We don’t need another Heroes

Yet another show has appeared — Alphas on Syfy — about a group of super-powered misfits who must team up to save the world by virtue of the respective special gift/curse each one possesses. This, of course, was the premise of X-Men, The Fantastic Four, The Incredibles, Charmed, Heroes, and many, many similar fantasies, most recently No Ordinary Family on the ABC network here in the U.S.

The general unifying conceit, of course, is that anything that makes you special, even if it’s a super-power that enables you to save the world, also singles you out, separating you from the fellowship of humanity and therefore making you a kind of outcast.

The problem is that it’s a tired, obvious idea, with limited dramatic potential, since every character is stuck in their own private dialectic — either embracing their particular power as a true mark of their identity, or else doing the opposite, trying to assert to an uncomprehending world that “this thing you see first about me is not really who I am!” This was precisely the point of the wickedly deconstructive Mystery Men.

Only one show ever got things right, a brilliantly conceived BBC series from 1968-1969 called The Champions. The elegant premise of this show was that none of the three protagonists (two men and a woman) were actually misfits, because they all had exactly the same super-powers.

The three government agents, their plane having crash-landed somewhere in the Himalayas, were rescued and nursed to health by a mysterious advanced civilization. Except that they were all put together better than before, so they now possessed superior intellect, strength, vision, hearing, a modest pre-cog capability, and a limited ability to read each others’ minds. Nothing as flashy as flying or invisibility, just humans “turned up to eleven” as Nigel Tufnel might say.

The brilliance of this premise is that the three protagonists, because they possess identical gifts, are allowed to be individuals. Their powers do not define their interactions, but merely enhance them, putting everything on a higher level.

This is not like, say Monk or Numbers or Columbo or House or Heck Ramsey or The Closer or The Pretender (I could go on — the list is very long) where one flashily hyper-brilliant misfit sucks up all the oxygen in the room.

No, to each other, the Champions are perfectly normal, charming, funny, interesting, human, except of course that everything between them is happening on a wonderfully advanced level. I suspect that today, in the hands of an Aaron Sorkin or Joss Whedon, a show with this premise would blow all those “group of misfits” fantasies out of the water.

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