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When NBC premiered Heroes in 2006, the comic-book epidemic was still somewhat contained in movies and nowhere near saturation point on television. Cut to today when the superhero population has reached plague proportions across all platforms, and reboots come what seems like minutes after their previous incarnation. Which means series creator Tim Kring is resurrecting his sci-fi ensemble piece about ordinary people with extraordinary powers in a very crowded market. In any case, the network would appear to be counting on nostalgia for the original with Heroes Reborn, which is more of a continuation than a reinvention.
Like its predecessor, the new 13-episode event series is broken down into comics-style “volumes,” the first of them titled Awakening. The initial two chapters, Brave New World and Odessa, which will premiere back to back on Sept. 24, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the new Primetime thread devoted to international television, with a busload of cast members and breathless fans in attendance.
Many of the virtues that made Heroes feel fresh when it first appeared are still in evidence — the propulsive pacing, dexterous balancing of multiple narrative threads and time jumps, the vigorous cinematic shooting style and dynamic scoring. But after its riveting first season I confess my attention began to fade in season two and I bailed not far into the third of the original show’s four seasons, which ended in 2010. As Heroes progressed, its plotting became more self-consciously tangled, while its overload of characters diminished investment in their individual fates.
The first two hours of Heroes Reborn introduce a limited number of the new characters orbiting around the returning figure of Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), or HRG for his horn rimmed glasses. And the new series succeeds reasonably well at tossing the occasional bone to returning fans without excluding those unversed in the show’s circuitous mythology. But it inevitably comes with a strong odor of deja vu. Now that the existence of “evos” (evolved humans) has been exposed by Noah’s cheerleader daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere, heard only in a voicemail greeting at the start of chapter one), the gifted outsiders are the target of widespread discrimination from the normal folks. That makes the comparison with the mutant/human divide of the X-Men universe harder to escape.
Government law enforcers and rogue vigilantes are hunting evos as Heroes Reborn opens, following a flashback to a year earlier when a supposed terrorist attack wiped out Odessa, Texas. That city was headquarters of the Primatech Paper Co., a front for a secret medical research facility. The devastating explosion occurred during a Unity Summit designed to bring evos and the general population together. Heroes holdover Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) claimed responsibility for the attack and is in on the run. But conspiracy theorist Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski) tells Noah that Suresh was framed.
There are rumblings of another cataclysmic events coming and warnings that only the evos can save humanity — with conflicting reports indicating that they are being killed at an alarming rate but also that their numbers have reached unprecedented heights. All this is disclosed with the characteristic storytelling agility of Heroes‘ early days, even if not all the new characters are equally compelling.
Kring’s bid to reel in a younger generation of viewers is evident in the focus on Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay), a teleporter still struggling to control his abilities while hiding out at an Illinois high school. His crush on pretty classmate Emily (Gatlin Green) is the stuff of standard teen drama but it’s appealingly played. A mysterious figure with a briefcase full of mind-bending pennies (Pruitt Taylor Vince) watches over Tommy from afar while he’s targeted by Luke and Joanne Collins (Zachary Levi, Judith Shekoni), a tetchy evo-killing couple out to avenge their son’s death.
Meanwhile, in East L.A., jaded war hero Carlos Gutierez (Ryan Guzman, taking over resident swarthy hunk duty from Milo Ventimiglia) inherits responsibilities that go beyond his adoring nephew Jose (Lucius Hoyos), who is just beginning to experiment with his powers.
The most aggressive bid for a renewed foothold in the geek community unfolds in Tokyo, where expert gamer Ren Shimosawa (Toru Uchikado) coaxes Miko Otorno (Kiki Sukezane) to unsheathe her katana sword and realize her powers in amusing CG animated videogame sequences that suggest a connection to the original series’ Japanese thread. These anime-styled interludes are easily the most out-there sections of Reborn, and one hopes that Kring will venture deeper into such wackiness and humor as the series continues.
If any of the new faces are going to acquire the ambiguities or the delicious villainy of Heroes alums like Sylar, Elle Bishop or Nathan and Angela Petrelli, there’s little evidence of it so far.
Among new characters barely glimpsed is Malina (Danika Yarosh), ominously communing with the elements in the Arctic. Heroes carryovers seen briefly include Rene, aka The Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis), and LAPD detective Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), while a character introduced under a pseudonym (Francesca Eastwood) is revealed to be another familiar figure from the past. But as Noah says to a potential customer in his incognito job as a Dallas car salesman, memory can bring both clarity and deception.
Whether Kring and his writers can make all this — along with the promise of other new recruits to come — cohere into gripping storytelling is an open question at this point so early in a series that we’re told will have a firm beginning, middle and end. Right now, it’s big and busy and slickly packaged but dramatically diffuse and a little soapy in its portentousness. That probably makes it unsuitable for grownups.
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