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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