8. Heroes, "The Second Coming" (3x01; NBC, 9/22/08)
Read more after the jump.
As Heroes entered its second season, it carried the burden of megahit expectations and thus made a bid to be taken as some kind of serious enterprise, not some fluky one-hit wonder cult show that miraculously veered into the mainstream. Heroes abandoned the breakneck, reckless pace of season 1 in favor of methodical and deliberate storytelling, delaying gratification for a built-up payoff, and psychologizing its characters; in short, it tried to grow up in season 2, which, not coincidentally, was terrible. Heroes succeeded in the first place because of its narrative excesses bordering on ADHD to the point that continuity and logic were minor inconveniences to be dealt with with the least effort possible so that it can return to throwing mounds and mounds of "plot" "development" (in the guise of big balls of fire and GUNZ) at the viewer each week. (Also, as a character on another program often used to say, psychology is a soft science.) And therein lies the secret sauce that makes Heroes such a radical narrative -- no other primetime show is so concerned with the immediate moment, constantly destroying and then regenerating its own mythology in an endless process, even while it supposedly operates within the continuity-obsessed genre of serial narratives. That might smell like excusing inept storytelling, and in a narrow way that assessment is kind of right, but Heroes elevates itself above dreck (unbeknown to people like EW's Jeff Jensen) because of its camp absurdity, mixed in with its fondness to slyly play with and tweak its own fans.
Case in point: "The Second Coming." Hiro makes a stupid decision that basically sets the third season in motion, and you can blame the writers for resorting to such a cheap tactic to get Hiro from out behind his desk, or embrace its cheek for departing from solemnity and knowingly going with the ridiculous, a love of adventure for adventure's sake. What's more, when Sylar stalks Claire in the Bennet home, what should be a scene thick with tension is undercut by Sylar when he summarizes his Mexican jaunt from last year, "That’s all behind me now... It was like a long night after a bad taco." A line that corny would sink more serious shows, but if we keep in mind the campiness of Heroes, his line is golden. And generous supervillain that he is, we get another keeper of a quote, this time one that teasingly acknowledges us stupid fans: "Eat your brain? Claire, that's disgusting."
Indie rating: The Zombies - "What More Can I Do"