groundhog Day-ing herself off a bridge. I was amused by the tiny Asian guy who could jump through time. And I was thoroughly thrilled to see Ali Larter returning to her scantily-clad hottie days. As a whole I was pleased to find the early negative buzz had been premature and was intrigued to see what the show would look like when it premiered in the fall.
So I tuned in and was… fine with it. I wasn’t amazed, but I didn’t hate it. They shot their load in the previews with the flying Gilmore Guy money shot; aside from the extremely welcome re-introduction to Ali Larter’s gyrating backside, nothing about the pilot wowed me the way the extended plane crash scene did in Lost (a sequence whose sheer kickassness that series has never been able to replicate). But little by little the show started growing on me. It was a neat twist to find out it wasn’t Gilmore Guy/Peter Petrelli that could fly, but actually his magnificent bastard of a brother, Nathan. Hiro, the aforementioned amusing Asian guy, was a breath of fresh stereotypical TV character air. For a landscape that had seen its fair share navel-gazing comic heroes (Angel!), Hiro’s super-excited take on his new-found powers was fantastic. Claire, the indestructible cheerleader, was a nice cross between real teenager and post-Mean Girls fictional teen. And then a little ways into the first act of episode five, a moment happened on the show that made me fall completely Cruise-on-the-couch in love.
Nathan Petrelli flew.
He didn’t just fall of a building and figure out his power. He stood with his feet on the ground and out of nowhere, SCREAMED into the sky! And then a second later there was a sonic boom and Nathan had taken off, leaving a ring of smoke in his wake. It was literally the most awesome thing I had seen on a network show since Jack started racing through the wreckage in the Lost pilot. From that point on I was hooked.
However, once burned twice learned, so I’m a little hesitant to drop-kick Lost to the curb after having followed it for two and a half seasons, only to find myself let down by a “the cheerleader is safe, now what” Heroes. So I’m gonna break down the two shows, sticking as much as possible to just the first season of Lost (for fairness sake), to see if Heroes really has what it takes to be the premiere science fiction drama on TV, and my TV geek salvation.
Better Central Concept
On Lost, no matter what happens with The Others, or the hatch, or the metal smoke monster, the central premise of the show is always going to be “How do we get off this island?” A lot of people think the point is to figure out the purpose of the island, but that’s naïve, because the intention of the characters is merely to stay alive long enough to be rescued. They may focus their attention on other things (like wooing pregnant Australian girls, saying “dude” a lot, and pushing goddamn hatch buttons), or on their immediate situation, but the long-term goal is to be rescued. That makes the show decidedly closed-ended. There’s no such limitation on Heroes. Their central concept is fluid and adaptable. How do these people cope with their newfound powers, what to they do with them, what does it mean that they have them while others don’t, what forces may align to try and hurt them because of their powers? These are concepts that can applied towards just about any plotline. And since they aren’t bound by the limits of an island, the characters can literally go anywhere. I’m gonna take the show whose endpoint is juicily uncertain to the show whose endpoint is mostly predetermined (and inevitably frustrating).
Advantage – Heroes
Least Annoyingly Self-righteous Male Lead with a Background in Medicine and Emotionally Unavailable Fathers
If Dawson Leery were a doctor, his name would have been Dr. Jack Shepherd. Jack’s righteousness is so profound that even the tertiary characters started commenting on it. Everything in the first season was “Where’s Jack?” “I need Jack” “Jack will know what to do?” “Jack is smelly!” Ok, I added that last one, but you take my point. Jack is selfish, pig-headed, emotionally crippled by self-doubt, and seriously, kind of an ass (even to Kate). And while Peter can sometimes grate with his “I must save the Cheerleader, I can fly, I’m special” blabbity blabbity importantcakes, at least he’s a nice guy. He welcomes group interaction, he actually cares for the people he gives care to, and seems to generally like his bastard of a brother. He’d have to maim Claire, spit in Hiro’s face and take a crap on one of Isaac’s future paintings before he even begins to reach the levels of assholishness that Jack reaches week to week.
Hotter Resident Slamming Hottie
This isn’t a tough one, as the winner is clearly Evangeline Lilly. No disrespect to Claire, who is not only an awesomely pre-approved hottie, can work a cheerleader outfit like nobody’s business, and can repair her own gaping chest cavity, but she is, after all, still jailbait. As much as I joke about fronting Hermione, I do still like to keep it on the legal tip. So until Hayden Panettiere (Claire) becomes legal, Evangeline’s wonderfully dewy lips tragically deflate or the metal smoke monster chews her up like a Swedish fish, I’m going with the legal hottie. But trust me, all things being equal, this would have been close.
Cooler Mysteriously Creepy Older White Guy
People forget now because he’s become such a nag, but when Lost first aired, Locke was a top notch bad ass. He threw knives around, hunted boar, took on the metal smoke monster and lived, and had a secret that turned out to be the best episode of the season (where we found out he used to be in a wheelchair). He was my favorite character on the show. But a season of hatch worshipping and button pushing effectively neutered him, and now I doubt it would be believable seeing him wield any weapon, least of all the Rambo-like one he used to sport. H.R.G. (otherwise known as Claire’s overly-touchy Father) is very similar to first season Locke. We don’t really know his intentions, as he seems to do both good things and bad, but he knows more than us, and he doesn’t hesitate to get messy should the situation call for it (like shooting up a detoxing Isaac to save his daughter). I dig him a lot. Even more so now that it appears he may have some sort of power-dampening ability. But in the end Locke is the cooler cat, because while HRG needs the silent Haitian guy to do his dirty work, Locke only has his magical working legs and a big ass knife.
Cooler Long-haired, Bearded Rebel
In the first 45 days of being on the island, Sawyer survived the following things: the plane crash, a Sayid torture session, several beatings, a bullet to his shoulder, a boat exploding next to him, more beatings, Kate’s level five cock teasing, more shots to his face, probably some wicked beard itch and finally Jack’s holier-than-thou attitude. And despite the varied traumas, he still had the sense to trick Kate into a hot snog, steal all the plane supplies and barter them for his own benefit, and dole out nicknames like “Freckles”, “Mr. Clean” and “Captain Falafel”. Wake me up when Isaac does anything more than pine away for drugs and paint cartoon bombs on his oh so perfectly art-directed loft floor.
Sylar likes to open people’s skulls and dissect and/or eat their brains. Henry Gale/Ben likes to fuck with Jack. Man alive, this is a tough one. We know just about the same amount of info for each guy, give or take. We’ve seen them both be equally evil, creepy and clever. I really want to root for the guy who tortures Jack and was indirectly responsible for Ana-Lucia’s death, but the Others are a major source of Lost-frustration for me. And Sylar looks just a touch too much like Clark Kent for my tastes. I don’t know… I think they both kinda rock.
Least Offensive Asian Stereotype
As much as I like Hiro, I must admit that his “I no speaka any engrish” has gotten pretty tired. He vacillates between speaking full, understandable sentences and muttering phrases that would have made Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s embarrassed. The show better decide how much English he can actually speak, and right quick. He’ll still be just as cute yelling “Yatta!” if he follows it up with a pronoun or two. Meanwhile, I have to praise Abrams and Lindelof for having two Korean characters, one of which speaks not a world of English. Their first flashback episode was the first time I could remember a major network drama spending so much time telling a story about two Asians characters, who didn’t end up as the defendants on a Law & Order, or were played by David Carradine. That’s pop culture progress I can respect.
More Interesting Set of Numbers
Lost has “4 8 15 16 23 42”, a set of numbers I could care less about, despite how powerful Hurley, Locke or Damon Lindelof would like me to believe they are. On the other hand, Heroes has “8/21/07” the date of Hayden Panettiere’s 18th birthday, which is a set of numbers I’m sure we can all agree are far more exciting.
Least Offensive Middle Eastern Stereotype
Let’s get this out of the way: Mohinder is boring. He’s probably the weakest part of the show. On the other hand, he might be the first Indian character on TV not working a cab or rocking a Quickie Mart register, in the last decade. And the fact that he doesn’t do these things is cause for praise. But still, the boring. Now the same can not be said about Sayid, the former Iraqi National Guardsman who fashions himself the island torturer. He fixes radios, hunts down crazy French woman and woos hottie towheads. And yet, for reasons that have yet to be explained in three seasons, the extent of his back story boils down to “Iraq, Torture, Iraq, Caroline in the City and Iraq”. Ok, not so much with the Lea Thompson cartoonist vehicle, but you take my point. I can’t get around the fact that while Moyawnder is a highly educated Professor with a multi-layered work, family and life back story, Sayid can’t get passed how much sticking knives in Sawyer’s fingernails makes him hard up for his dysfunctional homeland. Can we get the man an order of daddy issues?
Cooler Silent African Dude
I’m reaching into the second season here, but I like the exception because it means I can talk about how awesome both Mr. Eko and The Haitian (a.k.a. Mindblower) are on their respective shows. While other characters are blowharding their way to my anti-heart, these two guys are playing it cool, calm and collected. When we first meet Eko he’s deep into a self-imposed 40-day silence, a welcome change to the jaw-flapping Michelle Rodriguez was inflicting upon us. And The Haitian’s had only one line in the first eleven episodes, despite quietly climbing the charts as one of the most important characters on the show. But man, what a line! His one sentence, said to Claire, propelled the show straight into the spring, a teaser far more interesting than “Are you on the list?” Put these two in head-to-head competition, I’d have to take The Haitian and his mindblower powers, but Eko and his Jesus stick would put up a hard fight. However, for their awesome silent contributions in the face of blubbery, overacting co-stars, I salute them equally.
Better Young Black Kid With Special Powers and Bad Dad’s
The title pretty much says it all. The boys line up pretty square, with each excelling at certain things (Micah being a better technical actor, and Walt rocking the emotions), but neither doing so at such a high level as knock the other out. So in a case like this I must defer to the hate, as in which kid has done something to make me hate their respective show. And Walt did the worst thing of all, he got himself kidnapped, which lead to an interminable plotline where his bad Dad Michael spent an entire season yelling “WALT!!!!!!!!!11!!!” until the audience’s collective ears bled. Yeah, Mike, I get you want your boy back, but Abrams sent the kid away until May sweeps, so can you please turn your radio down? Thanks!
Better Audience Desirability a.k.a. Which show would you rather be a character on?
If you were a character on Lost you’d get the benefit of spending some quality time with Kate, but suffer the downside of watching her mack down on the two assiest guys on the island. You also stuck on an island with no real food, water or hygiene products, and have a better than average chance of getting mauled by the metal smoke monster should you need to hit the jungle for a mid-morning deuce. Suddenly, Evangeline Lilly ain’t looking so good. But if you’re a character on Heroes, you get to have a freaking superpower! Sure, Sylar might come after you to cut your skull open and eat your brain, but did I mention you have a freaking superpower? You could walk through walls, or fly, or have extendo-junk, or be invisible, or have the power to immobilize and silence people who talk during movies (the one I’d want). I think it’s worth the risk.
Better Blonde Femme Fatale / Least Useless Eye Candy
Heroes made a clever change three episodes into their run; they had Ali Larter keep her clothes on. Up until that point I had assumed her role on the show was as a pure skin show, akin to the role Shannon used to play on Lost (before they killed her and replaced her with Cynthia Watros, who may be a fine actress, but is not nearly as qualified in the ways of sweater puppetry). But once she pulled a “Cerrado” on her online stripper ways, she turned into the de facto femme fatale of the show. Alternating between her submissive Niki and her (far more awesome) Angelus-like alter ego Jessica, Larter spends her time either throwing her husband into walls, ripping gamblers apart or bedding Adrian Pasdar. I’m not sure yet what her role is on the show, but I’m intrigued to find out. As for Shannon, well, she may not have served much purpose, but she sure looked good in a bikini.
More Quotable One-Word Catchphrase
Hurley’s got “Dude”, Hiro’s got “Yatta”. One is a word that many movies and characters have used in far more funny and quotable ways (Hell, Keanu’s practically made it an art form). And the other is a new piece of slang that’s barely scratched the surface of its potential awesomeness. You can use it during sex, at the moment you splooge (Yatta, orgasm!). You can use it when you score the digits of a fine-looking 310 fox (Yatta, digits!). You can use it when you unexpectedly find money in the back pocket of your jeans (Yatta, cash!). Hell, you could use it when ordering waffles, just like Hiro. We are on the forefront of a new era in one word lingo, and Heroes is leading the charge.
Most Annoying, Most Annoying Character
This is a sham category because there’s no way any character on Heroes could ever conceive of the hope to dream to be as annoying as Charlie. Loud, nagging, weak, obnoxious, lame, exasperating, feckless, grody, and unfunny, Charlie is easily the least helpful, least likeable and least interesting characters in the never-ending Lost ensemble. His only contribution to the show has been his pilot teaser line “Guys, where are we?”. I hated him in LotR, and I can’t stand him on the show; every time I have to sit through another of his “Woe is me, I need me drugs, my band was a one-hit non-wonder” episodes, I wanna commit suicide by lethal Scientology purification. Seriously, go away and DIE, Charlie!
Which show gives the better goods?
Here’s a partial list of the day one answers we are still yet to receive on Lost:
- What is the metal smoke monster?
- Who controls the metal smoke monster?
- Why have no planes ever flown over the island?
- How is Locke able to use his legs on the island?
- How did Sawyer’s hair magically grow seven inches over the course of 45 days?
- Who are they really, what are the true intentions of the Others? (It can’t seriously be to have Jack remove Ben’s spinal tumor. All the killing and kidnapping and violence for a procedure Jack would have volunteered to do if it made him 1/800th more like a hero? Seriously, lame.)
Meanwhile, over on “AnswerFest 2006” aka Heroes, we’ve already found out each main character’s power (to the exclusion of Ali Larter, mostly) and seen each hero use their power, we are starting to learn how the Heroes found out about their powers, we know who the villain is and what his agenda entails, and we’ve already seen the show cycle through one major plotline (plus on this show we get, like, 117% fewer red herrings). Further, when Lost answers questions, it answers them with even more frustrating questions. When Heroes answers questions with questions, the questions themselves are inevitably cooler (i.e. How does Sylar get other people’s powers? He opens their heads. But what does he do then? Does he go Hannibal Lecter on them, or does he put their brains under the microscope and break ‘em down? Who knows, but either way, it’s awesome.).
That’s called audience satisfaction, Lost. Take a memo.
Final Tally: Heroes wins, 9-5!
Smell ya later, Lost. There’s officially a new badass sci-fi show in town.