‘Heroes Reborn’ and The Diversity Thing

Posted by Susan Bahaduri & filed under Superheroes, Television.

Credit: comingsoon.net
Credit: comingsoon.net

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I will admit that I have no previous knowledge of the Heroes franchise, so watching the premiere of Heroes Reborn, which included the first and second episode entitled “Brave New World” and “Odessa” respectively, was an entirely new experience for me. These are the views of a newbie, in other words.

***There may be some spoilers ahead***

When I jumped in, I was quickly impressed by the cinematography and how grand everything appeared. Throughout, I also noticed how almost picturesque some of the shots looked, as if taken straight out of comic panels. While I thought that aesthetic effect certainly added to the atmosphere, I was unenthused way too soon into the premiere. There were too many ineluctable clichés in various ways, one of those being the characters.

While there seems to be a slight mix of characters, it isn’t anything we have not seen before. The focus of the show is on primarily white characters, mainly Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman); to be fair, he is a major character from the original show. Still, the majority of the spotlight remains on stereotypical characters.

Credit: Gamezone

Credit: Gamezone

To put things into context, the premiere begins at The Odessa Summit in Texas, which is cut short by an unidentifiable attack. The show takes place a year after this event, and it seems that the suspect of the “terrorist attack” is (of course) the only brown guy we catch a glimpse of, Dr. Mohinder Suresh, a character from the original Heroes played by Sendhil Ramamurthy. Since I have not yet watched the original Heroes, I am assuming that I am missing out on his fuller characterization and role in the franchise, so I won’t make judgments quite yet — plus, it appears most characters on the show are sure he is not responsible for the attack. This could potentially be an important arc for the show. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.

The clichés really began for me in the scene of what looked like an underground Evo’s Anonymous meeting, probably the prelude to a revolutionary group or uprising (I hope). This is where the now popular allegory of oppression that white Hollywood loves so much cropped up (see: The Hunger Games, War of the Worlds, etc. Although these films are different as they involve the end of the world/dystopias and not superheroes, the principle element remains the same). All of the people in the meeting talking about the discrimination they face as evolved humans are white. There is one Asian man seen in the background at one point if you look closely but he doesn’t speak. Hate to be a buzzkill here, but that’s boring and it made me roll my eyes so far back into my head. If you’re going to play with an allegory of oppression — inspired by real oppression and discrimination — it doesn’t actually make sense to then marginalize characters of colour or leave them out altogether. It just comes off as insincere.

And that’s what sets up the rest of the show.

We have the stereotypical plot line involving the awkward white high school boy, Tommy (Robbie Kay), his crush, and her jock bully boyfriend. Little do they know, Tommy’s not only sensitive, awkward, and nice, but he’s also an evo.

Over in L.A. we meet Carlos (Ryan Guzman), and while his dull introduction didn’t intrigue me initially, I became more interested once I met the rest of his family. They live in a poor Hispanic neighbourhood, and we get to see how the conflict involving evos has affected this particular community. I like the concept of a local vigilante (who happens to be Carlos’ brother at first) dressing up as a Mexican wrestler called El Vengador to protect his own. I think this storyline definitely has potential, especially given its setting.

I was looking forward to seeing Judi Shekioni on the show playing Joanne, but I was disappointed and eventually just annoyed at her character. She goes around with her husband Luke (Zachary Levi) hunting evos. It would be more interesting if their characters didn’t appear so one-dimensional: Luke is always stoic, calm, clearly intelligent, and takes the spot easily as the rational, logical white guy. On the other hand, Joanne is always the one to shoot first, and not ask questions even later, and she’s always on edge, jittery, and/or aggressive; in other words, she’s highly emotional in a negative way. So yes, Heroes Reborn even provides you with that archetypal masculine/feminine couple. It is kind of disappointing to see one of the only black characters portrayed this way.

The most intriguing subplot for me would have to be Miko Otomo’s (Kiki Sukezane) A.K.A. Katana Girl’s storyline, taking place in Tokyo. Miko can dive into the virtual world of a game called “Evernow” and take shape within it. Her objective in the game appears to be slicing up bad guys with her katana until she finds and rescues her father. I am unsure what her power actually is, or if it is simply the ability to enter virtual reality. I’m looking forward to seeing this subplot development the most.

The show definitely has a lot of explaining to do in general as it covered so much and so many people in so little time.

As per usual in Hollywood, I feel like so far Heroes Reborn is trying too hard for “diversity” in the superficial sense. Hollywood needs to stop aiming for the label of diversity purely for the sake of the label. Shonda Rhimes explained it well at the Human Rights Campaign’s LA Gala:

“I really hate the word ‘diversity’…It is just something other. Something special, like it’s rare. ‘It’s diversity!’ As if there is something unusual about telling stories about women or people of color or LGBT characters on TV. I have a different word. I call it ‘normalizing.’ I make TV look like the world looks.”
Shonda Rhimes

Indeed, this was just the beginning, but Heroes Reborn gave us a tedious, questionable start. I hope the creators flesh out the characters further, and do justice to the promising plot points. I won’t even say that “diversity” is key here, but rather genuine and real character development is key. That is what will allow for a believable, and truly diverse ensemble. Given how banal much of the show is so far, the evolution of the characters is a necessity.

Watch Heroes Reborn Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC.

More on the premiere of Heroes Reborn by Jeff Jensen at Entertainment Weekly.

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