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‘Heroes Reborn’: Understanding the Return of NBC’s Superheroes

'Heroes Reborn': Understanding the Return of NBC's Superheroes

They say you either die a hero or live long enough to see
yourself become the villain. Regrettably, it was the latter that befell “Heroes.” The
NBC show arguably sparked the modern wave of superheroes on TV, but by the time
the final season concluded, the ratings and the fan base had dispersed. This
September 24, more than five years since the show dropped off the air, “Heroes” is
getting a shot at redemption.

READ MORE: Watch: NBC Rebooting ‘Hart to Hart’ With a Gay Couple Is a Great Reason to Rewatch Adam Scott’s Version

Heroes Reborn,” a 13-episode “miniseries event,” will
center on a new cast of ordinary characters with extraordinary abilities with
a few veterans, like Jack Coleman’s Noah Bennet, thrown in for the sake
of continuity. The cast and series creator Tim Kring hit up San Diego
Comic-Con, the Television Critics Association press tour, and the Toronto
International Film Festival to try and rile up the fans for this resurgence.
Though, many are reluctant to give this series a second chance… or,
rather, a fifth chance. They’ve been burned before. 

Like a failing relationship, the beginning of “Heroes” was
exciting but eventually took its characters and audience for granted. The worry
is that “Heroes Reborn” won’t learn from its
past mistakes; the first red flag being that no one was really asking for a
comeback. Nevertheless, the folks behind “Heroes” have
had ample time to reflect on their indiscretions and are prepared to earn back
our trust. The question remains, can we get back to the “honeymoon phase” or
has the damage been done?

Debuting in the fall of 2006, “Heroes” was
something fans had never seen before: an original TV series centered around
everyday people discovering fantastical abilities. We met characters like
Claire Bennet (Hayden Panetierre), the regenerating cheerleader; Peter Petrelli
(Milo Ventimiglia), the power-absorbing man; Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), the
time-traveling pencil-pusher; and Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), the telepathic
cop. These seemingly disparate people were discovering their powers and fearing
what they might do to the world around them. On top of this strong sense of
character development, the pilot almost instantly introduced the stakes in the
form of Sylar (Zachary Quinto), the power-hungry villain with a scalping
streak; a foreboding premonition of a nuclear explosion, the source of which
was left to be discovered; and a visit from future Hiro, who bestows a mission
onto his past self: “Save the cheerleader, save the world.”

During a 2007 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kring acknowledged that Season 1 “taught [audiences] to expect a certain kind of storytelling.” Some
of the markers proved to be intense cliffhangers, the looming threat of death,
and the ongoing quest to piece together the larger puzzle at hand. The season
was also fiercely dedicated to character development. Though most had powers
beyond our comprehension, their stories begged our empathy; they were rooted
enough in the real world that it was effortless to connect with them. However, Season 1 was never the problem with “Heroes.”

In transitioning to Season 2, Kring admitted, “We
made a mistake.” Some of these mistakes can be blamed
on the writers’ strike of 2007 and ’08. It lasted 100 days and caused the
cancellation, delays, and shortening of shows, including “Heroes.” To
put this in context, three volumes were originally planned for the 24-episode Season 2, but the strike forced the producers to make only 11, rewrite the
ending, and reconfigure the volumes. The show became oversaturated with
characters, suffered a slower momentum, and lacked high enough stakes. After critics were pleased
to point them out, Kring addressed some of these issues, such as Hiro’s
venture through Japan, the introduction of Maya and Alejandro, and Claire’s
flighty new boyfriend.

“I always approached it as a show about characters,” Kring,
a self-professed non-comic book geek, remarked during the TCA press tour for “Heroes
Reborn.” “By going back to some of those
original basic base-note ideas of what the show was originally, it almost doesnt matter whats happened in the world around us.”

The same goes for the story. Picking up years after the end of Season 4, the miniseries centers on a largely new cast of characters. “I
think, ironically, it is actually closer to the original idea [of the series],” Kring
said. This refers to how he wanted to start each new season off with a new cast
of characters linked to what came before by a handful of returning players.
When “Heroes” became a cultural phenomenon and
fandoms formed around key players, NBC was reluctant to let the writers kill
off fan favorites.

Season 2 was already looming larger than life with an increased
series order, and now the writers had to juggle all of these returning
characters. “I think the biggest pitfall for us always was the amount of
story that we had to tell in a year,” Kring said from TCA. “Our
order was for 23 [episodes] the first year. The second year, our order was 26.
The third year, our order was 25. Our first season of the show, the original
show, took us 14 months to make one year of television. So we were facing a
kind of mathematical difficulty, an uphill battle from the beginning.”

The extended seasons also help explain the faults of the series
at large. In 2010, a few months following “Heroes” cancellation,
Kring brought up this issue during an interview with Metro. He remarked, “A little less
[episodes] might have gone a longer way.”

While it was NBC, not Kring, who came up with the idea to bring
back “Heroes,” the creator seems hellbent on going
back to basics. The miniseries is only 13 episodes, and Kring stands by his
earlier statements that there haven’t been discussions with the network
beyond this commitment. “Having an ending that’s predetermined
by the number of episodes has helped avoid some of [the] pitfalls of this kind
of storytelling,” Kring said during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “This 13-episode arc
means you can tell a very aggressive story with a lot happening in every
episode with lots of twists and turns.”

From a pure plot point standpoint, the stakes have also returned.
Claire essentially eliminated the threat of death that was so heavily felt in
the beginning; Season 2 revealed that her blood could heal those exposed to it,
even from the brink of death. “Heroes Reborn” takes
place some time after an unknown incident causes her death, which can only mean
more riveting storytelling to come.

Along with proper pacing and character development, these
pressure points were crucial ingredients in the “Heroes” formula,
and Kring assures fans that they too have been “Reborn.” Though
it’s still early to place our final judgments, many of the
forces that hindered the show’s performance are gone. While Kring
and co. were dealing with the drama behind-the-scenes, they were simultaneously
(though, perhaps inadvertently) developing something new with no previous model
from which to draw. That process alone does not guarantee success, but Kring
had time to reflect on his sins. If the history of “Heroes” is
any indication, this healthy direction hints at a hopeful rebirth.

It’s now up to Kring to prove that there
are more stories to tell.

“Heroes Reborn” premieres Thursday at 9pm on NBC.

READ MORE: Toronto: Why NBC’s ‘Heroes Reborn’ Makes Sense at A Film Fest

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