"Heroes." I'm glad I waited to do this one until now, because that sure was a whizzbanger of an episode last night, huh? Past experience with puzzle shows like "Lost" and "Twin Peaks" has me pessimistically looking for signs of decline in every "Heroes" installment, but the evidence is stacking up that Tim Kring and his staff are completely aware of the mistakes their predecessors have made and have planned for everything. The biggest problem with "Lost" right now is that the writers pointlessly cling to the flashback-every-week structure that got old before the first season was out. With the latest "Heroes" Kring threw out the format and told a sustained story set in one place, letting tension build rather than dissipating with flash cuts and placeholder storylines (like the one the last few weeks about Hiro and Bill Fagerbakke). However, I think I broke my friend Ken's heart when I said "Heroes" was never going to be able to reach the level of true greatness. Why? It's a plot show and not a character show. It's simply not going to hold up as well after repeated viewings because once you know what twists are to come there's not a whole lot there. I hope I'm wrong -- and the episode last night did a good job of letting some of the characters play more than the single ensemble-cast emotion they were assigned at the beginning of the season -- but I had a "Buffy" birthday episode marathon in honor of my own birthday yesterday, and I simply can't imagine ever getting attached to any of the "Heroes" the way I am to even tertiary "Buffy" characters like Oz, Clem, Drusilla, and Ethan Rayne. For the same reason I've never been able to make it through more than two or three hours of "24" even after several attempts. While "Heroes" is a mostly plot-driven show with character moments mixed in to change the pace, "24" essentially only has one character and everyone else on the screen is merely a story advancement device. But more power to you if you like that kind of thing.
"How I Met Your Mother." I only ever started watching it because of my Alyson Hannigan idolatry, but it's grown into a solid if safe little sitcom. While Neil Patrick Harris had virtually every funny line in the first season, the writers seem to have figured out belatedly how to use Jason Segel and Hannigan. I still don't really care about the Ted and Robin characters or their relationship, but at the very least I am stuck watching to see how Segel's Marshall will use the rest of the free open-hand slaps he won in a bet with Harris's Barney. The first one was a show-stopper. This is a positive you'd never expect, but "How I Met Your Mother" is my absolute favorite show to watch in HD. Ted and Marshall's cluttered apartment is interesting to look at from all angles and the depth of weird knickknacks you can see front to back is impressive. The sense of heightened realism carries over to sets like Ted's office and Lily's kindergarten classroom. By comparison, the sets on other sitcoms broadcasting in HD look painfully fake. The people who do set design on this show should get all sorts of awards.
"Veronica Mars." While "Mars" has been way less fun to watch than "Heroes" this season, I expect that like the second season I won't come around on this batch of episodes until my third or fourth time through on DVD. The decision to break the season down into three medium-sized arcs instead of one huge one has changed the rhythm of the show deeply, but the major problem is the same one the show has had since its UPN days. The network is too cheap to pay for Rob Thomas to use every one of his regulars in every episode, and when you're watching it on a week-to-week basis, it's dreadfully choppy. The smaller mysteries have made things less clear rather than easier to follow, since the weekly cases have gotten bigger to fill in all of that slack. In one recent episode, Keith was investigating one murder and Veronica another but also partly the one Keith was working on and keeping track of all the widows was a headache. Thomas is really good at sensing when his show is languishing -- he did an impressive job getting the all-over-the-place second season on track with the ambitious and arty "I Am God" episode, which cleverly restored Veronica's faith in herself with of all things a complete dead end -- and he's already made his big move for season three, killing off the popular Sheriff Lamb and putting Keith back in uniform. The next episode, which will wrap the season's second mini-arc, will be pivotal. Of course, when it first runs tonight I'll be watching "American Idol" like everybody else, but when I get to it on the TiVo I'll play a drumroll on my knees or something.
The "Buffy" birthday episodes, if you're curious, are "Surprise"/"Innocence," "Helpless," "A New Man," "Blood Ties," and "Older and Far Away." An exact date for her birthdate is never given but dialogue establishes her as a Capricorn on the cusp of Aquarius and all of these episodes ran in late January or early February. Her tombstone in "The Gift" says she was born in 1981, although there are some visual cues from very early episodes which contradict this. I mention this because being born in 1980, I'm around the same age as Buffy, and that's not an insignificant part of my attachment to the show. It reminds me of an even more important age identification I made while somewhat younger. When "The Simpsons" first showed up on TV, I was ten, the same age as Bart. Now I'm 27; Bart is still ten. Makes you think.
The local Electronics Boutique is clearing out their stock of used DVDs and I managed to acquire the first three seasons of "Star Trek: Enterprise" for less total than it would cost to buy one of them new. I'll probably do a long Paramount-bashing piece explaining how Rick Berman buried the franchise later, but after a couple of episodes, I can say this much: at least it's better than "Voyager." Why on earth are all of the "Star Trek" series DVDs priced so out of step with everything else out there on the market? If "Enterprise" retailed at $40 a season I probably would have given it a try a long time ago. Paramount thinks that "Star Trek" is a premium brand and therefore worthy of the goofy scale HBO uses with all of its DVD releases ($75 for 12 episodes of "Sopranos" or "Deadwood" is steep, but probably worth it), but it isn't any longer and the sooner they realize that the better off they'll be. They ought to slash the prices on "DS9," "Next Gen," and "The Original Series," take all the proceeds, convert them to cash, and drive the money in a truck up to Ira Behr or Ron Moore's house and beg them to come back and save the franchise.