Saturday, 26 September 2015

Review: HEROES REBORN – 'Awakening' & 'Odessa'

Saturday, 26 September 2015


What's the premise? It's Heroes, dummy. You remember. NBC's hugely successful superhero drama from 2006 which flamed out spectacularly with audiences thanks to a crappy second season (not helped by meddling network interference, it must be said). Only truly dedicated fans continued to watch until NBC finally axed it in 2010 after four seasons.

Heroes Reborn is another of America's increasingly popular "event series" (see also: 24- Live Another Day) that revive an old favourite, mainly because the network's run dry of original ideas and these days brand recognition has a lot of value. And in Heroes' case: superheroes have become enormously popular since the show went off-air, thanks to Marvel. It makes sense that NBC would take a chance reviving an established brand than adapting a comic-book with a 50/50 chance of working.

Who's in it? Jack Coleman returns as Noah Bennet (a.k.a Horn-Rimmed Glasses, a.k.a. HRG) from the original series, and there's an appearance from Jimmy Jean-Louis's memory-wiping Haitian in the premiere. Other guest stars from the old series will include Greg Grunberg (telepath Matt Parker), Masi Oka (time-traveller Hiro Nakamura), Noah Gray-Cabey (Micah Sanders), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder Suresh), and Cristine Rose (Angela Petrelli). But Heroes Reborn is more about the new generation, who are largely unfamiliar names beyond Chuck's Zachary Levi (playing 'evolved humans' assassin Luke), and include: Judith Shekoni (as Luke's wife and partner Joanne Collins), Robbie A. Kray (as portal-opening Tommy Clark), Kiki Sukezane (as Miko Otomo, a Japanese girl who can download herself into a video game), Ryan Guzman (alcoholic war veteran Carlos Gutierrez), Rya Kihlstedt (as Eric Kravid), Gatlin Green (as Emily Duval), Henry Zebrowski (as geeky conspiracy theorist Quentin Frady), and Danika Yarosh (as Malina).

What are your first impressions? Look, I was one of those who stuck with Heroes through all its ups and downs, so of course I enjoyed the first two episodes. I like the world, I like its lighthearted tone, I love the production values, and there's no denying that creator Tim Kring knows how to begin a story and introduce lots of people very economically and enjoyably. It's just the endings of stories he has problems with, but we're told Heroes Reborn is telling a complete story and will therefore avoid that common criticism of the original series. But I'm sure they'll leave a door open for another run if the ratings and reception from audiences is good.

(6.09 million people tuned into the premiere last Thursday, which is soft considering the marketing hype. It's also a world away from the 14m who watched the pilot in 2006, or its ratings peak of 16.9m for season 2's premiere. 6m is more in line with the numbers watching the final season in 2009, but maybe a steady and reliable weekly 6m is fine for 2015 with all the competition out there.)

What was interesting about Heroes Reborn is how incredibly familiar everything felt—right down to a few of the new characters just being variations on old ones, or the objective once again being for disparate characters to unite and save the world. But hey, why not copy the first and most creatively compelling season of the original show? These opening hours played like a quasi-remake of season 1, only set five later and in a world where everyone's aware 'evolved humans' (Evo's) exist and—following the bombing of a human-Evo event in Odessa that the authorities blamed on Evo's—now fearful of them. A year after the bombing, many Evo's are being hunted and imprisoned or else asked to register themselves. If you thought Heroes reminded you of X-Men before, there's no avoiding it now.

But I like all that. It's fun to see how the world would react to people with abilities that mock the laws of nature, even if it's not especially unique territory. You still get the same Heroes as before (with alienated characters trying to understand their powers, while hiding their abilities from the public), but now there's a feeling the Evo's have to prove themselves to the rest of mankind and earn their trust. And while much was made of season 1's "save the cheerleader, save the world" mantra, this time the stakes really are that big and it's not just exaggeration to make a cool catchphrase. Plus, Noah Bennet's front-and-centre of the story, investigating the truth behind the destruction of Odessa (having learned that he intentionally wiped his own memory of the real events), and I'm interested to see why this bombing happened, who was really behind it, and why the entire planet's in danger.

Am I fully invested in the characters, though? Not yet. All the actors are perfectly fine in their roles, but none of the new characters really connected to me after these episodes—either because their storyline isn't anything new, hasn't developed enough yet, or is simply too wacky. The situation with Miko (a girl living in Tokyo who discovers she can become part of a video game that's an alternate reality to her city, simply by unsheathing a sword) is particularly odd. Her quest to rescue her kidnapped father, with the help of a fan and gamer, is very difficult to enjoy right now because we have no investment in her father. And her reaction to everything happening to her isn't authentic. If you were suddenly transformed into a digital avatar, sucked into a MMORPG to fight Samurai warriors, you'd be freaking out.

But as with all shows, it's early days and some of my confusion and the weirdness will undoubtedly dissipate over time. For the most part, Heroes Reborn felt like a fun continuation of the original; accessible to newcomers (the backstory is the 2006-10 series, but it isn't essential to know), but with lots of fan-pleasing callbacks and cameo's for the loyal fans.

What's the prognosis? Considering just 6 million watched the premiere, it will probably hover around 4-5m most weeks, unless the story goes off a cliff. There are also many other TV superheroes around right now (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl), and they all took some inspiration from the original Heroes and improved on the formula in various ways. They're not as multicultural or ambitious as Heroes can be, but they're also not as pretentious and have better characters.

When does it air? Thursdays on NBC. No UK broadcaster has bought his yet, but it'll be interesting to see if the BBC buy it. They were the home of the show in the UK, which was quite unusual because they don't tend to spend money on US imports. I suspect another broadcaster will buy it now.