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Still holding out for 'Heroes': revisiting the first season

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

October 28, 2011

I’ve always watched more than my fair share of TV shows. Unless I’m doing homework, you can always expect me to have a TV on in the background. Recently, though, I’ve begun to feel that network TV shows are nothing but crap. There’s the occasional funny sitcom but there hasn’t been a show that has really engaged me since my first year of college.
At the end of my first year, NBC announced that the show “Heroes” would not be renewed for a fifth season. I was fine with it; the show had long lost the greatness of the first season. Now, however, I realize just how great it was compared to some of the stuff that passes for good TV now. If you ever have the chance, I seriously recommend watching the first season of “Heroes.” You don’t have to be a comic fan, just a fan of good storytelling.
Season one begins very disjointedly and disconnectedly. In New York City, a man runs for Congress while his brother works as a nurse. Somewhere else in the city, a painter struggles with his use of narcotics. In Texas, a popular cheerleader deals with the stresses of high school. In Los Angeles, a police officer fails his detective’s exam for the third time due to his dyslexia. On the other side of the world, however, a Japanese office drone discovers he can travel through time and space. Outside Vegas, a woman seems to have a split personality with superhuman strength.
Not everyone has powers. There’s a genetics professor who investigates his father’s murder while continuing his research on human evolution. A mysterious man known only by his horn-rimmed glasses moves through the shadows, manipulating people’s lives while trying to protect his teenage daughter. This isn’t a full list of key characters, but the ones listed give a sense of the vastly different backgrounds of the characters. As the series progresses, everyone’s stories intersect; everything is connected.
Not only is there a vast ensemble of characters but each character also has a great amount of depth. For instance, Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), the office drone, is the personification of comic book geek. He has a heart of gold and wants nothing more than to do the right thing. His best friend Ando (James Kyson Lee), meanwhile, serves as a foil both when he tries to use Hiro’s power to win big in Vegas (it doesn’t go well) and when he offers “sage” advice.
Even shady characters like Horn-Rimmed Glasses (Jack Coleman) prove well-developed and complex. His job investigating “posthumans” for a group known simply as The Company shows him capable of doing terrible things like abducting and tracking some of the main characters, while also willing to help and protect others.
The series’ villain is also thoroughly developed. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) is a watchmaker with the ability to understand instantly how things work. His wickedness, it turns out, was inspired by his mother, who instilled in him such a desperate need to be special that it has driven him to kill others in order to acquire their abilities.
Season one begins with many characters discovering they possess some kind of special ability. One man can fly, another can read minds and one can even paint the future. The cheerleader can heal from any injury and even attempts suicide five times just to prove it. One man can mimic the powers of anyone he encounters. What made the show great was that it wasn’t about these people running around being superheroes; instead, it was about seeing them cope with these abilities in addition to handling everyday life.
Right from the first episode, it’s clear that the show is not going to be episodic, preferring instead to focus on long-term story arcs. Early on, Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), the police officer, gets assigned to investigate a murderer who gruesomely kills his victims without leaving the slightest trace of evidence (as it turns out, it’s Sylar). The pilot ends with the artist painting a prophetic picture of New York City amid an atomic explosion, setting the stage for an exciting finale. To add to the mystery, a helix symbol appears in various forms throughout the series either as a pattern in mundane objects, on jewelry or even as a tattoo on a character’s shoulder.
“Heroes” had good reason to be an instant hit when it first aired in 2006, when it became one of the few shows I made a priority to watch. In short, “Heroes” started off as a great execution of a great idea. Instead of making a show about an established superhero character (think “Smallville,” for example), “Heroes” creates a huge group of ordinary people with which the audience can connect. Younger brothers can identify with Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), the brother of congressional candidate Nathan (Adrian Pasdar). Comic and pop culture fans can connect with Hiro and his at times funny “Star Trek” references. Students might identify with Claire (Hayden Panettiere) as she deals with the stress of high school and later college. Further, the show didn’t become cheesy with spandex costumes, or costumes of any kind, and it avoided the pitfalls of code names or other hero identities.
With all these qualities going in its favor, season one of “Heroes” definitely falls under the category of “must see TV.” More than a year since its cancelation, it’s still well worth checking out.

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