Friday, 20 March 2009

DVD Review - No Heroics

No Heroics is a comedy show that focuses on superheroes during their off hours. The characters spend most of their time in The Fortress, a bar where ‘capes’ can drink and relax, so long as they don’t use their powers or wear their costumes. The show follows the lives of four capes; The Hotness (an incompetent wannabe hero with heat powers), Electroclash (foul mouthed controller of electrical machinery), Timebomb (a recently retired cape with the ability to see 60 seconds into the future), and She Force (the na├»ve, third strongest woman in the world).

The DVD collects the first series of six episodes that were originally broadcast on ITV2 (and then eventually on ITV1 in the graveyard slot). The show’s comedy is mainly based around pub based banter with the occasional foray into capes’ everyday activities. There is an impressive amount of world building for a half hour comedy show; the sets are covered in subtle geek references (especially within the Fortress), there are several cape magazines that are much like real world celeb magazines like Heat, and mentions of capes taking part in the Falklands and Gulf War.

The depiction of superheroes in this show is that of cynical celebrities, desperate to raise their public profile via great heroic acts so that they can appear on shows like Power Hour. This struggle for celebrity is represented by Excelsor and The Hotness. Excelsor is Britain ’s most powerful cape and hero to millions but he is also an unpleasant bully when he’s in The Fortress. He constantly torments The Hotness for his inferior powers and desperate attempts at becoming famous. The Hotness is on the bottom rung of the cape ladder, despite being trained at an academy for heroes and having a useful power. The Hotness’s problem is that he’s a fame hungry, self absorbed idiot which always causes him to make poor decisions and usually ends in public humiliation.

Timebomb represents the other side of celebrity, the burned out, indie-cred cape with his own cult following. He’s a gay, Spanish, alcoholic, drug user who has sex with strangers when he’s bored. Timebomb isn’t a publicly famous hero but is well known in The Fortress and amongst villain circles as a very dangerous cape due to his skills in torture. Timebomb is really a parody of the late 80s, early 90s ‘dark’ superhero movement. The funny thing about Timebomb is that he’s comfortable in his own skin and, despite his terrible deeds, is a good friend. I always enjoyed Timebomb’s subplots the most, the episode where he has to protect a rich Saudi prince from assassination is my favourite.

Electroclash is another side of celebrity – the famous offspring. She’s the daughter of the “Richard and Judy of the capeworld” and resents them for setting a standard that she feels she can’t live up to. Electroclash stumbles through life acting like a delinquent rule breaker and using her power to control electrical machinery for her own petty gain (like getting free cigarettes from the pub machine or cash from an ATM). It’s clear that she’s a cape only because that’s what her parents did. Electroclash is the source of a lot of the cruder dialogue in the show but it seems to be appropriate to her character. She claims not to care about her celebrity profile but still gets upset when she gets a bad review.

She Force isn’t famous (although she’s the third strongest woman in the world so I guess there’s a certain amount of celebrity with that) and she tries to keep her cape life and normal life separate. She’s unique in being the only hero in No Heroics who attempts to maintain a secret identity (although she doesn’t wear a mask with her costume!) which everyone else declares to be pointless. In fact, the irony is that The Hotness desperately wants to be famous but wears a mask on his costume, hmmm… there’s probably something smart to be said here, so just imagine I did. Anyway She Force is insecure, desperate for a relationship (going so far as to entertain the idea of dating a cape hater) and sickeningly positive at all times. She Force used to team up with Electroclash to form the duo known as Lady Trouble, but it didn’t last long.

The show is very British, it’s cynical, grounded in realism, but sharp. This show is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre and worth a peek even if you’re not. I’m surprised that ITV commissioned this show as it’s a concept that doesn’t usually translate well on British TV (have you seen “My Hero”?) but I’m glad they did. Although the humour isn't laugh out loud hilarious, there are plenty of chuckles and smiles to be had provided you're not easily offended by bad language or crude references.

There’s no news as to whether there’ll be another series of No Heroics but there’s an American version in the works which I hope will do well, although I can’t help feeling that without the misanthropic streak that the British version has, it’ll become Friends in capes.

DVD Extras – I was shocked to discover this but the DVD contains no commentary whatsoever. What it does contain is a behind the scenes film, a bloopers reel, a geek guide to the show which points out all the background jokes and references in The Fortress, and the perennial but pointless extra – still photos. The behind the scenes film is entertaining enough but there are very few interviews with the actors involved which is a shame. The geek tour is fun and writer Drew Pearce is an amiable host and the level of detail put into the set design is impressive. The extras are a fun addition but my no means groundbreaking or overly insightful.

Arbitrary Rating out of Ten: 7

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