I really didn’t know what to think when I heard that Heroes was going to be returning to TV. I definitely have a complex sort of relationship with the show, thanks to its ups and downs, and so I didn’t really know what to expect. So I went and watched the pilot episode(s), just to see what the new show looks like, because it’s been a while, and it’s nice to revisit the characters of Heroes.
For those who somehow don’t know: Heroes was a TV show that premiered in 2006 (…wow, that’s nine years ago). A forerunner to the current trend of superhero shows and movies, it followed a large cast of superpowered individuals across the world, united against a mysterious world-destroying threat. It was an epically-scoped show that got dropped by NBC after its fourth season, which wrapped up the story somewhat.
Me and the Show
So I came into Heroes after their second season was wrapping up. The first season of the show is popularly regarded as the best, and I think I agree; it was fresh, interesting, and a hallmark of the show was starting to connect characters’ backstories in surprising and intricate ways. Then it started running into problems. According to the creators, the show was originally intended as an anthology with a new cast each season, but NBC made them change that. Given this, it makes sense that the first season connected the characters so heavily. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave much room for Season 2, and then the Writers’ Strike happened. Then it got messy.
The shortcomings of the second season led to attempts to fix them in the third season, and the show also attempted to gain back attention with “you’ll never believe what happens next!” plot twists. By the second half of the third season, they were doing everything they could to trim down plots and write out characters, but by that time almost everyone I knew who followed the show had given up. Why did I stick it through? Well, probably a combination of stubbornness, sunk cost fallacy (not only had I watched the show, but I’d read/watched a lot of their supplementary material as well), and hope for the show. When they did something well, I was pretty pleased, and looking back, I don’t think the low points of the show were (mostly) nearly as bad as people made them out to be. By the time of the fourth season, the show had drastically scaled things back, and I think they’d gotten back to the core of the show–not a complicated drama of characters tied to one another with complex backstory, but a story about people with weird powers trying to figure out how they fit into the world. And I was pretty happy with that.
And then, so many years later, I heard about the revival. And I was really confused. Why bring back the show? Where would you go from where the show went? What’s the point of coming back to it, beyond nostalgia? And while I’m not going to expect the show to totally justify itself (because, let’s be honest, I’m pretty happy to see it back around in whatever form), that’s definitely a question lingering: what place does the show have? What does it do, with the old show as its legacy? Does it succeed in being more than a rehash?
What the Pilot Is
From the get-go, the pilot establishes itself as something a bit…different. Since the last series ended with the public revelation of
mutants “evolved humans” to the world, this series (which picks up years afterwards) focuses on what happens next. Well, if you’ve read X-Men, you already know the answer: they hate mutants evolved humans (aka “evos”) because they’re different. (I’ve never 100% bought this aspect of the X-Men, by the way, and I wish that Heroes Reborn would offer some explanation as to why everyone seems to hate the mutants, but they do wind up focusing on other things, so I don’t really mind that it’s basically a cut-and-paste substituting “ mutants evos” for “LGBTQ” and “Muslims” without giving much thought as to the differences between the situations.) Then the series kicks off with its inciting incident, and that’s where things pick up.
It’s very different. I get the feeling that this is probably a lot closer to Tim Kring’s original vision: instead of introducing characters who are very obviously intertwined through various reasons, they’ve focused on a disparate cast of people, all struggling with their own issues. Sure, they’ll eventually converge, but this season is very clearly about telling the plight of the metahumans through the lenses of various characters. And to me, that shows a lot of promise–we get to see what people with powers do in different situations, even as we get the main storyline with Noah Bennet, the hard-willed special agent from the first series. (Which, by the way, was a master stroke for the show. Noah was easily a highlight of the first show, and he acts as a fantastic anchor for the new show.)
Heroes Reborn doesn’t forget the old show, naturally. But it does work on a lot of ways to make the new show its own, even as it references characters and situations from the old show. The world’s changed a lot over the past few years, after all, and the status quo is brand-new. These little nods to continuity are nice, and I’m glad that the new show isn’t being overwhelmed by the old show. I think it’s a Goldilocks level here: just enough of the old show to keep things intact.
Should you watch it? Well, you might want to watch some of the first show (especially Season 1) to get context, but on its own it’s still a very good jumping-on point, and it’s a fun show about people with powers. The special effects are fantastic, the characters are really solid, and it’s just great to see my man Noah back in action. Worth a watch, at least for the pilot.