I've been on a serious media binge lately, which is a slightly pretentious way of saying "parked in front of the tube," but I like to think of my watching as vitally imprtant to my (unpaid) work as amedia observer and critic. We're too quick, these days, to dismiss the idea of being, and having, an audience.
Long topic for another day... but anyway, lots of my viewing has been in the "Sci Fi/ Fantasy" genre, when stretched to include everything from comic book adventures to vampire stories... and Supernatural, which is somehwere in between. Between these and police procedurals (from a renewed interest in Castle to a new fascination with Law & Order UK, plus a new season of Justified) my watching is pretty full. And still, I get bored and need more options.
All of which brought me back to Heroes, one of the more fascinating zags of NBCs recent zig-zag of desperation programming, most of which I blame on the disastrous run of Jeff Zucker as head of programming (and I, too, gleefully await what his disastrous hand will bring to CNN). Heroes sprung from the mind of Tim Kring, a veteran series showrunner, and the astonishing thing was the completeness of his reimagining and rethinking the notions of superheroes and comic books. The disaster, which accompanied this brilliance, was how a show which started so daringly and with such promise, could descend into a near incomprehensible muddle in the (for a series) short space of four years. Television is, yes, littered with such curiosities; but Heroes was, and remains, a real bright spot in glorious failures - no series in recent memory shot so far for the moon, and flamed out just as vividly.
The Season One DVD set of Heroes is a near must for anyone who cares about fantasy/superhero TV - nothing else in recent years comes as close to being so completely satisfying as this show's 22 episode arc called "Volume One." A combination of origins tales, along with a tasty string of mysteries and twisty turns, Heroes builds up a raft of interesting, dynamic characters whose overlapping storylines offer myriad possibilities for interactions (and surprsing insights along the way), and yet still manage to culminate in a sensible resolution while laying the groundwork for an interesting future.
That furture, alas, was pretty much squandered, and in no small part, Heroes was the highest profile victim of the deadly Writer's Strike of 2007, which hit the show in the midst of a crucial second season, and probably did as much as anything to derail the show's forward momentum at a moment when this, the show with some of the most complex writing on TV at the time, needed continuity and clarity most. And all of that, really, is clear in the first season, especially on DVD, where one can see the original cut of the pilot (expansive and probably rightfully cut down with a number of extraneous plot details excised), and a raft of deleted scenes from many episodes.
But savor, if you will, the possibilities: from Peter and Nathan Petrelli, the shy nurse and his ambitious poltical brother, both of whom gradually discover amazing powers, while testing nd strengthening their brotherly bond. Or Hiro Nakamura and his best buddy Ando, who tags along as his friend learns to bend time and space. Or Claire Bennet, the pint sized cheerleader amazed to discover her own indestructability. These five lay the groundwork for a new ideal of heroic action, with the threat of the end of the world merely weeks away. And that's just the beginning of a huge quilt of characters with conflicting motives, dangerous aspirations and secret plans. And through it all, there's Claire's mysterious stepfather, and his shadowy organization, identifying the "Specials" and erasing their memories... but to what end? And what of Sylar, the most dangerous, and possibly the most powerful of all?
The expansive cast is chock full of smart and nearly career making performances, starting most obviously with Hayden Panattiere's turn as Claire, the tough, brave cheerleader whose body can survive just about anything. No one will ever wonder if she can carry a series again. Masi Oka makes Hiro a transcendant presence, ably partnered with James Kyson Lee's understated turn as Ando. Milo Ventimiglia provides the emotional center of the show as pained, tortured Peter Petrelli, while Adrian Pasdar gives layers and layers of complexity to the ambitious Nathan. And Zach Quinto made his career with the devious, devastating Sylar.
The real star here is the show's brilliant and fully thought out premise, the idea of everyday people suddenly turned into superheroes, thrust into unanticipated dangers and demands they never expected to face. Every role, every story, and seemingly every detail is aligned with the show's premise and purpose, and each episode hurtles along on its way to the season's ultimate goal, a dramatic confrontation where every person and every power winds up tested and pushed to the brink. Kring's sense of passion and purpose for this project is admirable, even enviable. And visually, the show repeatedly evokes the comic books and graphic novels it consciously emulates, right down to the Comic Sans font used for its titles. That the show takes the time, money and effort ot get all these details right is a credit to the visionaries who built it, and to NBC, which spent lavishly to make it all work.
In the end, Heroes was a modest hit, but among the geeky fanboys it chased hardest, it became just the culty kind of hit its creators seemed to want most. Like many, I was simply dragged into it by friendly coworkers who shared the box set with me and won me over pretty much at hello (or, more precisely "Ya Ta!" as Hiro says). It's been amusing, over this blizzard, to revisit the familiar ground of Season One, finding new things to discover, and realizing how much I'd forgotten since moving on. Heroes deserves to be remembered, and cherished, and passed along to others like a delicious secret. It may not be for everyone... but TV this good deserves to live on, and shared.