Which super power would you choose? When I was young, the one I quite wanted was invisibility. I imagined myself sneaking into the bedrooms of all the girls I fancied and persuading them that I was an incubus come to satisfy their every desire.
An ability to arrest time with a stopwatch would be a handy power too, as would being able to fly or teleport. But the impression I get with super powers is that you’re not allowed to be too greedy. I was trying to think which low-level super power I’d accept today and I realised how unambitious I’ve become. Being able to go to the loo without ever again needing to wipe your bottom — I’d be quite happy with that. Always going to sleep within 30 seconds of one’s head hitting the pillow, that would be even better. Or how about — completing one’s next novel, rewrites included, in less than a year: God, how I’d kill for that one.
So this week, as you may have guessed, we’re talking about Heroes (BBC2, Wednesday), the new US import about a disparate group of young people (the Japanese manga-reading sarariman; the blonde Texan cheerleader; the Indian biologist, etc.) united by the fact that they all have special powers.
The best deal has gone to the Texan girlie, who gets to walk through infernos, get her hand mangled in the kitchen waste-disposal unit, fall off high buildings so that her ribs poke hideously through her flesh, and get her neck accidentally broken by the college football jock, but then end up totally unscathed because of her remarkable auto-regenerative skills.
Another one can fly; another one can bend the space-time continuum; another can read people’s thoughts; but it’s not all good. You wouldn’t want to be the tortured artist who paints apocalyptic visions of the future because he’s so appalled he takes too many drugs and then blows his head off. Nor, probably, the (very sexy) blonde part-time stripper with the evil mirror-twin-cum-guardian-angel who does things like brutally murder men who are trying to rape her.
I like this sort of tosh, probably enough to keep on watching, but only just — which is my problem with pretty much all US TV drama that isn’t The Sopranos. It never seems to be constructed on the basis: ‘Just how totally brilliant can we make this programme?’ but much more on the lines of: ‘What’s the maximum level of crapness we can inflict on our audience, while yet keeping them watching.’
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about Heroes is just how much of each episode is dedicated to plot recapping. Not only is there the bit at the beginning that tells you what happened last week; there’s also a further mini-recap, as each character is reintroduced, of what they previously got up to.
Here, you get the impression, is a series bending over backwards to attract the all-important very-stupid-person-with-goldfish-attention-span-and-appalling-short-term-memory demographic. If it isn’t, why does it have lines like this. Mother to daughter on seeing a man who is quite obviously the girl’s (adoptive) father walking in through the door: ‘Your father’s home.’
Dexter (FX, Tuesday), aimed at a slightly more sophisticated audience, is cooler, more knowing, shot in the arthouse style of Six Feet Under and American Gothic. But scratch the surface of its clever Big Idea and what you get is something quite nasty and sordid, not all that far removed from torture porn.
By day the hero (Michael C. Hall, the uptight gay one in Six Feet Under) is a forensic scientist specialising in blood-spatter analysis at the Miami police department but by night — clever Big Idea coming up — he’s a serial killer. But a serial killer in a good way, you understand. He’s nice to his pretty cop sister, is doing his best not to act too weird with his equally pretty girlfriend, and he only butchers people who deserve it.
So, for example, at the end of this week’s episode we were invited to applaud as he pinned a young man to an operating table with clingfilm and went to work on him, slowly with a scalpel and drill. The young man, Dexter had discovered using his painstaking forensic skills, was a persistent drunk-driver, who had killed or maimed several innocents in different states, but had always got off by using pseudonyms or weeping crocodile tears in court. Just in case we missed the vital moral message that Dexter was involved in good disembowelment, not bad disembowelment, he did so while showing his victim videos of the last happy young-man-with-a-bright-future-ahead-of-him that he had drunkenly mowed down. Phew, so that’s all right, then.
Hey, while writing this I’ve suddenly realised I already do have one of those incredible super-powers-with-concomitant-flaw. I am Magnifiwriter, every one of whose golden sentences is wise, funny or true. But my Kryptonite-style weak spot is that only a tiny handful of dedicated fans know this. To the rest of the world, I’m just a cultish lightweight.