Once there was this show called Heroes. It premiered in the Fall of 2006, well before comic book movies and TV shows were as plentiful as they are right now, but it ended up tanking in spectacular fashion after just four short seasons that saw it fall apart creatively and in terms of popularity. So what could possibly make the same man that governed over Heroes meteoric rise and prolonged monotonous return to Earth think he had something to add to a TV landscape that already includes no less than five hours of superhero TV on a weekly basis?
As to my own personal background with the show, I gave up on Heroes after season two. Creator Tim Kring had said in interviews that he was not a comic book fan, and while you don’t have to be one in order to make a show about people with powers, if you’re working with those comic book metaphors, you better have someone around that has at least once cracked a comic. By season two, some of those guys – including Jesse Alexander, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Green – started to see their minds and skills wander to other things. In the meantime, Heroes got messier, more sprawling, and steadily further away from the core of what it was supposed to be about. So about Heroes Reborn…
As they say, everything old is new again, and if there’s a saving grace to Heroes Reborn, it’s that even though it seems to be starting down the same path of the original Heroes with a large cast, a sprawling stage, and dialogue that relies too much on pronouns in the interest of keeping its mysteries, there’s something about it all that works.
You may recall that the original run of Heroes ended with Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) revealing to the world that she was an indestructible cheerleader. Several years later, and in a very X-Men way, people with powers – now called Evos – are known to a world that fears and hates them, Primatech is trying address that though with a unity conference that ends in a tragedy and wipes out the city of Odessa. Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), somehow survives, but he believes his daughter Claire is one of the casualties. Note that word, “believe.”
Fast-forward a year, and the evos are being hunted by both linchin’ type posses and by shadowy government types. We meet Tommy (Robbie Kay), a teenager who’s trying to skate by under the radar and be a normal high schooler; Carlos (Ryan Guzman), a supposed war hero whose brother is an evo vigilante that dresses as a Luchador Batman; Miko (Kiki Sukezane), a young Japanese woman that appears to be a character in a video game; and Luke (Zachary Levi) and Joanne Collins (Judith Shekoni), a couple who lost their child in the Odessa tragedy and are killing evos in retaliation.
This is where you can see Reborn going down the same sketchy path as the original Heroes, opening up a black hole of exposition and positioning the story perilously close to it. And though you need not have a Wiki-like knowledge of Heroes in order to get back into the show, there are so many dialogue bits filled with new names and phrases that you almost feel as though you’re watching episodes three and four. Not helping the situation is the over-reliance on narration, which is part of the comic book art form, hence its inclusion, but on TV the trick wears thin.
Sadly, those draggy parts of the show have to do with its two leads, Coleman and Levi. Levi, of course, well known for five seasons as slacker nerd turned super spy Chuck, was obviously drawn to the role of Luke because he is a much darker character. However, what’s lost in the two hours is motivation. How do Luke and Joanne go from zero to kill in the year since the Odessa tragedy? I know their son was killed, and I’m somewhat suspicious that the son’s death is either real or undoable, but how did they decide that launching a Punisher style two-person war on the evos was going to solve anything?
Coleman, the stalwart of the original Heroes, gets to be the standard bearer for the original cast, some of whom will be returning later on. Noah here gets under-served it feels, does he have amnesia, is he in witness protection, is he plotting something? A chance encounter with the Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis) leads to more questions, and in the meantime we’re supposed to get excited about his talisman horn-rimmed glasses while people talk vague about “it’s coming.” For the record, Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is referenced as the Magneto of the evos, the supposed mastermind of Odessa, and Molly Walker is back in the very grown up form of Francesca Eastwood, who spends her time on screen in a stunning green cocktail dress and looking gorgeous. Molly, we learn, will be very important in the weeks to come.
Oddly enough, what works in Heroes Reborn is what worked back in that vaunted first season of Heroes, the effect of super-powers on the lives of the ordinary. Tommy’s story is great, very Spider-Man-esque as he tries to fly under the radar at school, getting picked on by a bully, and trying to make a love match with the cute and kind Emily (Gatlin Green). There’s a turn in the story that is charming and unexpected, and it has more to do with the kids than it does to Pruitt Taylor Vince creepily following Tommy with his bizarre briefcase full of pennies.
The L.A. story with the luchador hero and his conflicted brother is also good, and is a story that’s even more compelling than the main mystery in that Carlos’ brother was running an underground railroad for evos out of his garage along with his side project as a vigilante. There’s a plot point there about corrupt cops that may or may not be helping evil forces find evos, it’s very first season Person of Interest, but in terms of the classic hero arc, Carlos is the one to watch.
The Miko arc I can’t make heads or tails of. Her power apparently is being able to enter and exit a video game by unsheathing a sword hidden under the floor by her father. Of course the Japan element makes us think that her story and Hiro’s (Masi Oka) is going to line up at some point, but in these first two episodes it was mostly distracting, especially since the other storylines kind of coalesced by the end of the second hour.
The new Heroes Reborn leaves me interested enough want to check out episode three, and more than that I’m kind of looking forward to it. With only 13 episodes in total, perhaps Kring’s worst instincts won’t have time to take over, but I remember that the first season of Heroes was at its strongest in the beginning, and tripped over its own limitations in the end. Will Heroes Reborn meet the same fate? Stay tuned.