Last night NBC’s new Monday line-up debuted in full with the first episode of Heroes, which was followed up by Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The media has been salivating about the possibility of Studio 60 failing – show creator Aaron Sorkin is, I guess, hated for being wildly talented and having the ability to turn an hour of TV into sublimely great art and entertainment. And having once smoked a lot of crack. But the point is that last week’s premiere, which followed two exhausting hours of Deal or No Deal, saw the show losing viewers halfway through (wow, can you imagine that the stimulus/response people who watch Deal or No Deal (admission: I love it) wouldn’t get into Sorkin’s cerebral, talky behind-the-scenes show?) and the press cackled in glee, not even taking note of the fact that the show was damn good.
And the second episode was even better. Amanda Peet, playing the president of fiction TV network NBS, remains the show’s Achilles heel – she’s utterly terrible – but ‘The Cold Opening,’ about the week leading up to the first episode of the venerable live late night sketch comedy show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip after the program’s original creator flipped out and was fired and the prodigal sons Bradley Whitford and Chandler Bing were brought back to run it, was almost brilliant. There’s a moment where the characters finally figure out what the opening sketch of the show will be, and the depiction of creative inspiration was exhilarating. Sadly, the musical number they came up with wasn’t very good, and the show would have been wise to end just before it came on, but that’s a relatively small complaint compared to the hour of sharp and funny character work that preceded it.
Which is infinitely more than I can say for Heroes, the latest show in the “let’s ape Lost” sweepstakes, and I presume the next show to join Invasion, Surface and Threshold on the trash heap of TV history. Heroes isn’t just terrible, it’s excruciatingly bad. I don’t know that there’s a single element of Heroes that I can praise… well, the cheerleader girl is hot.
The show gets off to a bad start with a boring opening – remember the opening of Lost, the show you’re trying to be? It opened strong, sucking us right into the story and the action. It was one of the boldest openings of any TV series ever, and it worked. The opening of Heroes (and I’m not even talking about the pretentious opening text crawl, which threatened this as “Volume One” of the adventures of these dull people) was sluggish, and I found myself drifting away three minutes in.
Things never improved – almost all of the casting feels off, and none of the actors seem particularly inclined to a career in the performing arts. The writing is atrocious, filled with heavy exposition and thudding dialogue. And all of that bad dialogue is coming from characters who are impossible to care about (even the Japanese guy, who seems to have set the internet abuzz – hey, internet, just because a character is a nerd doesn’t mean you have to like him). Most damning is that the special effects suck, and the pilot episode of a show as ambitious as this needs to put the money shots up front. When Cheerleader-X’s wounds heal the digital effect was strikingly terrible, as were the final flying gags.
Apparently the pilot episode was originally two hours and was cut in half – with that in mind I am giving next week a shot. Maybe the painful pacing issues were due to editorial reshuffling, although none of that will explain why there’s not a decent writer working on this show. Still, Heroes is obviously stillborn.
That means Studio 60 has an uphill battle without a strong lead-in. Let’s hope that Sorkin’s genius isn’t dragged down by Heroes‘ shittiness.