Characters, not superpowers, drive intriguing new NBC series
Give it a little time, though, and it will suck you in just the same.
The series, about a group of people -- from a high school cheerleader in West Texas to an L.A. cop to a directionless health-care worker in New York -- who discover they have superhuman abilities, is among the most ambitious new series of this season. Its characters are far-flung and, at first, entirely separate from one another. They're also, for the most part, pretty uncomfortable with their new abilities, be they flight or indestructibility or the power to see the future.
The idea that having superpowers might be a burden is an intriguing one, and it runs counter to most of our childhood fantasies. What "Heroes" does especially well is make a convincing case against wish fulfillment; its characters are genuinely befuddled as to what to make of their powers.
Except, that is, for Tokyo office drone Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka, who gives an exuberant, breakout performance), who has discovered he can manipulate time and teleport himself. Hiro is the embodiment of every fanboy or -girl who ever dreamed of being imbued with superpowers, and he keeps the show from becoming too angst-ridden, a "thirtysomething" starring the Justice League.
The most interesting heroes are flawed ones, though, and creator Tim Kring ("Crossing Jordan") has done a smart thing by letting us see his characters' origin stories. The series feels a little more grounded for showing their struggles to come to terms with being a little more than human, because it's entirely plausible we'd react the same way.
"Heroes" is not all brooding self-analysis, though. There are also hints early on of nefarious forces, possibly government-related, working to keep the existence of these extraordinary people a secret (if not eliminating them entirely). There's also a particularly grisly serial killer on the loose who may also have some abilities, and a young Indian professor (Sendhil Ramamurthy, who skillfully carries most of the expository weight) trying to figure out what happened to his father, whose theories on evolution might hold the key to finding more such genetically advanced people.
There may be a worldwide catastrophe looming on the horizon. Of course, none of the characters -- except, maybe, the artist (Santiago Cabrera) whose paintings predict the future -- know that yet. Happily, though, Kring does seem to have a pretty good grasp on where things are going, and the pace of the first three episodes is strong, answering a few questions while raising numerous others that can fuel the show for some time to come.
"Heroes" probably won't have much problem appearing to comic-book fans. By keeping its feet planted more or less firmly in recognizable human behavior, though, the show has a pretty good chance to break out.