Why Heroes was Cancelled–and Deserved It!

Update: I noticed you seem to like Heroes quite a bit! Did you know that Microsoft and NBC are talking about reviving the series? Check out my post about the possibility of Heroes Season 5!

Heroes Died On Its Own Sword

I remember when I began watching the first season of Heroes, a little nervous of this seeming X-Men Lite show from the very beginning. But over the course of that first season I found that very shortly I could scarcely wait to watch the next episode as the mystery of the villanous Sylar and his role in destroying New York City unfolded. The show seemed to have everything it needed: an engrossing plot, a frighteningly powerful villain with a plan, a cute girl, comic relief, political tension, the mysterious Mr. Linderman, and of course, a character with the proper soul of a Hero, Peter. I’ve talked about Heroes before, of course, and like the show itself my hopes and thoughts for its future have fluctuated from the positive to the abysmal. So goes the nature of a show that nobody had a clear vision for, and as much as I sort of wish I was, I’m not remotely surprised that it’s now officially been cancelled by NBC.

So now the question is, why was Heroes cancelled? This is a topic that could go on forever, and I’ve already reviewed a few other blogs and media outlets dishing ever so briefly on the topic, so now I think it’s time I had a bit of say, myself.

1. Let’s start with the obvious: following the first season, the show failed to ever execute a cohesive, well-planned plot or villain again. Sylar, in season one, was a masterpiece of a television villain, played to near perfection by Zachary Quinto. Season 2 didn’t really have a villain at all, Season 3′s “Villains” arc suffered a similar fate (Arthur Petrelli was OK, but really just a crusty, much less intimidating retread of Sylar), and while Season 4′s Samuel character was an interesting character, he was a useless villain with an ability so lame that all anyone had to do was run away from him in order to take it away. And while it was clear early on that the writing team on the show really tried to make the final season much better, and to a large part they succeeded, there were simply too many other problems, which we’ll get to.

2. Character development. Perhaps only a little less annoying than its plot issues was the show’s character development, specifically because, there pretty much wasn’t any. By the end of the final season, Claire was still the same whiny, self-flagellating brat she’d been since season one, only by then it had gone from being the endearing mark of a character going through something new and scary, to that place where you’re just sick and tired of hearing her whine about being different. Come on, Claire, get over it and move on, already! The same was true of One-Note-Nathan, who like any living politician stereotype, wobbled endlessly between the side of good and the side of evil. By the time he died, I was glad to see him go, and a lot of other people were too. There are only so many times you can watch the same character flip-flop back and forth. Pick a damn side and let’s get on with it.

3. Meaningless deaths. In the first season, we got some real deaths, and they were pretty damn sad. Charlie, Isaac, Simone, all were reasonably well developed (less so in Charlie’s case, but she was developed very well in a short space) and that worked out. Unfortunately, nobody ever died and stayed dead again after that. Charlie ended up being brought back during the fourth season, which really served no greater purpose than to ruin the original story’s sadness; Nathan, even after being killed in season 3′s finale, kept right on coming back to life via Sylar in season 4; Nikki, the show’s most annoying character from the very first episode, came back as a clone. Time after time, characters were shot, beaten, maimed and blown to smithereens, only to somehow return again. If there are no real death stakes, what’s the point of killing the character at all?

4. Stakes and consequences. The stakes rarely got any bigger on Heroes, either in the sense of devastating plots or in the sense of transformational character events. No, Arthur draining off Peter’s powers does not count. What characters needed were life-altering events like you’d find on better shows such as Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was unilaterally a superior Superhero show to Heroes. There, we watched the writers do horrific things to established, recurring characters, killing off some, utterly reshaping the character of others. No character on Heroes ever faced stakes where they would have no choice but to cut down the person they love the most in order to save the world. No character on Heroes ever fell in love only to have that loved one brutally murdered before their eyes. And when Heroes characters died and returned, there was no price to pay, no shift in the balance of the world’s power, no consequences. When Buffy died while saving the world and was (months later) resurrected, there were consequences first for her character, which was fundamentally transformed by the trauma of death and bliss of Heaven, and later for an entire season as her return had triggered a shift in the balance of the world’s power that ultimately lead to the deaths of several of her allies and goodness knows how many additional innocents. Heroes never played with stakes like that.

5. Lack of advance planning. Heroes creator Tim Kring has said publicly that they do not plan the series very far in advance, preferring to write by the seat of their pants so as to always introduce new story possibilities. I suppose as theories go, that’s all well and good, but it’s still no excuse for not establishing an overall framework for where your story will go. How can you possibly write a series that says something if you don’t have anything in mind you want to say? And therein lay perhaps the root of Heroes’ problems: it doesn’t really have a message. Buffy was about female empowerment; Angel was about the neverending battle between good and evil; Star Trek was about an optimistic view of the future and humankind’s ability to succeed in it; Veronica Mars was about both female empowerment and the ability to understand and deal with the world logically even when it wasn’t very logical; Battlestar Galactica (new version) was about how humankind is a screwed-up mess with no true direction, just a fantasy.

What is Heroes about? I have no idea, and really, neither do its creators. And that was ultimately its biggest failure, and the most prominent reason why not only did it fail, but it earned its failure.

  • JD

    Also, the show had no morals, and I’m NOT OK with morally gray.

    And you forgot all of the plot-holes. How did a fake Mr. Lenderman (invisible) have the ability to heal, etc etc etc

  • http://www.uglybabystudios.com Jason Ward

    Although I don’t think that’s a major reason why the show was cancelled, I agree with you that it IS a major failing of the show as a storytelling vehicle, particularly one that claims to be about HEROES. I’m OK with an exploration of the morally gray–it’s appropriate given that life has so much of it–but without major touchstones of Good and Evil to play against each other across that field of gray, it becomes very difficult to enjoy characters and story arcs on that front.

    I don’t remember the bit about the fake Mr. Linderman, though, nor the reference to “invisible.” Can you elaborate?

    Thanks! Great to hear from you! –Jason

  • http://www.facebook.com/scrubby.the.ninja Raven Bell

    the POINT of heroes was to show people that even though EVERYONE is different regardless of having superpowers or not we should ACCEPT them for who they are because no 2 individuals are alike so we should not judge others just because they are different it shows how people are deemed freaks just because they arent what society deems NORMAL which is a WAY better message or point than female empowerment females already have all the same rights as men and even more so in some cases like waitress jobs there are some businesses that refuse to hire a male wait staff but i digress, yes i agree Claire was a whiny little girl that never changed and just wanted to be “normal” but the true definition of a person being “normal” is to truly be themselves not trying to be someone they arent which Claire should have realized, yes Arthur was an old crusty and musty villain and sort of filler but Peter losing his powers was a major turn of events in Heroes, granted he was becoming “too powerful” but no one was better suited to have that power, and yes they lost there way when Arthur was killed they had no real Villain anymore since he was the head hancho and Samuel was just a rock moving version of Magneto and no stakes and consequesnces from altering the past? ok first off Hiro lost his powers yes he regained them but then he got the tumor yes it was removed then he was able to save Charlie only to lose her once again and when he finally cam back into contact with her she was around 60 yrs old and had a family thus rebreaking the heart of Hiro also when he went back to save her it made an impact on Sylar showing him that he didnt HAVE to kill and he would get a satisfaction from saving lives and still be able to figure out how to use their powers softening his heart of stone and yes most of the Heroes avoided the idea of love because they had more important things to worry about than emotional attachments granted it was very unclear where they were going with the 5th season but the fans needed some closure because that was a very open ending

  • Tracer

     I clicked on this, thinking that I would completely disagree and just get annoyed by your entire article. But I completely agree, it probably helped that you compared Heroes to BTVS, because I loved BTVS and Angel.
    While Buffy/Angel had it’s highs and lows, no matter how bad some of the seasons were, they always did something to propel the characters forward. By the last episode of Buffy(or Angel, for that matter) I was still emotionally invested in every single character, the writers still managed to surprise me with twists and turns.
    But with Heroes, I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters at the end. I was pretty much just watching to see what Sylar would do next. And to see what would happen to Parkman. My favorite part of Season 4 was the interaction between those two characters, but after that interaction went away, the story went no where. I just felt that by the end of the show, none of the characters had really grown or changed, except for Parkman.

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    Thanks for dropping in to comment, I really appreciate it :). I’m glad you enjoyed the article, it remains pretty busy even so long after it was published.

    I agree wholeheartedly, suffice to say, that by the end of Heroes it was tough to be emotionally invested in much more than what Sylar, ex-villain, would do next. And let’s face it: a show called “Heroes” should never have you become so apathetic toward its heroes that only watch for a villain or ex-villain.

    It’s sad, really; the show had such a brilliant start, it really could have been something amazing. Whereas I’ll still sometimes watch Buffy, Angel or Firefly (just got FF on Bluray, actually), I can’t see myself watching Heroes again, at least not past season 1.

  • Neosuperman14

    Should have ended after season one, or should have sacked Sylar and given Peter his more limited power from the beginning. and Hiro…. this guy was always going to be a problem mainly because of his timetravelling power

  • ben

    There are a lot of reasons why the show sucked but they needed to conclude it instead of leaving it on the edge. BTW does anyone know what happened to the invisible man in S1?

  • Jakerswm1983

    I think the show was ok, it din’t compare to some other shows that were on at the same time. Lost, Battlestar Gallactica and 4400 were all way better. No offense to you Raven Bell, but Heroes took way too many turns and had no direction. I’m pretty sure you’re the only one that felt that it put out that message. It’s not an Ayn Rand novel with some hidden message. The one thing I can say for the show, I think the actors all did a good job. Except for “one tone Nathan”. 

    What do you all think of 4400?

  • http://twitter.com/JMichaels_ John Michaels

    “Let’s start with the obvious: following the first season, the show failed to ever execute a cohesive, well-planned plot or villain again” Wrong, the villain just didn’t fit a preconceived notion. Spiderman, Superman, when they save the world the world says thank you and they fight the next super villain. The World itself became the villain of the series, never accepting the heroes and their abilities.  Would have been more customary for Sylar to try to take over the world with his powers.  Fight armies, until Peter came to stop him. Thats what they teased when Peter was told there was always a good one, just didn’t go that route. I longed for Sylar to go the typical route, but was intrigued by the direction he eventually went

  • Willzyac

    I’m sorry but I have to post here just to publicly declare how awful Heroes is.. I mean, I gave it chances time and time again to get better but it just didn’t! And, oh, I can’t believe the sucky finale! Epic battle between Peter and Sylar? Ummm.. Not! So lame…

  • JadeWest

    i loved heroes! i thought the drama was good! the first  and final seasons were the best, and i really liked that they made Claire and Elle two diffferent sides of the same coin, and how they acted, i hated when they killed elle. i really wanted to know what happened after Claire exposed them… :(

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    Mmm, I wouldn’t say that Heroes was unilaterally awful. The first season was great, with the exception of a ho-hum finale that didn’t give us the payoff we needed. I blame Tim Kring, personally, for botching the ending (and the next couple of seasons) after Bryan Fuller left the show. Prior to that, the writing was very good.

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    Mmm, I think that it’s very much a stretch to say that “the world itself became the villain.” Effectively what that means is, the show became so unfocused that it didn’t really know where it was going, so it just rambled along from one tangent to the next with no real sense of connectivity.

    I was also intrigued by Sylar for a time, but the constant flip-flopping from good guy to bad guy to “I can’t decide!” guy became annoying, just like it did with Nathan Petrelli (who was a character who desperately needed to get off the damned fence and pick a side :)

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    I’d contend that season 1 of Heroes was better than any season of Lost. However, both shows suffered from the fact that eventually they were such a product of “make it up as you go!” that they failed to really tell a compelling narrative. Lost, to its credit, did an amazing job of keeping the show interesting through its character development, but the plotting was…well, almost nonexistent.

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    I don’t believe we ever heard from Claude, the invisible man in season 1, again. That was especially strange considering that he knew enough about how Peter’s powers worked to TEACH Peter to use them, hinting that either a) he was *like* Peter and could absorb multiple powers, or b) that he’d known someone else who was. Either way, we never found out.

    As for the finale, I agree. But what bothered me even more about that ending than the “now what happens?” was the incredibly stupid “let’s shove DIRT at each other” fight between Peter and the circus freak. Talk about anticlimactic :P

  • Gogedgar025

    i really liked HEROES, i think all the seasons are great!!!. the best one was Claire always beautiful. I really wanted to see next season and know what happened to Claire after she exposed them. Unfortunately the show was cancelled.

  • Evanf240

    Don’t get me wrong I loved the show, but the 2 biggest problems were Peter and Hiro. Peter had any power he came in contact with, so that made him pretty much invincible, so their were no stakes for him, when they cut his power down, I was glad. As for Hiro, he could just stop time and get the hell out of there, the thing that got closest to killing him was his tumer, which his “DEAD” mother healed for him. I loved the show, but their was so many holes.

  • Guest

    Nikki didn’t come back as a clone, idiot. It was a completely different character that was Nikki’s twin sister. Same appearance, different character.

  • SmartViewer

    I read a lot of people saying how bad the show sucked. If it was so terrible why did you watch every episode and follow the news of it’s cancellation? It was a great show. The character development was lacking but then again character development in life is a slow process. I believe if the show had lasted a few more seasons there would have been time for that. Keep in mind successful shows like X-Files didn’t have much in that department either but lasted long enough to slip it in a little at a time. As far as villains. I love the archetype of a morally grey villain. It’s more intriguing than an all black and white dynamic. Perhaps the only real problem with the show and the reason it was canceled was it was marketed towards the wrong demographic. Intelligent audiences enjoy this type of story. It challenged conventional hero sagas. It will have a cult following that will eventually push it into a motion picture. Have any doubts about that just look at the firefly series that was canned after less than one season but so beloved by it’s fan base it became a film.

  • http://www.allthatgamingstuff.com/ JasonGW

    Thanks for the feedback, I always love to read it :). Now, as to why I watched the show, and indeed, the reason anyone did beyond the first season, is simply this: the first season was a masterpiece of storytelling and character development, where each piece contributed greatly to the final whole. That wasn’t the problem.

    The problem was that in subsequent seasons, the same care and attention to details simply wasn’t present. Instead, the writers left after Bryan Fuller was gone from the show simply rehashed development lines that had already been done in season 1. Claire is a prime example. In season 1, she’s coming to terms with her ability and the fact that she’s “a freak,” and has various conflict with her father because she doesn’t know that he’s dealt with special people for a very long time. In later seasons, she’s exactly the same and hasn’t changed–even after everything she’s learned and been through.

    Sylar was an exceptionally good villain during the first season of Heroes, but he was largely played out by the end of that season. While I appreciate leaving the door open for his character to return, he shouldn’t have been a constant character for the next three seasons. It’s great to have villains with depth, but what they did with Sylar wasn’t deep, it was simply repetitive. He bounced from “I’m evil!” to “I’m good” far too frequently (a trait shared with Nathan Petrelli).

    And while I appreciate the Firefly mention–because let’s face it, Firefly is one of the great pieces of television Sci-Fi, and deserved to have its story finished–Heroes is no Firefly. If it had died unceremoniously at the end of season 1, then maybe we’d have something similar, but Heroes wasn’t at all like Firefly. From the outset, Heroes was an intriguing and high rated success; millions tuned in to watch it week in and week out to find out how the ending would unfold. Season 2 obviously suffered from the writer’s strike, but 3 and 4 were victims only of poor writing and not nearly enough planning. After season 1, 4 was probably the second best season, thanks in large part to the fact that Bryan Fuller returned, albeit too briefly, to map out the season’s story arc and pen a couple of episodes. It’s a shame he didn’t stay–maybe things would have turned out better than an embarrassingly lame battle of shoving dirt-clods :p

  • Thetruth

    I have to disagree with this post entirely, i found that the show had amazing character development, you saw peter turn from a nurse with no direction to becoming a true hero, and the same for all the other characters, firstly, nikki didnt return she did die, however who ever made the formula gave it to her other twin and i disagree with her being annoying….what are you gay?…. the first time you see nikki shes in her undies……, you truly get to see her role as a mother torn between a spilt personality and how she copes, nathan i thought was a brilliant character, the brother of peter, always thinking he was right and that he knew the best, i felt truly shocked when he died, and to use sylar in his body was an epic twist to an already amazingly gripping story, you may have your less than reasonable reasons to hate heroes, but when i finished watching season 5, i checked the internet to see when season 6 was coming out and i was absolutely mortified to hear it was cancelled.

    Oh and heroes is about the next stages of evolution and what it might be…..try and understand the show before you bash!!!

  • Thetruth

    Claire is a school girl, a cheerleader…..when claire at the end of season 4 jumps to expose herself to the public, you get to see all the milestones it took for her to get there, to stand out in the public against her fathers will, and expose the post-humans, that from being a cheerleader to exposition all the way to the eventual assassin so it may seem.

    We had yet to see anything, how hiro learnt better english, claires development was to mainly take place in the 6 season/volume. as well as many other, would peter ever get is original power back or will he be stuck with one, what happens now that the humans are aware of post-humans, will they round them all up, will it be humans vs post-humans, will they use deadly post-humans agains the heroes, where would each character stand, is that why claire was hunting peter???? so many questions unanswered. I guess we will never know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ptaegel Paul Taegel

    You make a bunch of valid points, but it seems that you, like a lot of people, hated seasons 2-4 because they weren’t season one. Personally my enjoyment of the show only increased. Sure, not everything worked as well as others, but the show kept taking risks, which is what I found interesting about it. It would have been easy to repeat several iterations of season 1, and I’m glad Kring resisted that temptation. All in all, I feel Heroes came up with some of the most memorable characters ever.

    One point I’ll address about season 4: Samuel’s power. You’re right. It was problematic (and the cosmology was a little screwy). But the solution wouldn’t be to make him more powerful. He should’ve had an even less useful (in combat) power. Samuel was an effective villain because he was such a good manipulator. Like a cult leader (a comparison made by Bennet and his hot sidekick/girlfriend). He didn’t need any powers. He should’ve been able to turn water into single malt or something.

    Just a few thoughts.

  • ben

    Really as you pointed out, there was no plan. I found many holes in the plot and the characters. Not counting season 2, they left hooks unexplored so they could go back to good vs evil flipping. I just watched all of the episodes back to back (about 6 a day) and i loved all of it, but stan lee was in the show and he should have not let it fall apart like it did!

  • Oman

    Nobody ever sees what shows really are and the messages they convey. This show show had so many beautiful stories. A troubled family with a secret (Claire and Noah), a lost cop wanting to be someone and raise a family (Matt Parkman), a family with plans for a safe future rather than a natural destiny (The Petreli Family). But then you also have so many great possibilities with great characters like Mohinder, Emma, Molly, Charlie and Hiro, and many more.
    Some things should have been different, but so many messages of love and dedication can be seen through all 4 seasons.

  • StevenH

    Stan Lee has been a part of as many failures as he has great movies. The ending was the worst thing they could have done. Not the series but NBC, they thoroughly betrayed anyone who had ever watched the show with the ending they left us with.

  • Clairelover737537

    The show was too good to be cancelled. I’m 12 and loved all of the plot twists and problems. I didn’t think it was confusing at all! I had to explain why things happened to most people but the last scene set up for too much to be cancelled. “This is Claire Bennett Attemt number… Well… I’ve lost count by now.”

  • TMills4Three

    Fake Mr. Linderman whom only Nathan could see was just thoughts being pushed from Parkman’s dad.

  • Anon

    i agree with most of this, but the show, even past season 1, still had the occasional beautiful moment.

    my favorite part of the series for example was when hiro meets his mother in the past and she restores his memories

  • Karin Flores

    i love heroes !!! and although its cancelled I’m still obsessed with the show and watch episodes on Netflix. I’m a college student and I still manage to squeeze in time for heroes. i wish they would revive the show :(

  • Rachael A. Davis

    I really liked Heroes but your points were very valid. This show would have been phenomenal in the hands of better writers. The flip-flopping was old and the characters just weren’t congruent with themselves. I mean freaking Dr. Suresh was a straight up murderer for a while and it was so sudden, no tragedy or torment got him to that place. He turned buggy, freaked out, killed for a while, and then got over it. I miss the show but they need to plan out the episodes and make sure they are being true to the characters and story line. Claire is definitely gotten old with the poor me stuff and I hate how she is surprised every time she learns her dad did something aweful, after a while I think I would be like “ya, ok.”

  • Daniel

    This show is the very reason some people understand good and evil as an inner fight that connects us all by simply tapping into your true power. Without thought, life still unfolds. The writers were smart but they had so much power they didnt want to limit it. They meant to righteously shape their thoughts into a conscious currently relevant TV series that was basically chasing time while we (the viewers) chase an answer to our own lives.

  • Lydia

    I loved heroes this is shit I fucking loved it wats up with NBC are they fucking stupid

  • Dave Strum

    The first season sucked. I felt it never made it to the end of the show by the end of the show. It’s one of those 5 steps forward and 3 steps back. They could have done the season in half the episodes and not left anything out. I loved the show but tired of the constant flashbacks. Maybe I could have found it easier to follow with a hit of acid. Anyway Syler was amazing as was Peter. The yin and yang of the show ending in a final showdown in the last show. Since it ended where it did, it was a good place to stop.

  • Zach

    I agreed with many of your points, Jason, but disapproved of equally as many, simultaneously.
    It’s true that Heroes felt under plotted at times, given slightly above the usual, but it did/does have many meanings, wonderful morals.
    One of the reasons I love the Star Wars storyline is because we see a character who is literally caught between good and bad, Anakin. A similar portrayal of an anti-hero was shown in Heroes, presented as the twisted yet misjudged character we have come to know as Sylar. It’s a greater metaphor of reality then any other fictional point, focusing on Humanity. No Human being has been known to have only ever done bad in their life, there’s a light and dark to us all. The best metaphor to extract from this series is that some people can change, no matter the level of bad they have committed.

    Other than my topics above, I agree with Claire. Her father did some messed up shit to many innocent people, her supporting him isn’t showing a child’s devotion to her father but a corrupted sense of how far an individual can go in denying reality. Noah is an asshole, whether he aims to protect society or not is beside the point in his case. If anything Claire should have disowned him or stayed viciously angry at him for a couple of years or something. All in all I agree with a lot of points you suggested but hey, every show/film have some bumps and cracks. I honestly think Heroes would have reached it’s ultimate season if it continued, they just needed to create a character that threatened both the specials and ordinaries.

    Very well written, Mr Ward :)

  • Zach

    He’s trying to say they came up with a basic minded plot to keep the actress who plays Nikki in the series. In other words she was ‘cloned’ and kept in the show. That I agree with because I thought the same point, before coming across Jason’s blog.

  • wawa

    this post is sucks! the same in NBC. you have a lot of comments but you watch it until the end. if you judge the work of the other then you should not watch it at first.

  • Bob

    Bring it back! It was a dope show! If you don’t like it then fuck off! They should have finished it instead of just dropping it with all these unanswered questions!

  • Oscar Emond

    I loved the series and there are only two points I disliked:
    1. Easy character seduction: pretty easy to spot really, we’ll just be sitting in a scene with Maya talking to Suresh about how he’s going to help her and all of a sudden their clothes start coming off! (This is an actual scene from season 3)

    2. After a while Gabriel/Sylar became a little boring and many of us missed his old agenda: A murderer with feelings who none of us saw as a bad guy. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved his inner conflict and eventual redeeming (for example I love the episode: The Wall) but after a while it felt like the carnival began to kill the Gabriel we all know and love by infecting his place in the plot.

    But all in all, I will always hold this series near to me.

  • Oscar Emond

    And I think everyone loved the episode when he kills his mother. Easily for the story telling.

  • aden

    Well x man is basically the same as heroes two different sides the good mutant that wanted to save the human and the bad mutant that wanted to kill them and then the 3rd villain which is everyone that aren’t blessed with the powers of the mutants wanting to get ride of all the other people that are different have powers. So basically what I’m getting at is how come x man has movie after movie when basically the same concept as heroes

  • Shevan

    No the show was great just because charictors didn’t change or came back like nickie it was still good and there always was some kind of good villain but yes clair pissed me off many times throu that shoe

  • yattafan

    Fuck you

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