Ensemble cast, serialized story-line, plot twists galore, sounds a little bit like LOST except for one thing: it’s starting to make sense.
After LOST achieved primetime success with its stealth-sci-fi model, every network, including its own, sought to replicate the formula. The following season was deluged with edgy sci-fi shows like Threshold, Surface, Invasion, ABC even dipped its foot in the horror waters with Night Stalker (and quickly pulled it back), yet not a single one of these shows grabbed numbers anywhere approximate to LOST. It seemed the first pass at replicating LOST’s success was a complete failure. Then, there was Prison Break.
When the stuffed shirts analyzed why Prison Break was attracting the same kind of crowd as LOST, it suddenly became clear. LOST wasn’t just a sci-fi show, it was a serialized drama; if anything it was the sci-fi-lite approach, almost denying itself entry into the genre, that made LOST so accessible to such a large viewing audience. To succeed, you needed the good serialized plot, ensemble cast, and a foot in reality, no matter how tenuous.
Another season later, the shows leaning more towards the straight up reality based serials, Vanishing and Kidnapped, are dropping like flies. Heroes, on the other hand, has seemed to nail the formula once and for all. Slowly unveiling a seeded threat amongst a tapestry of characters beginning to come to grips with their own special powers, Heroes retains the cornerstone of the LOST formula, the serialized plot, with what I consider to be the missing ingredient: well hidden sci-fi.
It is not even the credibility of the idea behind Heroes, that people could possess genes which would give them super powers, that matters. It’s all nonsense, just as much as any element of LOST. What sets these shows apart from the sci-fi is the realistic way the characters interact with these things. Characters in Heroes have the same reaction you would expect from any genuine living being. None of them are particularly qualified to be super Heroes. The result is a mix of angst, arrogance, fear, self loathing, confusion, and of course a little wonder. It is appropriate that the most prepared for hero status is Hiro, a fellow from Japan with the power to control time and space, temporarily. He is also the most child-like. His sense of destiny is more focused on being a comic effigy of himself; he is the innocence of the story. No doubt, he will eventually die a horrible death.
Formula, characterization, and charismatic cast aside, Heroes performance in the competitive Monday night prime time arena has been impressive. Heralded by many as the biggest hit of the season, Heroes has yet to pierce the Nielsen top ten but its staying power has positioned it for a slot in that canonizing list once the seasons cool-down period takes effect.
A lot of fans credit the success of Heroes directly to the fact that you really have a sense that the story is coming together, which is a polar opposite of LOST fans assessment of their program of choice. In this sense it is very possible that Heroes may not have just matched the LOST formula, but exceeded it.