No More Heroes – “Genesis”

When I was a junior in high school, I got a bad grade in something (for which read: everything), and my mom punished me where it counted. Television’s renaissance had just barely begun, it was September 2006, and the only TV show I watched regularly was Lost. The show may be remembered as hokey today, but there’s no denying its importance in changing how television was made, and more importantly how television was watched. It was the first successful show to require your full attention, from which point casual viewer became a pejorative.

By the second season, when I’d gotten into it, Lost already had its fist imitator in Invasion, a heavily stylized reimagining of Invasion of the Body-Snatchers that failed to catch on. Lost was doing well enough without me, but I yearned to see it. Instead, I had to listen to recaps on the Kevin and Bean show on KROQ before school, and they kept talking about how much it was going downhill. It got better, of course, but at the time I start to forget about Lost. Eventually, my grades got better or my mom caved, probably both, and I was flipping the channels when I came across Heroes. I’d recognized the name and characters’ faces from some silly-looking ads, but this episode, Hiros,” particularly intrigued me with the idea of a man who paints the future. At the time, it was running against– and beating– 24.

So what happened? Tim Kring was credited as the creator of the show, but most of its initial genius came from the prolific Bryan Fuller. Fuller was a co-executive producer in the first season and wrote “Company Man,” considered not only to be the best episode of the series, but one of the best episodoes of any TV show, ever. But Fuller left to create Pushing Daisies, leaving behind plans for an ambitious second season that was cut short by the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike. Tim Kring and NBC cut their losses and went full-retard for Season 3.

So it’s hard now to remember that Heroes was once both popular and good. When the show was so, so awful, it was easy to write off one’s original excitement as the result of youth and low expectations in a pre-Mad Men world. When I first suggested revisiting the first season on The Ed Hocken Show, both Hocken and Randall were horrified. So I was left to do it on my own, and I finally have.

A word to the wise, these reviews will be spoiler-free, though I will offer opinions about what’s to come.

“Genesis”

Aired 25 September 2006
14.1 million US viewiers

The pilot episode is a little clunky in terms of dialogue and character development, but there’s a lot of stuff going on, so it’s harder to notice. We start with Mohinder Suresh, a professor in Chennai explaining the premise of the show before discovering that his father was killed. Mohinder thinks it was murder as a result of his father’s research, so he gets information from his apartment, only to find an unidentified man is already there, and knows seemingly much more, as the same man runs into him whilst driving a taxi in Manhattan.

Where this show really falters is anytime Nikki Sanders shows up. She’s a mom-web-stripper-whatever with an adorable genius son, Micah, but all of her drama serves no purpose in terms of the show’s arc. Micah will, but he could just as easily have been another character’s kid. Nikki’s in trouble with some loan shark, and when they finally catch her, she discovers another personality with super-strength.

Some people are reacting to their newfound powers like normal people. Claire, a lonely cheerleader in Odessa, TX is just plain freaked out that she can’t die, but puts her power to use by rescuing someone from a fiery train wreck. We follow her home only to discover her father is the very man who was after Mohinder.

Hiro, an office drone in Tokyo who’s thrilled to be able to stop time. Hiro was a late addition to the script, but it’s impossible to imagine the show without him; he’s the heart of the show and gives each episode a break from the melancholy tone of the rest of the show. Hiro’s power accidentally takes him to New York City…and that’s the last we see of him.

If there’s one thing this show got right, it’s that being a Republican politician in 2006 really sucked. Nathan Petrelli is an running for congress in New York. He’s behind in the polls, but his problems are compounded by the fact that his dreamy-but-awkward brother Peter (designated protagonist) thinks he can fly because of some dreams he had. Both of them are harried by their cold mother.

Peter’s love interest is the daughter of his patient, but she already has a boyfriend: Isaac Mendes, who can paint the future– but only on heroin. He believes his addiction to cause these “evil” premonitions and decides to go cold turkey, but the girl, Simone, thinks that’s crazy and enlists Peter’s help in bringing him down, only to discover him overdosed with a new painting: New York being destroyed by an atomic bomb. And not only that, but a painting of Peter flying!

Peter’s emboldened to test out his skills, inviting Nathan to watch him jump off a building. But Peter can’t fly– Nathan can. But apparently Nathan isn’t strong enough to hold onto his brother and drops him. To Be Continued…

Extra Notes:

* The locations are very convincing to people who’ve (a) never been to the actual places and (b) aren’t familiar with Los Angeles. Seriously guys, there aren’t alleyways in Manhattan!
* Backdorm Boys. Timely.
* The inane Mrs. Bennet bears an uncanny resemblance to Michelle Bachmann. What does Noah see in her?
* So the Japanese were rocking skinny ties all the way back in 2006?
* We are all yogurt.
* The eclipse is a motif for the show, but doesn’t have any significance beyond the fact that “we’re all living on one planet.” This episode is full of awkward coincidences trying to ape Lost, and a major hero hasn’t even been seen yet, which is the focus of the next episode.

Interpol – “PDA”

When: After dark, 16 December 2002
Where: Pulling into my house
Who: My mother
Weather: Cold, clear

This was Monday, my birthday was Wednesday, my Bar Mitzvah was Friday, my father was in traction, and it suddenly occurred to me as we pulled into the driveway that I left my materials at Temple.

My mother didn’t like this song, but I did and I’d like it a lot more when I was older. We got back in the car, drove through the pitch black hills, got back to the now closed Temple, and my materials were on a table thanks to the awesome caretaker Reggie. My Bar Mitzvah went off fine, I went back to temple twice and never again.

So what can we say about 2002? It was a big change. I may have changed my preferred style of music, my status in the Jewish community, and my school, but I don’t think I’d matured very much. In both my life and my music, somebody else took the initiative and I went along for the ride. But that wouldn’t last.

Next: Wars and SARS! Infatuation and influenza! 2003!

Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”

When: 8 December 2002
Where: Lake Avenue exit eastbound, The 210
Who: My mother
Weather: Intermittently cloudy, wet

Here’s what happens: A Jewish boy takes Sunday School, then takes three years of Hebrew School, then takes a year to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Once that happens, he’s gone.

With all of this in mind, I headed home from Sunday school following an ethical discussion of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and this song came on. I asked my Mom if she thought it had a certain Beatlesque quality to it. I think I was thinking about “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Next: Racing to the finish

The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”

When: November 2002
Where: Mountain Street westbound
Who: My mother
Weather: Cold, overcast

When Jack White said he was taking a break from the Blues, he had no idea he was creating his signature style. And I had no idea that the album was over a year old when I heard the appropriately gloomy first track from White Blood Cells on a dark november afternoon.

Next: Winding down the Jewish journey with Soundgarden.

Hot Hot Heat – “Bandages”

When: Late October 2002
Where: Glendale Fish Market
Who: My father
Weather: Clear, mild

Nobody in late 2002 could have anticipated the avalanche of New Wave-Revivalists that started with this low-key Vancouver band, even if they had a #1 in Southern California. Fewer still could have predicted that their song “Bandages” would be twisted into a song about Benadryl. But that’s exactly what happened at Barnhart Middle School that fall.

This bugged the hell out of me. First of all, that joke doesn’t make any sense. Steve Bays’ singing wasn’t muffled or ambiguous; when he says “bandages” it doesn’t sound like any other word. Furthermore, the use of Benadryl in its place is meaningless. It’s not a real drug, it’s just antihistamine. And yet the mishearing was not unique to our school.

I ultimately chalked this up to more suburban kid weirdness. The reason I grew up in an urban environment, as opposed to these kids, was that my parents didn’t want me to turn into a bored little psychopath. Based on my experience, this was probably a wise decision.

Next: The White Stripes eschew summer to provide the definitive song of fall.

Foo Fighters – “All My Life”

When: 14 October 2002
Where: Gas Station, Glendale
Who: My mother*
Weather: Warm, clear

If the Foo Fighters had stayed on top of the post-grunge food chain, we might have had a chance. They are unquestionably the face and codifiers of the genre; they and Incubus were in still relevant; but unfortunately Sony dumped all their Nickelback and Creed albums on area Wal-Marts and we were left with a mess.

Luckily the Garage Rockers got rid of all that overblown crap, but to your typical 7th-grader, the Foo Fighters were still king.

The first time I heard this was pulling into a gas station in Glendale, the weekend after the network premiere of The Matrix. The song fit, but was atypical of the band. Dave Grohl et al later denounced and rejected their album One by One, pointing to a lack of effort that plagued every other post-grunge act. Suddenly they’d fallen into their own trap, but like Pearl Jam they would rescue their prestige by maintaining a low profile and continuing to work at a steady pace.

But, in the words of Thomas the Tank Engine, that’s another story.

*Yes, my mother is in here a lot. When you don’t have the means to get yourself around, your parents generally do that crap for you and the radio is usually on. I promise they’ll show up less and less starting now.

Next: New Wave Revival shows up way too early, and everybody turns it into a stupid joke.