In 2006, Heroes debuted as a wildly fresh take on the superhero genre. It focused on ordinary people of different backgrounds who acquire amazing powers, and slowly meshed their stories into one as they were drawn together to find a greater purpose and avert a disastrous explosion in New York City. Ten years later, and six years after the show’s premature cancellation at the hands of NBC, Heroes Reborn picks up where the story left off, and tries to breathe new life into the original. And it succeeds, for the most part.
Fixing the downward spiral
Reborn was immediately tasked with fixing the downward spiral of its precursor. When Heroes ended, its final season had been unspooling into a mess of convoluted plot threads, and the show itself was plagued by increasingly harsh reviews where it had once been critically acclaimed. However, I always disagreed with those who thought it went downhill after its first season (I actually liked the third season the best), and felt that, had the network given it another chance, Heroes could have pulled itself out of the ditch that was Season Four and redeemed itself. In fact, the de facto series finale opened up promising new avenues for the story, ending with main character Claire (Hayden Panettiere) exposing her powers before the public eye, forever shifting the paradigm and doing it in a scene that was a poetic callback to Season One.
The original series, however, gave us a likable cast of core characters played by really, really great actors, despite show creator Tim Kring’s original plan to introduce a new set of “heroes” for each new season. Reborn takes things back to the drawing board, so to speak, by giving us that new ensemble of powered people (now called “Evos” or “evolved humans”). And yet it must find balance between those newcomers (not all of whom I’m sold on yet, I might add) and some of the fan favorites, whose stories are expected to have satisfying continuations or, if necessary, conclusions.
Kring is smart enough to know that Claire became an iconic figure in the original mythology, and doesn’t simply write the character off, but rather, centers part of the plot around finding out what happened to her. Following that trail is her adoptive father – and non-Evo – Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), another well-liked character, who is also uncovering a conspiracy by a corporation to eliminate all Evos, which is the main story arc that drives Reborn. Coleman is a fantastic actor, and it was a good idea to have him act as the conduit through which this new show connects to the old one.
“Reborn” tends to take on its own style
In serving as a combination of quasi-sequel and pseudo-Season Five, Reborn tends to take on its own style apart from the original, though comfortably familiar visual cues and leitmotifs remain with the show. And yet, where Heroes was highly idealistic and rooted in an underlying, amorphous sort of mysticism, this series chooses to play it straight, throwing a bit of grit into the mix and showing a world that is falling apart, with Evos – now outed to the world – on the run from a fearful and hateful populace. There are strong allusions here to real-world issues of homophobia (we see protesters holding a sign that reads, “God Hates Evos”) and racism, but I find it to be a little on the nose, whereas Heroes was always much more subtle with its allegory.
Aside from these criticisms, Reborn is, qualitatively speaking, on par with Season One of Heroes, in my opinion. It juggles numerous storylines, all complex and intriguing (non-comic book fans might say “convoluted,” but I disagree), and throws curveballs at viewers that, while not being as shocking as those tossed back in 2006, still leave you truly perplexed; how will these plot points be resolved? How will these new characters, from all over the world, come together and stop this corporation? You can’t help but pose silent questions like this as you watch, and that’s proof that Reborn has rediscovered what Heroes temporarily lost – the power of compelling and original storytelling.
Some characters more interesting than others
I will admit that I’m still getting adjusted to this new cast, and that some characters have proven much more interesting than others. The katana-wielding Miko (Kiki Sukezane), who seems to have the power of augmented reality because she can teleport into video games, is very interesting, possibly because her origins are so mysterious (though the video game sequences are a little wacky for my taste).
Zachary Levi (Chuck, Thor) is great as Luke, who originally seemed like the sympathetic villain, hunting down Evos with his wife after the death of his son, but has taken on new dimensions recently, when it was revealed that he may himself be an Evo, establishing an interesting moral dilemma for the character.
Molly Walker (Francesca Eastwood), a returning character from the original show (though now an adult), is hunted by the corporation because they can use her ability to track every Evo on Earth. Her story popped up rather late in the series premiere, but seems fast-paced and interesting so far. By the way, just an odd little fact: she’s played by Clint Eastwood’s daughter.
I’m less interested in the story surrounding Tommy (Robbie Kay), a teenager with a teleporting ability who is constantly on the run with his mother, if only because we’ve explored the high school scene already with Claire, who I found to be a character with much more depth and importance to the central plot.
Weighed down by exposition
When the two-hour (technically two-episode) premiere aired on Sept. 24, it started off rather slow in the first hour, weighed down by a lot of exposition and trying to establish all of its many mini-arcs as quickly as possible, and then beginning to connect those dots to show viewers the bigger picture. These were problems, and it was smart for NBC to air it together with Episode Two, because the second hour was of a much faster pace, and immensely more enjoyable. In fact, those final 30 minutes are what convinced me to stick around for the full season.
Reborn is now into its third episode. And again, it’s gotten incrementally better than the previous one. It seems that this pattern will continue, with the series getting better and better as it goes further along, and with only 13 episodes this year, that’s a very promising trajectory. We can expect to get right to the meat of the story, with little or no filler.
Heroes Reborn definitely has a rough path ahead of it, if only because it has something to prove to viewers and critics alike. It’s not wrong to see it as the counterpart to the original series, and to compare it thusly. But it looks as though there are great things coming. In this age of reboots and the new trend of continuing TV shows that ended years ago, a bit of cynicism toward the idea of “Heroes: Part Two” is understandable. Perhaps, then, this show will truly demonstrate whether a well-made series with a cult following can be born again. Most fans believe that it can, and are waiting with bated breath to see just what it will grow into.