Nine long years after its first appearance on TV, NBC has resurrected Heroes, an oddball sci-fi project that enjoyed fabulous popularity for one halcyon season before losing favor with fans and being dealt a hasty cancellation from the network. Perhaps the NBC higher-ups sincerely believe that the world has finally caught up with showrunner Tim Kring’s vision. Perhaps it is for a different reason. We mere mortals have no way of knowing.
Either way, Heroes is back, and it arrives with loads of subheads. This revival season bears the official title Heroes Reborn, and the script divides the two-hour season premiere into two chapters, “Brave New World” and “Odessa.” Those two chapters form the beginning of what’s been labeled “Volume I: Awakening.” Ordinarily, such details wouldn’t merit a mention, but this complexity of nomenclature exemplifies the series’ overall commitment to narrative intricacy. And all throughout the season premiere, it appears that the brains behind Heroes treat storytelling the way Tobias and Lindsay Fünke treat homeownership: it’s best to have as much as you possibly can, because then you have it. Drawing a definitive conclusion this early on in the game isn’t necessarily a wise move; the golden-days Heroes took a few episodes to build steam, and so there’s no reason we shouldn’t allow this reboot the same luxury.
Like the original series’ pilot, “Brave New World” and “Odessa” make overtures for a bundle of disparate plot threads with the assurance that they will coalesce as the season goes on. Some familiar faces return, some are markedly absent. Ascendants Hayden Panettiere, Zachary Quinto, and Ali Larter have all seemingly graduated, but Jack Coleman’s Noah (a.k.a. Horn-Rimmed Glasses), Sendhil Ramamurthy’s Mohinder, and Masi Oka’s Hiro have all slunk back to the series like college freshmen to the halls of their high school. At least they’re joined by a deep cast of colorful newcomers. The biggest name among them belongs to Zachary Levi (as the star of the late Chuck, a man all too familiar with the dynamic of NBC genre pieces with fanbases that turned on them), who joins Judith Shekoni as a pair of vigilantes on a to-be-specified warpath.
Ostensibly, their bloodsoaked mission will unite them with the new crop of heroes, a fresh-faced group allowing the writers to explore new avenues of storytelling. Some, of course, work better than others: gawky teen Tommy (Robbie Kay) wants to romance his crush at the ice-cream parlor—that time-tested house of employment for unattainable objects of affection. He’s sidetracked when the resident bully finds out that Tommy can make things magically disappear, and demands he do so to his abusive stepdad. That’s almost counterbalanced by the most bizarre gambit the show’s ever had the cojones to attempt, the introduction of Miko (Kiki Sukezane), a young Japanese woman with the power to enter video games. Miko’s in-game scenes have been rendered through a CGI engine, leaving an overall surreal vibe on her portion of the show (to what extent it works is up to you). It’s among the stranger sights available on network TV this fall, and though it’s not particularly original (she must find her father! for honor!), it is morbidly fascinating.
Elsewhere, a south-of-the-border vigilante going by the moniker El Vengador (that’s “The Avenger,” for those of you with strong brand loyalty) is being hunted by a shadowy operative. A woman with ties to a sinister corporation gets attacked by a man with telekinetic powers, and a rotund gentleman with a briefcase full of pennies creeps around stealing people’s memories after ribbing them, “Penny for your thoughts?” It doesn’t add up to much of anything, but it’s only the first episode. Scattershot beginnings are sort of their modus operandi.
Less easy to excuse is the script, which drones on and on through pages of exposition without really explaining anything. The Heroes writers have a gift for truly inspired clunkers—”The first rule of tailing someone? Know how to tail someone”—but a lot of the dialogue lands like spent oxygen, filling silence until someone can show off their powers next. Sure, the main characters are not, strictly speaking, human beings. But they should still talk like them.
The seedlings of social commentary that made the prequel webseries Dark Matters have seemingly vanished completely (though it is still early). The reliably great Henry Zebrowski returns to spew more of his paranoiac ramblings, but they result in little meaning. The talk of “evos” (the common slang term for those with powers, a word that is decidedly not “mutants”) fails to scratch the surface of the vein of subtext that discussions of othered identities could open.
There’s plenty more ground to cover, so let’s allow these early missteps to be forgiven by the final vote of confidence left over from the first season. The ball’s in Tim Kring’s court once again, and he must win his audience back.
What did you think of the premiere? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: NBC