Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Heroes: Godsend

The title “Godsend” says it all- thank God this show is back! This episode picked up two weeks after the fall season finale. Peter was in the hospital, fighting an unexplained fever. Nathan was keeping watch. Hiro and Ando were searching for the sword. Niki was locked up, trying to keep herself contained in prison. HRG outwitted Matt, ending Matt’s two-week surveillance and work with the FBI (for now). Sylar remained hidden in HRG’s lair.

Mohinder committed himself to continuing his father’s work by tracking down everyone on the list. He also resisted HRG’s offer to work together. Claire has maintained the charade, so far, of having her memory erased as she struggles to determine her identity and purpose now that she’s accepted her special ability.

Here’s to hoping Peter learns how to control the power of radioactivity so he doesn’t explode. Or perhaps he may explode, but it won’t destroy him. I’m actually more interested in the rumored connection between him and Claire.

Although I love, love, love Hiro, I’m not feeling the whole sword thing. Just a smidgen too comic-bookish for my taste. Seems like he needs to learn that his power resides within him, not some prop like a sword. Seeing his face fall when he realized he had a fake was priceless, though. So was his decision to return it.

Niki continues to rely on forces besides herself to control her dark impulses. Jessica is too out-of-control for her, so she’s relying on the containment of prison to keep Jessica in check. Her plan hit a slight wrinkle when the DA decided to pursue the death penalty. Now Niki will have to fight Jessica and the state to stay alive. She really needs to learn to rely on herself!

HRG is just one giant question-mark for me. I trust what we learn about him will be great.

Mohinder and Claire are both coming into their own. Mohinder has cast aside his disbelief and is committed to finding- and helping- the heroes.

Claire finally accepted her abilities and is trying to learn more about them. I loved the moment when she said that she first started making the tapes of her self-healing to show her biological parents but was now making them to remind herself of who she was. She embodies a major turning point toward adulthood: self-acceptance.

Watching Hiro and Nathan talk makes me even more eager to see the other heroes interact. I can’t wait for that!

Prison Break: Welcome Back!

Ah, yes… a two-month absence (approximately) has taught me to overlook the gaping potholes to appreciate the unexpected twists and turns of this show. At least, until I watch 24- which I taped because I couldn’t bear another moment without Heroes. However. Those are other blog entries.

Somehow, this show manages to make the predictable unpredictable. No shock that Kellerman managed to free Michael and Linc, persuade them to cooperate, and free Stedman. No shock that Michael attempted to turn the tables by calling to turn himself (and all of them) in. The shocks: 1) that Stedman was brave (or cowardly, depending on your perspective) enough to shoot himself, and 2) that Michael’s plan actually backfired.

(Raise your hand if you were mentally kicking Michael’s butt at that point too.)

Although I’m not surprised about Bellick’s miserable situation, I was pleasantly shocked to see him back at all. I feared he was being written out, but luckily that’s not the case! Now (I can’t stop myself) permit me my first lapse in overlooking logic gaps to point out that, in real life, if a man built like Bellick tried to hit his tormentor (his enormous tormentor), he’d only manage one hit before the guy flattened him. And if Bellick did actually manage to immobilize his tormentor, another one of his crew would step in and flatten him.

Good to see T-Bag in all his glorious creepiness.

And C-Note. Can’t really blame the guy (his wife’s brother?) for being upset with him about her situation. Who was shocked that a judge denied her bail? It would’ve been beyond the pale for her not to be deemed a flight risk. C-Note’s situation is actually the most realistic- what exactly was all of the escapees’ plans?

Mahone’s story actually wasn’t shocking at all. What was shocking was the action of the President’s henchman. After hearing about Kellerman’s betrayal, you’d think the henchman would realize that coercing people to work for you can lead to very bad things.

And note to producers (I know they don’t read these things, but I can always dream): recast the part of the friggin’ President already!

Hopefully next week will see the return of Sucre and Sara…

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NBC's Heroes: What's the Appeal?

People who know me are surprised by my love for NBC's show "Heroes." This comic book show isn't supposed to appeal to an educated adult, is it?

To which I simply say: yes. You just have to listen to what the characters' say to see why.

The questions "Heroes" poses: what is my destiny? am I special? are ones that many people grapple with.

I won't be so presumptuous as to say that everyone around the planet asks these questions, but I certainly think people growing up in the US do.

When I was doing clinical training as a therapist in a college student counseling center, this was the question of many a confused and eager undergraduate.

For some people, this question goes away as they get older. They start worrying about how to pay the bills, get married, have children, and rarely have time to think about tomorrow, forget such an existentialistic question as what they are supposed to be doing with their lives.

Yet I find myself still grappling with it, which is why "Heroes" appeals to me so much. Recently, I met with a minister who asked me about my "faith journey." He's in the opening stages of trying to persuade me to join his church. Since I haven't even been baptized, he has a long way to go, but he cleverly caught my attention with a telling summation of where I'm at in my life.

He pointed out that, with my formal education completed, it was time to determine where my calling (or, as he put it, God's calling for me) and the greatest human need combined.

In other words, it's time for me to find my destiny. And the underlying question to that (although most of us would cut out our tongues before we asked it aloud): how am I special? What is my special ability that can serve others?

Now, in real life, we can't fly or heal ourselves or read minds or travel through time and space (dammit!) Nor will we be called on to save the world, or even a city, from massive destruction. It's that fantasy scale of "Heroes" that makes the show fun.

Yet make no mistake- we all ask ourselves the exact same questions that those characters ask.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Heroes: Fallout

This episode was aptly titled; there was plenty of fallout following Sylar’s attempt on Claire’s life. So much happened, I could sympathize with Ando: “I wish destiny would lose our number.”

HRG has developed into an amazing character. On one hand, he’s completely believable as a loving, concerned father who’s trying to protect his daughter (Claire). On the other hand, watching him and Sylar face off, it was hard to determine which one would win the “Most Creepy” award. Smart money says it’s Sylar, but HRG’s mannerisms, facial expressions, and memory-wipes give Sylar a run for his money.

A subtle, but extraordinary, moment was HRG pouring glasses of chocolate milk for Claire and himself as they discussed the importance of keeping her special abilities secret. How’s that for grounding fantasy in a realistic setting?

And when Claire asked what her father had done to protect her that he wasn’t proud of myself, my first thought was: Some questions are better left unanswered. She doesn’t know the answer, but instead she’ll be in a much worse predicament: keeping her knowledge secret from her father. I don’t envy her trying to keep a secret from that guy.

Hopefully there will be more of Peter and Claire together. Nathan was the perfect character to personify Peter’s doubts in his dreams. Nathan’s nurturing tone when he told Peter “The world is bigger than you” was a chilling juxtaposition. I almost jumped myself when Nathan morphed into Sylar right before Peter woke up! I was glad Claire told Peter he was her hero; he obviously needed to hear it.

Watching Matt try to read Peter's thoughts as Peter absorbed his ability and began to read Matt's thoughts was pretty amusing.

It’s not just Peter’s self-confidence that needs strengthening; his ability to take on other people’s power seems to need a little fine-tuning as well. Initially he looked completely healthy, but by the end of the episode he resembled a walking corpse. Did his self-healing come undone?

Niki finally realized she need some serious strength herself; Jessica is out of control. I’ve read a lot of debate about who/what Jessica is. I thought of Jessica as a part of Niki’s self that Niki finds unacceptable- the side of herself that ruthlessly protects Niki and Micah. I’m leaning towards thinking Niki uses her dead sister, Jessica, to personify this part of herself (rather than the ghost of Jessica returning); I think Niki’s assertion of “You’re part of me” is accurate. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, though. It’ll be fascinating to see what’s really going on!

I could’ve sworn I saw a bullet pierce D.L.’s head and hit the tire. Did D.L. somehow manipulate matter so the bullet hit the tire instead? And if D.L. did somehow spare his head, why didn’t he spare his shoulder, too? Bullet holes are especially detrimental when you’re on the run, regardless of where they are in your body.

Rumor has it Eden was killed off about six episodes early due to a salary dispute. I wonder if Sylar can still use her brain when it’s been blown apart by a bullet? I have confidence in the writers’ ability to adjust the storyline, but poor Mohinder- who does he have now? Isaac at least has Hiro and Ando for inspiration.

Guess we’ll have to wait until January 22, 2007 to find out. Curse these mid-season breaks!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Heroes Question: Did Jessica Truly Exist or Not?

In my initial blogcritics review (I've asked an editor to revise it) and at my TVGuide blog, I questioned whether or not Jessica truly existed. I wondered about this because Niki's father seemed completely confused when Niki called herself Jessica. I now realize that this confusion could be due to Jessica's death, not the idea that she never truly existed.

Yet Jessica's statements about "taking every punch" for Niki made me think she never actually existed- that she was an alternate personality. One theory about Dissociative Identity Disorder is that alternate personalities develop in response to traumatic events (e.g., the alternate personality experiences and retains the memory of the abuse because it's too painful for the "main" or "original" personality).

If that's true, then I thought Niki may have "buried" her as a way to move on with her life while trying to remain sober.

Now, though, I wonder if I was either really sharp or massively over-reaching. Guess I'll find out as the season continues...

Heroes: Six Months Ago

The latest episode of Heroes, “Six Months Ago,” revealed the following:
- that’s how far back in time Hiro went trying to save Charlie, -Mohinder's father contacted the first person whom he thought had special abilities- the sociopath Sylar, -Matt had a run-in with Eden that led to her capture (by Horn Rimmed Glasses- aka HRG, aka Claire's dad) and Matt eating a lot of doughnuts, -HRG learned about Claire, -Nathan had the car accident that paralyzed his wife (right before his father died of a heart attack),

- and Jessica rose from the dead (kinda) to protect Niki, possibly for the first time since childhood.

Suffice it to say, a whole lot happened six months ago.

Hiro’s sweet attempt to save Charlie taught him an important lesson: he cannot undo events that have already occurred. At least, he himself cannot go back in time and change something. Obviously Hiro found a loophole; the sword-carrying Hiro from the future who gave Peter the message of “Save the cheerleader, save the world” shows that.

Hiro also learned he needs to fine-tune his time-traveling skills a bit. His fear of time-traveling again because he could be “a T-Rex’s lunch” was comical, as was his facial expression when he attempted to contact Ando and got himself- six months ago- on the phone.

Watching Hiro is like watching a child grow up- part of growing up is experiencing hurt and disappointment, but that doesn't make it any easier to witness.

Sylar’s sociopathic ways grew out of the same sense of hurt. Mohinder’s father lost interest in studying him because Sylar did not initially show signs of a special ability. His desire to be special was touching, although his desire to disassociate himself from his family because they were so “ordinary” was not.

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Sylar when he pleaded with Mohinder’s father not to give up and lost interest in him, but I felt much worse for Brian when Sylar bashed his head in and stole his brain. Sylar and Peter have the same special ability: they absorb other people’s abilities. Unfortunately for everyone Sylar runs across, he has to steal their brains to get their power.

It’s interesting that the most sociopathic character (Sylar) and most empathetic character (Peter) have the same power, like two sides of a coin. They even both deal with death: Sylar causes it (murder) while Peter supports people who are experiencing it (hospice nurse). Something tells me a major showdown is brewing between these two.

Another character personifies two sides of a coin: Niki/Jessica. Six months ago, Niki had managed to maintain sobriety for a year, although she openly acknowledged dying for a drink at an AA meeting. Then her father- apparently her physically abusive father- showed up, trying to make amends. This led Niki to Jessica’s grave with a bottle of alcohol, although she was not shown actually drinking it.

Things did not go well with Niki’s father- he exploded at Micah when he found Micah disassembling a brand new, $2000 laptop- which led to Jessica’s re-emergence. This is a wonderful dramatization of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Niki will need to learn to integrate both aspects of herself, which means first she’ll have to learn that the ability to kick ass is not all bad.

Now we just need to find out why all this happened six months ago…

Prison Break- Holy S@#!

I'm so impressed with the twists and turns with this episode, I don't even care about plot holes the size of Texas!

Sucre's initial response to the pilot's plan to jump out ("No way!") cracked me up because that's exactly how I would've responded. Yet he's the one fugitive who actually made it across the border, so good for him.

And it's no surprise T-Bag found that woman from prison. I still don't get all the women being charmed by him, though. His smile alone would send me screaming for the door. Ugh.But on to the big stuff- Bellick imprisoned in Fox River? A new warden at Fox River? Who saw that coming?

And Michael and Linc! I knew they weren't headed back to prison, so when the border patrol caught them, my jaw dropped (much like Mahone's). With the obvious set-up for their escape, I first thought the writers had just gotten lazy- until Michael pointed out to Linc that it was too obvious. I praised Michael's intelligence.

Then I wanted to shoot Linc myself for insisting they make a run for it anyway. And then I was ready to shoot Michael, too, for agreeing to it!

I was sure Kellerman was desperate enough to kill them to get back into the President's good graces. When he shot Mahone instead, my jaw just about unhinged, it dropped so far.

For the first time, I cheered on Kellerman! He finally got a clue and decided to defend himself rather than be the president's patsy. I almost felt bad for Sara pressing him like a starched shirt with that hot iron- but not quite.

As for Mahone- I'll have to have my jaw wired back together if he actually dies. Maybe it's a good thing new episodes won't air until January; I'll be able to eat during the holidays!

There's just one last thing regarding last week's episode: C-Note. His wife gets arrested covering for his trifling self, after he embroiled her in his criminal ways, and the best he can do is mouth "I'm so sorry"? I would've been mouthing "I'm sorry, too" after I turned him in!

It's going to be a long wait until January!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

NBC's TV Show Heroes: My Absolute Favorite New Show

Heroes is my absolute favorite show on TV right now. For me, this says a lot, because I'm only recently becoming re-acquainted with popular culture. My twenties were spent in a black hole commonly referred to as "graduate school," and since part of my training required working evenings (to see psychotherapy clients), I missed most TV shows and was too poor to go to the movies on a regular basis. (Alias and the X-Files were the two exceptions.)

But as my time in the black hole becomes an increasingly vague nightmare, I'm returning to civilization- and TV. I've been impressed with the quality of many shows, but Heroes has crawled right under my skin with its epic questions of destiny, identity, and self-worth embedded in a fun comic-book/fantasy setting.

I was talking with a friend who said she just didn't see the appeal of Heroes. That made sense to me; she's not into fantasy or action/adventure. She's the romantic comedy fan. But below is my first impression of Heroes, after watching the premiere episode. Reading my first impressions makes a stronger case than anything I can recall now.

And I promise, I have a lot more of Heroes stuff to write about!

Heroes: Season Premiere

I've been waiting for this show, and I wasn't disappointed! The opening sequence set the tone: an ordinary-looking guy flying/free falling from a skyscraper, while someone else spoke about everyone's purpose.

Just in case we humans were about to get cocky, it then moved to a classroom discussion about the cockroach's superior ability to survive compared to humans by living without food or water for several days. (No wonder you can't get rid of those things once they show up.)

Then we met some of the people with special powers: Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), a nurse who thinks he may be able to fly; Claire (Hayden Panettiere), a teenager who can't be hurt (like most teens don't think that about themselves anyway); Niki (Ali Larter), an internet stripper who apparently has a fierce alter-ego; Hiro (the adorable Masi Oka), an office drone who can bend time and space in order to teleport; and Isaac (Santiago Cabrera), an artist who paints the future when he's high on heroin.

We also meet some of the people in their lives, namely Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), the Indian scholar who studies this phenomenon to prove his father's theories; Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), Peter's self-centered brother; Simone (Tawny Cypress), Isaac's girlfriend; and Niki’s genius son, Micah (the also-adorable Noah Gray-Cabey).

The charm of this show, though, is not in the special abilities. It's in the mix of fantastical elements (like more evolved humans with special powers), the huge questions of purpose and destiny, and the very human-like aspects to these characters.

Hiro was my favorite. Who hasn't wished/hoped they were special? Who hasn't wanted to discover they had special talents and a higher purpose to use those talents? His excitement had me smiling for him and was one of the most realistic reactions I saw. But maybe the people of Japan are more tolerant than we are here in the US, because if Hiro had been talking like that to someone here, he'd be teleporting to NYC from a psych ward, not the subway.

Niki's desire for Micah to fully realize his potential in private school made her decision to borrow from the Mob understandable. Didn't we all wish those Mob guys would meet that fate after they tried to force her to strip?

And Peter's desire to finally be noticed, be special, step out of his brother's shadow- anyone with a sibling knows that feeling.

Claire was the one I related to the least. True, most teens hate to be different, but let's face it, there are some differences an adolescent would be thrilled about and being indestructible is probably one of them.

As for Isaac- well, he's strung out. He shouldn't make sense.

This show is a great mix- big questions made less imposing by the fantasy elements and grounded in characters who resonate. I've read that this will be a cult-show; I'm converted!

Friday, November 10, 2006

As I continue to think about the challenges of a show like Lost (see my comments below), which used to be cutting-edge TV, it's made me consider the challenges of serialized dramas (ongoing mystery as opposed to self-contained episodes). Yeah, I've read the same stuff you probably have, about how unattractive serialized dramas are to TV networks because they don't do as well in syndication (you have to run them in order and people already know what happened), viewers may miss an episode and then become confused, blah blah blah.

More than that, there's a fundamental story challenge which is related to syndication: the desire to run for five years. For a serialized drama, that means writers have to find a way to keep the story interesting for five years. Keep the question, the reason we watch, going- for five years.

Who wants to wait for anything for five years?

Took me five years to get my PhD. Some of the most miserable years of my life.

People don't pursue potential romantic interests for five years.

Many couples get divorced within the first five years.

Pregnancy is only 40 weeks- and most people are impatient for that to be over, especially after week 32 or so.

I learned this lesson with another great TV show, the X-Files. I loved that show- even delayed going out on Friday nights to watch it. I followed it to Sundays and then delayed watching what would become another favorite show of mine (Alias) to continue watching the X-Files.

Towards the end of the final season, as I braced myself for the end of the X-Files, I came to a realization: the series finale was going to be a disappointment. There was no way the show would be able to provide a good enough answer to the over-arching question of the show: What was the truth that was out there? Not after all those years.

Yet I did watch, and sure enough, the big answer (there would be an alien invasion in 10 years) didn't do a whole lot for me. Luckily I could console myself with Alias' amazing season one cliffhanger of her mother walking into the room.

Honestly, I didn't blame the X-Files' writers. I realized that there was no way to fulfill the suspense that had built up over so many years (I don't even remember just how long the show ran).

Writers on current serialized dramas, like Lost, are facing the same dilemma. I don't envy them.

Disclaimer: I know the many Lost fans out there will hate this post. In my defense, I want to say upfront that I'm also a huge Lost fan. I taped every episode of season two and held a Lost marathon over the summer. I write this because I'm frustrated.

So here goes...Like Locke last season, I’m having a crisis of faith after seeing Lost’s cliffhanger episode (since the next new episode won’t air until February 7, 2007). To briefly re-cap: Ben needed Jack to operate on a tumor on his spine, Kate continued to try to save Sawyer, Sawyer continued to lay around like a wounded puppy, and some of the free survivors buried Eko. It was a Kate-centric flashback about Kate getting married (What?!) but being unable to stay in a stable but boring life of taco nights.

For a character-driven show, it is not necessarily good to find the characters unrelatable, but that’s exactly what happened for me with Lost. I mean, I get some of their reactions. Kate has always cared for Sawyer, so of course she wants him to stay alive. Good enough reason to comply with the Others’ “request” to put a bag over her head and plead with Jack on their behalf.

Otherwise, Kate’s actions made no sense. She’s feisty enough to burn her father and spend her life on the run, but she remains trapped in a cage despite being able to climb out? Kate actually found a loving man and married the guy but then called the U.S. Marshall who’s hunting her down?

Sawyer gives up all hope of escape- after discovering that his heart wouldn’t explode or whatever Ben told him would happen if his heart rate became too elevated- just because he thinks he’s on a different island? He’s been living in the wilderness of one island for some 40-50 days- why not live in the wilderness of this new island rather than remain a prisoner who eats dog treats?

Only Jack did not disappoint; his actions remained consistent with his character. I’ll give the writers that.

It would be unfair, however, not to recognize the strong points of this episode. Kate’s flashback was poignant throughout. When the minister repeated her husband’s words about Kate’s honesty and forthrightness, I winced- especially when he called Kate by a fake name. Seeing how badly Kate wanted a stable life, and loving relationship, with her husband was painful, particularly when she realized that a stable life wasn’t for her. Kate’s fear would always keep her running, just as it led to her emotional collapse in captivity.

Lost’s strength has always been the flashbacks (i.e., character drama), but the plot (i.e., what occurs on the island) needs to become clearer to keep me watching- especially if the characters just become downright confusing. I know it’s a constant struggle to figure out how much information to give viewers while still keeping enough mystery to maintain suspense, but Lost is pushing its luck with me in season three. Get the plot moving already! I’ll be watching in February to see if that happens.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Everyone has to start somewhere, so this is it for me.

I'm currently an aspiring do-gooder with grandiose dreams of helping people in need (like the abused, the underprivileged) but having a hard time doing it. My multiple advanced degrees and years of training are apparently more than non-profits need. Never mind that they struggle to keep a staff. Go figure.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Anyway, as a child and teen I used to write- creative stories, keeping a journal- but I quit all that when I went to college and then graduate school. Now, with my many degrees under my belt, I keep feeling the urge to write, and I finally have the time, now that I'm done with school and looking for a job.

I started (and will continue) a blog at TVGuide.com called EDJ's Random Thoughts on Entertainment. I enjoy doing it, but it focuses exclusively on TV shows, and I wanted to branch out into other topics. I'll start posting on blogcritics.org, too, but I wanted to do a blog where I could blog about, well, anything, so here you go.

To the two people who may read this... I hope I don't drive you crazy.

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