Heroes: Season 1

Here’s the story…

For a long time, people have been telling me and my wife about this show called Heroes.  “It’s kind of like X-men,” they would say.  Friends would tell us how good it was, how new and different and interesting it was, and how much we, being fans of Star Trek, Firefly, and sci-fi in general, would really enjoy it.  But we were always caught up in DS9, Enterprise, 30 Rock, or some other such show that found its way to our door or computer screen courtesy of Netflix.  Heroes sounded interesting to us, but never a whole lot more, despite the glowing reviews from so many people we knew.  Nevertheless, we dutifully placed Season 1 in our Queue and let it sit for months on end…

Ah, how things can change…

After moving to a new town, without any Netflix discs on our kitchen counter, my wife and I decided to take a stroll through our Instant Queue and see what might strike our fancy.  Sure enough, Heroes popped up, and we decided to give it a shot.  “After all,” we thought.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”

And oh, what a ride it has been.  Heroes has gone from odd curiosity to one of the best shows I can recall watching in recent memory, even though the end of Season 1 had several failed attempts to reach the bar that was set so high early on.  It’s an extremely compelling mix of sci-fi and personal drama, set against the modern, post-9/11 backdrop of New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and a few other towns as well.  The plot of Season 1, revolves around a half-dozen or so main characters, each with his or her own struggles, trials, and backstory, who are slowly realizing they have powers and abilities that are, well, super.

Sylar, a brilliantly-conceived villain played impeccably by Zachary Quinto.

Sylar, a brilliantly-conceived villain played impeccably by Zachary Quinto.

What gets me about Heroes so far is how well everything is executed and realized.  Each character is intertwined in an epic storyline about saving New York from being exploded by a shadowy figure known only as Sylar.  After several episodes these individuals start to realize that they have powers and abilities such as flight, regeneration, time-control, and others, but don’t necessarily know how to control them or, more significantly, what to do with them.  As viewers, we know that each of these individuals will play a key role in saving New York, but we are unsure exactly how.  And neither are they.  In fact, each character has his or her own storyline that is, in most cases, entirely separate from the others.  It’s as if we are watching several entirely different stories slowly unfold, but it’s actually one story woven from a myriad of threads, of which we are only seeing bits and pieces at a time.  What I find remarkable about this type of multi-threaded storyline is that it rarely feels contrived.  The way in which characters do eventually cross paths seems entirely organic and believable–entirely the opposite of so many shows and movies wherein a cheap plot device is invented solely for the purpose of bringing characters and events together (worst offender of all time:  The Little Mermaid II.  The villain had been killed off in the first movie, but out of nowhere “Ursula’s crazy sister,” as Sebastian the crab shouts when she first shows up, comes to wreak havoc on the seadwellers).

The cast of Heroes includes a slew of veteran TV and film actors, the most surprising of which is Ali Larter, playing a role that is one of the most difficult in the entire show.  Milo Ventimiglia, well known for his role as Jesse on “Gilmore Girls,” turns in a very

Claire Bennett, a cheerleader who has no worries about being accidentally dropped.

Claire Bennett, a cheerleader who has no worries about being accidentally dropped.

strong performance as Peter Petrelli, the gifted but troubled central character around whom much of the storyline revolves.  A Japanese comic-book-loving man named Hiro (get it!), played by Masi Oka, lends some much-needed lighthearted relief to a show that is often very dark and dripping with blood-soaked themes of betrayal, revenge, and murder.  There’s even an extended appearance by none other than George Takei near the end.  The villain Sylar, though, is a triumph of writing and good storytelling:  for the first third of the season he is a being, a presence, shrouded in mystery and darkness–much like the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Alien.  His motives, his backstory, and his raison d’etre are slowly and carefully revealed throughout the course of the show so that by the end his sinister plans are even more horrifying than when he was only a shadow.

Near the end of Season 1 it becomes apparent that things will not wrap up neatly, as I had hoped earlier on, and several holes are deliberately left open for follow-up storylines in Season 2.  While I understand the desire to grow and nurture the seeds of a franchise, I actually felt a little cheated at the end of the season–expectations

Noah Bennett.  Hmm...I wonder if his first name carries any symbolism...

Noah Bennett. Hmm...I wonder if his first name carries any symbolism...

had been set, endgames had been established, and things were thrown into the mix that had no bearing on earlier, well-established plotlines.  Superfluous characters started showing up, most namely a shapeshifter who also has the entirely gratuitous and never-utilized ability of (I kid you not) engaging in online AIM chats using only her brain.

Still, Season 1 of Heroes does a good job of establishing a very compelling set of characters all woven into one brilliant, if at times poorly-realized, plot of epic proportions.  With loads of homages and out-and-out references to comic books, science fiction movies (my favorite being when Hiro, in utter disbelief of the weight of what lies before him, borrows a quintessential exclamation from “Back to the Future”), and classic hero/villain tales, it is a far deeper and more mysterious show than it has any right to be.  Morpheus once offered Neo the chance to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, and in Heroes we have a rabbit hole that is far deeper and more complex than anything I have seen on TV in a long time.  A very long time.

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