It’s been a little over five years since NBC’s superpowered-people drama “Heroes” went off the air. When the show began in 2006, the superhero craze was merely a dream in the hearts of nerds and comic fans everywhere — and while the show received acclaim during its first season due to stellar character work, intriguing plotlines and build-up to a tense finale, it largely tripped into a downhill plummet during the final moments of season one finale, and all the way through season two.
The show carried on for two more seasons after, climbing its way up that hill of convoluted plots, mischaracterization and mind-bogglingly awful storylines for Masi Oka’s time-traveler Hiro Nakamura, who held such promise in the show’s freshman season. And climb the show did. It admittedly slipped a few times along the way, but by the end, the series ended in a decent place and certainly left the door open for future storytelling telling potential — potential that’s finally getting explored five years later.
“Heroes” has returned — or rather, been “Reborn” — with a 13-episode miniseries picking up a few years after the events of the original series finale, which saw Hayden Panettiere’s Claire Bennet outing the existence of those with superpowers to the world. With the aptly titled premiere “Brave New World” — which reflects not only the title of the series finale but also the poignant statement made by Zachary Quinto’s Sylar during said finale — how does “Heroes Reborn” stand up? Well, it certainly is a Brave New World, familiar yet different enough to appease fans and newcomers alike.
The series opens one year ago, fittingly enough on Jack Coleman’s Noah Bennet — affectionately called HRG, short for “Horned-Rimmed Glasses” — who gives a bit of exposition and establishes the status quo: people with powers have been coming out of the woodwork and while they face some discrimination, a summit in Odessa, Texas looks to unite “Evos” and humans alike in a celebration of equality. Opening on HRG makes a lot of sense. For many, he was the crux of the original series, a character that existed within moral shades of grey and while human himself, was deeply connected to the Evo world.
We quickly come to discover HRG and his daughter haven’t spoken in some time, but he hopes to see her at the summit, at which viewers will notice during a pan-through Zachary Levi’s Luke Collins and Judith Shekoni’s Joanne Collins are in attendance. It’s a bright, happy moment filled with hope — that gets shattered when a massive explosion occurs, decimating those in attendance.
Welcome to the Brave New World.
Part of the joy that comes from these first two episodes is that it invokes the same feelings from the premiere of the original series. You’re introduced to all these people trying to come to terms with having powers and what it all means to them, all with a destiny to save the world. Sure that world has changed, but the heart of “Heroes” remains the same: the characters. And there are a lot of them.
There’s Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay), a young boy with powers he doesn’t quite understand. We see him at a support group for those with superpowers — at which he meets Luke Collins before having to run home — and at school. Two moments that provide early bits of characterization for Tommy that quickly warms you to him. He’s a young kid trying to understand how he fits into the world but he has something that sets him apart. As he story unfolds, we get a lot of shades of Peter Parker/young Clark Kent in him. He’s a bit of an outsider, he somewhat fears his own power and tries to hide it, even though using it could solve his problems, etc., etc. It’s a cliché of sort, sure, but there’s a reason people love those type of characters.
A lot of Tommy’s story comes across as cliché but “Reborn” does enough to mix it up to keep us interested. His crush, Emily, becoming his confidant was unexpected. Bully Brad attempting to use Tommy’s power for personal gain? Expected. Brad and Tommy becoming friends? Unexpected. Tommy’s amazingly dressed guardian angel with a strange “penny for your thoughts” power? Intriguing! Seriously, that guy (played by Pruitt Taylor Vince) was arguably one of my favorite things about the premiere, mainly cause of the way he dressed.
Then there’s Luke and Joanne. They lost their son during the Odessa Summit, and as Evos have been blamed for the attack — pinned on Dr. Mohinder Sureash (Sendhil Ramamurthy) in what is sure to be a fake-out — they are out looking for vengeance and will get it through blood. They execute an entire support group in a cold and calculated manner. From this scene, they appear as a cohesive unit but we discover this is most definitely not the case. It’s clear Luke is starting to feel tired with the whole thing and feels some sort of remorse while his wife seems to enjoy killing Evos. Murder is indeed a slippery slope.
When Luke and Joanne confront Tommy and attempt to presumably dispose of him, Tommy uses his power to literally make Luke and Joanne disappear to… somewhere. We don’t find out until the second half of the premiere, but when we see them again, they’re inside some sort of child’s room. This eventually ties back into how Tommy’s power works and really showcases Luke and Joanne’s dynamic. While Joanne immediately attempts to shoot her way out, Luke tries to analyze the problem and find a solution. The contrasting looks and reactions by each of them after they discover files on the Evos also shows how differently they’re each growing to see their mission. There is a lot of nice character work done with these two, to the credit of Levi and Shekoni.
We also get introduced to Carlos Gutierrez, a war hero that may not be as heroic as he appears. Now back at home in Los Angeles, we see him interacting with his nephew Jose, who idolizes heroes (most notably a super-powered vigilante named El Vengador that protects their neighborhood) and Carlos’ brother Oscar, who — hardly a big surprise, really — is in fact El Vengador. Sadly, the first superpowered costumed vigilante the series has given us gets killed pretty quickly. However, before you roll your eyes at a presumed statement being made, it is very clear Carlos is going to take up the mantle, turning El Vengador into a more Batman-like character. There’s a lot of potential for these characters, especially considering Jose has a power of his own. Hopefully this doesn’t end with El Vengador taking on a child sidekick named El Robin though.
Lastly, as far as new characters go — Quentin excluded, who we’ll get to — there’s Miko Otomo and Ren Shimosawa the Hiro and Ando of the new series, not because they’re both Japanese, but because there’s a clear “Ren is the nerd-audience stand-in” vibe going on here and that Miko uses Hiro’s katana. Their story is by far and away the strangest of the series, as Miko apparently poses the ability to enter a video game — the same game that Ren is obsessed with (similar to how Hiro was obsessed with comics) and a game that apparently ties into the main plot (similar to how the “9th Wonders!” comic did). This is the one part of the new series that I sort of want to roll my eyes at — Really, both Japanese characters in the old show and the new one use katanas? Really? And why is anyone remotely interested in nerdy things in this universe immediately portrayed as a bit of a weird person? — but it’s not as bad as my base instinct wants it to be.
Finally, the main thrust of the premiere — and probably the entire season — comes to HRG and by extension, Quentin Frady (amazingly portrayed by Henry Zebrowski). Long story short, after Odessa, HRG’s back to working as a used car salesman and even has a new wife, and while at first it seems he’s had his memory wiped of his past, once conspiracy theorist Quentin confronts him, you realize that he still remembers everything — well, almost. Along with HRG, we learn something is missing from his memory and as Quentin suggests, there is indeed some sort of conspiracy going on. Thus begins their quest for the truth, which takes them back to Odessa and Primatech, where they have a run-in with Luke and Joanne and discover that Molly Walker has escaped from the Renatus Corporation (a.k.a the new Company), who were holding her prisoner for reasons yet to be revealed.
For old school fans of the series that are tuning in solely for the old characters, this is the storyline for you. HRG’s clearly the impetus that’ll bring in a lot of the characters from the previous series and the one that will connect everything to the new Heroes, as thus far, out of everyone, he’s already interacted with the most number of new characters — and the most number of old characters, as he reunited with René, a.k.a The Haitian, for a tragic and brief encounter. But major call-out to Jack Coleman in that scene for really selling the devastation and heartbreak HRG felt for having killed an old friend. Moments like that remind us exactly why fans love this character.
There’s clearly a lot that happens in just the first two episodes of “Heroes Reborn,” which pack in a lot of information but also plays much faster than the original series. Something that can be attributed to the shorter format (“Heroes Reborn” is a 13-episode limited series), sure, but something that also greatly benefits the show. It’s a lot of “go, go, go,” but with enough character moments to help grow the new players and build the world.
The pace isn’t the only thing that’s changed: The original series teased a lot of action but hardly ever delivered. It seems that won’t be the case here. We have multiple action scenes, and people with powers already showing them off pretty heavily.
Series creator Tim Kring said many times in interviews that the five-year break has been good for the show, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s given us time to breathe a bit and move away from the past and look forward to the Brave New World.
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