Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV: Heroes

Heroes is a cool, fun, interesting concept, poorly executed.

Around the world, certain people are discovering they have special abilities. A cheerleader can heal herself from any harm instantly. An artist channels visions of the future through his paintings. A politician can fly. Meanwhile, in India, a professor has devoted his research to these next steps in evolution; when his father, who was conducting the same research, dies in New York, the professor moves to America to continue his father's work. There he discovers that someone is working against him, a Villain to match the new Heroes.

What a great idea. I love the premise of super-powered people learning about their abilities, and then having to unite against a common foe. I am a comic book fan, after all. But the writing is a real weakness here. It opens with a pretentious title screen, referring to "Volume One" of the "epic" tale, and the show is bookended by a wholly unnecessary narrator, whose voiceovers are filled with clunky exposition and leaden hammering on the "hero" theme.

There's nothing subtle about the writing. Milo Ventimiglia's character, Peter, is told by his mother that he always "hero-worshipped" his older brother (Nathan, the politician who can fly, played by Adrian Pasdar). The scenes with the Japanese man who can teleport, played by Masi Oka, are the clumsiest; he's constantly dropping lines like "Every hero needs to learn his purpose," and his name -- I still can't believe this -- is actually Hiro. (His skeptical friend even belabors the obvious by mockingly referring to him as "Super Hiro.")

Strangely enough, the scenes with Hiro are also the most enjoyable. He's the only character (other than Peter, who it turns out doesn't actually have any powers, he just wishes he did) who embraces and pursues his extraordinary abilities. He takes a joyous pleasure in the possibilities, which is infectious (although I could do without the Star Trek references in every scene -- even the character's fake blog uses the "Captain's Log: Stardate ***" format). All the other characters are so troubled and angsty. The cheerleader, Claire (Hayden Panettiere), is more concerned with how her invulnerability will affect her popularity at school than the potential of her superhuman gifts. The artist, Isaac (Santiago Cabrera), is a junkie who tries to destroy his paintings and drives away his girlfriend. Ali Larter plays Niki, a single mom in trouble with the Mafia (!), who also happens to be an online stripper, and whose power seems to be a mirror image that can take on a life of its own. When two Mob goons assault her, Niki passes out, only to wake up and find her attackers have been killed, one of them literally ripped in half, presumably by the mirror image. This is a hero? I'm looking forward to next week, when one of my favorites, Greg Grunberg, joins the cast as a cop who can hear people's thoughts.

So yes, I will be back next week. I'm hoping that the worst of the writing, by series creator Tim Kring (who also created Crossing Jordan, and whose writing could get pretty bad there, too), is out of the way. There are some very good moments peppered throughout the show (my favorite darkly comic bit is Claire absent-mindedly pushing the protruding bones from her cracked rib cage back into her torso), and there's great potential here. Too bad this first episode fails to live up to that potential. When I give the show a rating of 7 out of 10, that's a reflection of the potential of the concept, and my predisposition to stick with a show about superheroes; if I were to be more objective, I'd probably give the pilot episode a 5.

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