Preview: Heroes


In the US: Mondays 9/8c, NBC. Starts September 25, 2006
In the UK: Not yet acquired, although Channel 4 is most likely to pick it up

After last year’s sci-fi ‘dump’, where virtually every new drama commissioned by the US networks – Invasion, Surface, Threshold, etc – had an SF theme, it’s interesting to note that NBC’s Heroes is more or less the only new SF show this time round. Even then, it qualifies more as fantasy than SF, since it follows a group of ordinary super-heroes – if there is such a thing – rather than aliens or some other sci-fi staple. It’s not very original and clearly owes The 4400 a debt or two, but it’s actually pretty good.

The plot
Essentially, Heroes is an emergence story (or will be for its first season). A group of regular, ordinary people, none of whom know each other, slowly become aware that they’re not as ordinary as they first thought:

  • An artist discovers his paintings are starting to predict the future;
  • a high-school cheerleader realises that she’s almost indestructible, with broken bones and wounds healing in seconds;
  • a single mum (Ali Larter from Legally Blonde, Final Destination, etc) who owes money to the mob finds out the hard way that her reflection has a dangerous mind of its own;
  • a police officer (Greg Grunberg from Alias) can hear the thoughts of others;
  • a Japanese office worker (Masi Oka from Scrubs) is able to warp space and time to move objects including himself with just the power of his mind; and
  • one of two brothers (Adrian Pasdar from Profit and Milo Ventimiglia from Gilmore Girls) will learn he can fly.

Most are unwilling to believe their own eyes, suspecting they’re going mad until they face incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Others, such as cheerleader girl and Japanese office worker, embrace their gifts, with cheerleader rescuing a man from a burning building just to see if fire can hurt her, and office worker wanting to be special and a winner for once in his life.

Unfortunately, someone’s out to get them. A professor in Madras, whose father foresaw the evolution of these special powers shortly before he was mysteriously killed in New York, is threatened by a man who seems to know everything about him and his own theories. Who he is, we don’t know, but it’s clear he and others know more about these gifts than their owners.

More worrying is the prediction of an imminent catastrophe by one of the artist’s paintings. If the various gifted individuals don’t learn about each other’s existence and embrace their powers, something very, very bad is going to happen.

The verdict
This is essentially the Bruce Willis film Unbreakable, but with a group of emerging super-heroes instead of just one. It’s also The 4400, but with evolution (or some freak cosmic event) rather than aliens as the mysterious benefactor of super-powers. Despite the fact it’s been done before, it’s actually done pretty well and there are some nice touches.

For one thing, there is at least some geographic variety in the origins of these heroes. It’s not just going to be an all-American world-saving team, with Sendhil Ramamurthy’s Indian professor looking like he’s going to be the brains of the operation who pieces everything together. Masi Oka gives a decent comedic turn as the Japanese office worker, and with Lost having shown that you can have subtitled, foreign-language dialogue during prime time, it’s refreshing to note that Oka – bar the occasional borrowed word – speaks Japanese for the entire pilot.

The fact that, with the exception of the New York chapter of the league of new superheroes, none of the other characters have met yet is also an interesting facet, with few of the characters’ individual stories yet entwined with the others’.

If I had any major criticism, it would be that the pilot was perhaps just a little too languorous in its pacing. There’s going to be a risk, as with Unbreakable, that Heroes will spend just too long trying to be normal and realistic in an effort to highlight the problems one must face in accepting that you can teleport, etc. The result will inevitably be a load of tedious clock-watching, wondering when we’re going to see some super-powers or plot development. The pilot just steered clear of that, but it came very close.

Still, it’s all directed very nicely, with moody lighting. There are no real stand-outs yet in acting terms (sorry, guys. Ali Larter’s just too hot for me to be able to tell if she can act or not. I think she’s great, but I suspect my opinion is tinted somewhat), although there are no bum notes.

Intriguingly, unless I blinked and missed him, Greg Grunberg didn’t actually show up in the pilot so I can’t really rate how he does. Since often pilots get re-engineered before final broadcast (cf Tru Calling, which lost an entire character between screener and airing, and The Loop, which gained a new character and recast another before it made series), Grunberg could well be in the final version that airs or just appear in the second episode.

The dialogue’s not great and there are few clichés in terms of characterisation, but this is a series about super-heroes so we shouldn’t be too surprised by that. What’s more surprising is that bar these few niggles of mine, I think the show was actually pretty good. One to watch, I think, and potentially one that will last a while, providing they can avoid meandering and add in some good plot developments as the series runs.

You can find out more, watch trailers, etc at the official site.

Postscript: You may have noticed that I’ve not actually commented on any of the soundtracks to these screeners. The problem is screeners almost always carry “placeholder” music, just like film trailers. The vast majority of the dramatic screeners I’ve watched have been using music from The Bourne Identity, while Heroes uses music recycled from Batman Begins. Hidden Palms just filled every scene with one-minute snatches of Coldplay, Jem and other middle-of-the-road youth musicians. So I suspect we’re going to have to wait for the series to air before we know for sure what they’ll sound like.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.