Heroes and V: Ordinary Lives in Science Fiction

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Heroes is still my second-favorite show on TV right now, behind Dollhouse. But something occurred to me last weekend when I was watching the original V miniseries. One of the things many have said was new and original to Heroes was that they came at it from the everyday lives of ordinary people and focusing as much on how their lives are affected as on the science fiction elements. This was especially true in the first season, and it got increasingly less so as the show moved on (until the second half of last season and the first half of the current season, where we've gotten a lot more of that).

What occurred to me last weekend is that this isn't really all that new. It's new for a superhero TV show, but it's not new for science fiction. Heroes was just doing for superhero stories what V had done decades earlier for alien invasion stories. The original miniseries was especially focused on how the alien occupation affected ordinary people. I don't think I've ever made that connection before, and I'm pretty sure I've never noticed anyone else doing so.

Heroes is much better on interesting science fiction elements than V ever was, though. Also, compare Deep Impact and Armageddon, where you have a contrast between the focus more on how ordinary people are affected vs. a spotlight on those who end up being instrumental in saving the planet. There's something interesting about what Heroes season 1 did that's been diminished to a significant degree but somewhat returned of late, and I accept the value of that in the original V miniseries.

But it's not what drives me to science fiction, and I think that's what explains why I think Heroes got better even as many people thought it was getting worse and why I think Lost, which has now ended up being one of the most interesting shows I've ever seen, took way too long to start getting consistently interesting in the way that would keep me longing for the next episode the way I do with Dollhouse and Heroes (which didn't really happen until the second season, when they started introducing more concrete bits of the larger mysterious backstory that's driven the show since). And please don't tell me you thought Deep Impact was better than Armageddon. I wouldn't place the latter on my list of favorite movies, but at least it wasn't boring.

I'm much more fascinated with the focus on more science fiction elements like various creative powers, especially time travel, prophetic visions of the future, and memory-erasing. I've been interested in how they've handled what healers can and can't heal and the reasons why. Several elements that interested me included a virus that could kill all with abilities that was modified to affect everyone, a formula to give normals abilities, someone who could empathically imitate anyone's powers, several characters who steal powers in different ways, a character who can reactivate someone's powers who had been lost, and the most interesting science fiction move in a TV show in decades, the entire removal of one major character's personality and memories and its replacement with another who had just died (I won't spoil who for those who haven't seen it yet, including my wife who is more than a year behind on the show). If only they'd dragged it out longer and raised some of the philosophical questions more fully the way they are on Dollhouse.

That being said, I really did enjoy V. There was a dearth of science fiction when it was on in the early 80s. Battlestar Galactica was over. Star Trek: The Next Generation started a year or so after the regular TV show for V was canceled. What was especially good about the original miniseries wasn't the ordinary lives angle or the science fiction, though. It was the Nazi analogy. I'm glad to see that, even though they've removed the Nazi elements from the new V reboot, they've retained the fascist elements that are probably now going to be an even better analogy for any fascist-like elements of our own day without the Nazi distractions. It's too bad that they lost those as they lost and gained writers and had to deal with budget problems. But aside from not really being the most engaging kind of science fiction for me, and aside from the problems the show ended up having in its progressive incarnations, it was a major mainstay of my childhood entertainment (and we had them all on VHS, so we continued to watch them for years after it was off the air). It's still amazing to watch the original miniseries now and to see how effective it was at capturing that element that many have given such high praise for in Heroes, a full two decades earlier.

2 Comments

Even though the whole Star Child thing got really weird (while simultaneously being cool as they wrestled with using the Red Dust) I still thoroughly enjoyed it for years. I didn't notice the parallels with regular people dealing with the stuff and heroes until you pointed it out; I think it is still the reason that Season 1 of Heroes and the season where Sylar was struggling with being Sylar (can't remember which number that was) were my two faves. This season, they're doing that everyday life thing really well (at times) but there's some really annoying things in it that has made my wife quit.

I think that's what Tolkien was trying to do with the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings. And C.S. Lewis points out that the classic fairy tales did the same, starting out with a woodcutter or something. Just, as he put it, these days woodcutters are just as strange to us as the rest of the story, but in those days it was like starting with an average joe.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

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