Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hooray for Heroes! NBC Series is a Wonder!


Perhaps one of the most ambitious series in 21st century television, NBC took an enormous risk here and no gamble could have seemed more unlikely a success story than “Heroes.” Because of its episodic comicbook nature, Heroes might have fared better starting off as a miniseries (or that dreaded phrase “a television event” ) playing two episodes several nights in a row to speed its audience past an unusually long introductory period where one is still trying to identify myriad characters over a not-very-clear plot line. Nonetheless, those who stuck with it were rewarded with one of the most satisfying network series debuts since “24.”

The Heroes populating this stunner include a shapeshifter, a Japanese worker who has mastered moving through the time space continuum, a cheerleader who can recover from any injury – including death, a mindreading cop, an invisible man, a dual-personality stripper with the ultimate good/evil split, a man who can move through solid objects, a child who communicates with machines, a heroin addicted artist whose paints the future of the world, a politician with the ability to fly and his younger brother who absorbs the super powers of every hero he comes into contact with. There are more to explore and each adds unexpected nuance and richness – as well as endless possibilities – to the story.

All of these people have been tracked down during a lifelong study by a professor from India forced to abandon his family and move to New York for the final part of his research: contact. When he’s mysteriously killed, his estranged and embittered son, through a series of intense epiphanies, bedraggedly becomes involved in discovering who these extraordinary people are and the reason for their existence.

With more plot twists, turns and confusion than a night at the Chinese Opera, “Heroes” manages a balancing act of ancient grand guignol theatre, action/adventure, combined with all in an epic broth. In the best “bad guy” tradition, “Heroes” offers up villains that, on the surface, seem little more than scenery chewing cardboard cartoon characters – but ah, get to know them, and they are multi-faceted, complex and deliciously rewarding as your favorite villains of yore.

The very best entertainments draw you out of yourself and into another world; they are able to create a feeling that engages your imagination and, even in their darkness, they beckon us to stay and explore. I can think of no show that has done this better than have the creators of “Heroes.”

What is most remarkable about this large cast of characters is their very ordinariness. In the very best superhero tradition, each lives an ordinary, mundane existence and when confronted with their extraordinary abilities, must figure out a balancing act to incorporate these abilities into a normal existence. This, of course, ultimately proves impossible and the deeper reasons for why they are they way they are emerge, eventually bringing all together to prevent – or cause – a catastrophic event that will destroy or save the world.

While the entire ensemble of actors provide uniformly satisfying performances, there are, several standout performances: Masi Oka, as the unlikely “Hiro” – our endearing time traveler who (literally) comes straight from the pages of a comic book learning, ungracefully, how to bend time and space to accomplish his mission. Hayden Panettiere as “Claire” the indestructible cheerleader who, despite her amazing abilities must be “saved”; Milo Ventimiglia as “Peter” – the confused, soft spoken nurse to whom is given the great task: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” Then there is Zachary Quinto as “Sylar” the darkly handsome brainsucker and ultimate boogeyman. But again, trust me, singling out these particular heroes in no way diminishes the potency and brilliance of the rest of the cast – all integral to the telling of this most amazing tale.

“Heroes” debut season ended – quite literally – with a bang, and even just a peak into next season makes me hungry for more. Lots more!

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