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Pilot Inspektor: NBC's "Heroes"

Of the current batch of fall pilots in my possession, the one I was really looking forward to watching was NBC's Heroes, which many have touted as NBC's answer to drama juggernaut Lost. I can safely say that the cast and crew of the J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof-created drama doesn't need to lose any sleep at night. Lost this is not.

For those of you in the dark, here's the basic pitch: seemingly overnight, ordinary people suddenly develop extraordinary powers and represent the next step in humanity's evolution, but there's something else afoot here as forces beyond their control seem to be drawing them closer together (a theme that seems to be so extremely common this season that it's the basis for no less than three pilots). The genetic mutation line is straight out of X-Men (one character even references the long-running comic book series, using Uncanny X-Men #143, in which Kitty Pryde travels to a dystopian future, as an argument for time travel); the random people seemingly imbued with strange and unusual powers directly influenced by J. Michael Straczynski's Rising Stars. But again it's ABC's Lost that seems to provide the most influence on Heroes.

Let's see, where shall I begin... Um, strong, sexy woman on the run after committing a murder? Check. Soulful medical professional from wealthy family? Check. Young blonde girl named Claire? Check. Precocious African-American boy with unusual powers? Check. African-American father of said boy who lives in New York City and hasn't seen his son in years? Check. A mysterious organization that is aware of and dealing with people's newfound abilities? Check. (I'm calling it the Karma Initiative for now.) Asian man who doesn't seem to speak very much English? Check. Highly intelligent and swarthy Asian or Middle Eastern man? Check. Greg Grunberg? Check. (Though billed as a series lead, he doesn't appear in the version of the pilot I saw.) A web of fate drawing these strangers together to possibly save the world? Double check.

I kid you not.

In any event, I've heard that the pilot was originally two hours but had been cut down to 55 minutes (the version I saw), so that could explain the absence of both Greg Grunberg and Leonard Roberts, who plays Heroes' version of Lost's "Michael" character. But it doesn't explain why even at a tighter 55 minutes, absolutely nothing seems to happen. Many of the characters speak of a big event looming on the horizon that will change everything (I assumed it was the solar eclipse), but nothing happens. The characters talk, cross paths with one another, and talk some more. And then they keep talking. And talking. In overly expositional, poorly written dialogue that seems written by some network exec who didn't think that the audience would understand that a wealthy widow is shoplifting after the death of her husband so that she can "feel alive" or that her son Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) "needs to put [himself] first and stop living [his] life for other people."

As for the characters, they are, as one would imagine, a rather motley bunch and the pilot depicts each of them as they go about their daily lives, unaware of the storm that is brewing. Peter Petrelli (Ventimiglia) works as a private nurse for terminally ill patients but keeps dreaming that he can fly. In these dreams, he keeps seeing the face of his brother Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), a politician running for Congress, in a darkened alley as Peter falls towards him. Nathan doesn't have any time for Peter's eccentricities with his campaign in full swing, nor their mother's latest arrest for shoplifting socks, but Nathan wants to keep Peter close and offers him a job on the campaign because he's "good with people." (Hmmm.)

In Texas, teenage cheerleader Clair Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) discovers she is invulnerable and spends her time jumping off of water towers and stabbing herself in the chest to test the limit of her powers. (She also drops her ring down a working garbage disposal and puts her hand down there in a rather gruesome sequence.) But Clair soon rises to the mantle of hero when she uses her invulnerability to save the life of a firefighter in a rapidly burning building, before running off into the smoke.

Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) is a single mom in Las Vegas who's doing internet porn to support herself and keep her genius son Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey) in a ritzy private school, but she runs afoul of the local mob and a loan shark comes collecting. (Lucky for her that she has this weird alter ego/mirror self that can do horrible, gruesome, murderous things for her.) Her son Micah runs away to New York City to find his estranged father, D.L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts, who doesn't appear in the pilot). Niki takes care of a little business of her own before setting off after her son.

Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is a rather talented, albeit strung out, artist who can paint pictures of events and people in the future. His girlfriend Simone Deveraux (Tawny Cypress) is worried about him, particularly after he shows her an image of her walking into his apartment carrying a briefcase, which she just did five minutes earlier, a picture he painted the night before. Isaac's also trying to give up on drugs cold turkey (he thinks they're causing these images to appear) but Simone is concerned. Isaac kicks Simone out of his apartment, handcuffs himself to a pipe, and waits out the withdrawal pains. Nearby, a nice assortment of saws and other tools sit menacingly... Simone turns to the only person she knows can help, the man taking care of her terminally ill father: Peter Petrelli (Ventimiglia, again). Funny how these coincidences keep popping up, no? Simone forces Peter to bring as much morphine as he can and leads him to Isaac's apartment, where they encounter... a rather gruesome, yet predictable, scene waiting for them. But Peter also sees something else, a portrait of himself with wings by Isaac. (Hmmm.)

As for the pilot's missing characters, NBC's press release tells me that Greg Grunberg plays a "down-on-his-luck beat cop [who] can hear people's thoughts, including the secrets of a captured terrorist," while Leonard Robert's D.L. Hawkins is "a prison inmate [who] mysteriously finds himself waking up outside of his cell. " Would have been nicer to, you know, actually see that in the pilot.

On the other side of the world, other people are also experiencing awakenings of their own. In Japan, Hiro Akamura (Masi Oka) is a bored Japanese businessman who becomes convinced that he can alter the space-time continuum, slowing down or stopping time and teleporting (and in one nifty sequence, he does actually teleport off of a crowded Tokyo commuter train to Times Square). And in India, college professor Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) talks to his pupils about the work that he and his father (a former professor/research scientist turned Manhattan cab driver) have spent their lives developing: a belief that the human genome is changing and that the next step of evolution is happening before their eyes. People with extraordinary abilities are already living among us.

It's a theory that gets Mohinder's father killed and Mohinder leaves India to travel to New York City in order to search through his father's papers, but someone has gotten there first: a mysterious man who has a very pointed interest in both the research work Mohinder's father was doing and Mohinder himself. A man who has a very interesting connection to one of our other characters... (I'm not going to spoil that here.)

As the various characters seem to make their way to New York City, I was expecting some huge momentous moment to occur at the end of the hour, some huge world-altering event that would bring our heroes to the fore, but it never arrives. Many of the characters mention the imminent solar eclipse but it comes and goes with seemingly no consequences whatsoever. Peter gets into Mohinder's cab, they have a (very unrealistic for New York City) intellectual conversation about the nature of the universe and evolution and Peter watches the eclipse from the back of the car. I was hoping that this moment would catalyze everyone's abilities--latent or otherwise--but the eclipse just passes without anything apocalyptic happening. Color me confused.

There is a nice twist at the end of the pilot that I have to admit I didn't really see coming, but otherwise it just sort of peters out into nothingness. Even at a leaner 55 minutes, the pilot drags on endlessly and I was left with feeling alternatingly frustrated and bored. So far, many of the characters seem rather one-dimensional and I'm baffled by some of the casting choices altogether. Additionally, Ventimiglia, usually so affable on Gilmore Girls (he played Rory's bad boyfriend Jess), is rather unlikeable here and he irritates more than intrigues, especially as he seems to be the series' putative lead (unless that's intended to be the absent Grunberg).

David Semel's direction is lush and visually dazzling (especially the opening sequence) but the studio will hopefully pony up some more money for better special effects (see the ending). Writing--by Crossing Jordan creator Tim Kring--came across as lazy and bloated. For a concept with such a rich sci-fi/action/superhero premise, there was an awful lot of talking going on here, and not enough action. What's there instead is an underlying arrogance and unwarranted overconfidence, demonstrated in the Star Wars-style written narration at the opening which goes on to state that this is only "Volume 1" of this ongoing story. Unless the producers can work out the kinks and ratchet up the tension and action here, I wouldn't hold my breath for Volume 2.

Ultimately, these Heroes won't save anyone, least of all NBC's struggling lineup.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: The King of Queens/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); 7th Heaven (WB); Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball (ABC); 24 (FOX; 8-10 pm); One on One/All of Us (UPN)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); The Apprentice (NBC); Everwood (WB); Alias (ABC; 9-11 pm); Girlfriends/Half & Half (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Medium (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

7 pm: Jamie's School Lunch Project on TLC.

On the final installment of Jamie Oliver's brilliant documentary series ("Taking It to the Top"), Jamie takes his campaign straight to the British government, when he lobbies officials to support his "Feed Me Better'' platform and urges them to ban all junk food from schools. Will he succeed in stemming the tide of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other health problems and get the UK government to feed the nation's children better? Find out tonight.

8:30 & 9:30 pm: Old Christine.

Get two episodes of Old Christine tonight for the price of one! (Well, yes, it's still free.) First, on what was originally intended to be the series' second episode ("Some of My Best Friends Are Portuguese"), Christine becomes friends with another working mom at Ritchie's school, but when she learns where the woman actually works, her happiness soon disappears. Then on the season finale ("A Fair to Remember"), Christine bumps into former flame Burton (guest star Matthew Letscher) and discovers that she does have feelings for him after all. Silly Christine... why'd you let the guy go in the first place? He was a catch!

9 pm: Alias (Series Finale).

If you're into this sort of thing, tonight's the two-hour series finale of Alias ("Reprisal"/"All the Time in the World"). In an attempt to find the final clue to Rambaldi's endgame, Sloane takes Marshall and Rachel hostage and, typically, it falls to the daughter and daddy team of Sydney and Jack Bristow to stop Sloane and Irina (Lena Olin) from carrying out their deadly plan. I stopped watching Alias a while ago, but a sick, masochistic part of me is curious as to how it will end. Did I mention that there's an even sicker, overly critical part of me wants it to end with a whimper instead of a bang?

10 pm: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel.

Everyone's favorite sarcastic chef, author, and television personality returns with a new batch of episodes of my Travel Channel must see show. On tonight's installment of No Reservations ("Mexico; US"), Tony travels to the border between Southwest Texas and Mexico, where he'll visit a Texan bar and grill, eat nachos in Piedras Nigras, and take a boat tour of the Rio Grande River. Some rough life this guy has.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I very much agree with your comments. The show has potential but only if it develops its characters as they are very one-dimensional.

I do like the darker tone and hope they continue with that rather than turning the show into a bubblegum superhero mess (like what has been done with the X-Men movies).

The pilot intrigued me enough to tune in to the second episode which, hopefully, proves to be stronger.
Anonymous said…
This show is going to be great! I can't wait until September.

Check out http://www.heroes-tv.com for all kinds of HEROES stuff!
Anonymous said…
haha... you've really opened my eyes to how similar Heroes is to Lost. Yet despite that factor and my joking critizism, I am really looking forward to this show. I love Lost so this should be in my ball park! Plus, after Bedford Diaries, well, sucking, i'm glad to see Milo Ventimiglia part of something thats recieving alot of buzz.
Anonymous said…
haha... you've really opened my eyes to how similar Heroes is to Lost. Yet despite that factor, I am really looking forward to this show. I love Lost so this should be in my ball park! Plus, after Bedford Diaries, well, sucking, i'm glad to see Milo Ventimiglia part of something thats recieving alot of buzz.
Tidmore said…
I have to say after just watching the 55 min pilot, I was the opposite of you, excited and wishing it had been the full 70 min version shown at Comic-Con this past weekend, I'm hoping that NBC runs with that one. I didn't like that Grunberg was missing, but overall i was intrigued by the show and can't wait to see what happens next. The 2 twists at the end were nice and I never saw them coming. Can't wait until September.
Anonymous said…
I guess you can’t have ensemble casts anymore without being considered a ripoff, even if the subject matter is entirely different.

[Um, strong, sexy woman on the run after committing a murder?]

Lost-Kate and Heroes-Niki are entirely different characters. The former is rebellious and an a cold-blooded murderer, the latter is a timid single mom who does webcam porn to make ends meet and unintentionally killed people when her powers manifested. Yeah, same thing!

[Soulful medical professional from wealthy family?]

You can't have doctors on TV shows anymore? One's in genetic research which is key to the show's central plot, and the other's in spinal surgery which isn't. Oh, and guess what? Doctors are wealthy!

[Young blonde girl named Claire?]

Uh...Strong-willed leader-type character named Jack with perpetual stubble, played by a previously hasbeen actor? Oh no, Lost is ripping off 24!

Further evidence: Exploding planes in the pilot episode!

[Precocious African-American boy with unusual powers?]

Walt wasn’t exactly what I’d call “precocious”. Both characters give off a completely different vibe. Especially considering the entire premise of Heroes is “unusual powers”. What, did you just see two black kids and say “same thing”?

[African-American father of said boy who lives in New York City and hasn't seen his son in years?]

If it's the character I'm thinking of (who you haven’t even seen yet!), he hasn't seen his son in years because he's been in prison. And wow, New York? You don't say, that's only where half the show took place.

[A mysterious organization that is aware of and dealing with people's newfound abilities?]

Mysterious organizations are in EVERY sci-fi-ish show. How many people have “newfound abilities” on Lost? One?

[Asian man who doesn't seem to speak very much English?]

You are really reaching here. A Japanese geek who can teleport himself is the same as a Korean fisherman-turned-hitman? Henceforth, all native-speaking Asians will be dubbed Jin ripoffs because your logic dictates it.

[Highly intelligent and swarthy Asian or Middle Eastern man?]

Wow, “Asian OR Middle Eastern”? Is that the same as “black or hispanic”? And just like the last point, I didn’t realize that an Indian geneticist/taxi driver is the same thing as an Iraqi Republican Guard torturer. Get your world cultures straight before you pick on casting choices.

[Greg Grunberg?]

Irrelevant since he wasn’t even in what you saw, but either way if you’d read up on the show, you’d know that he was cast as a “good luck charm” for the pilot, because when he’s in pilot episodes, the show typically does well. Lost isn’t the only example, and this is poor evidence of your point anyway.

[A web of fate drawing these strangers together to possibly save the world?]

Most of Lost's characters just want to go home or survive. Most of the characters in Heroes haven't even met each other by the end of the pilot. “Saving the world” was an off-handed comment made by a minor character in Lost’s 2nd season, it’s hardly the main premise of the show, at least as far as we know so far.


It seems to me that you’re pretty much looking at appearances and nothing else, and then scrounging for more evidence to support it. You took your pre-made solution, and then found questions that applied to it, instead of the other way around.

I could probably come up with a dozen more comparisons, but that doesn't make it a ripoff of the show. Jericho's more of a ripoff than this is, because that's at least got the "stranded people sticking together in a disastrous situation" thing going on.

And this is coming from someone who watches Lost AND enjoyed the Heroes pilot.
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with the anonymous above. Some comparisons are a bit ridiculous, and to criticize characters you haven't yet seen is actually funny.
I saw a version of the pilot with more than what you have seen. It had Greg's character in it. I found it to go by rather quickly. Yes, they weren't using their powers every instance of the episode. But I am a Lost fan, and being a Lost fan as well, I know that some things can build over episodes, and that not all is going to come at once.
I would also like to add that even a show like this should not lie solely on its character's superpowers. There should be dialogue, and a lot of it. It helps to develop the characters as more then just someone who can fly or read minds.
I personally enjoyed the show thoroughly, and will certainly watch the pilot again, as well as the second episode, and the episode that follows.

I still do appreciate your thoughts on the subject. It's good to hear arguments on both sides. Oddly, I've found few in the middle. (Save perhaps the Danielle that commented earlier)
Anonymous said…
Regarding the Anonymous comment above, I thought that the "Lost"/"Heroes" comparison was amusing and don't understand why you took it so seriously...enough so that you basically call the reviewer a racist which is totally out of line. "Entertainment Weekly" also made the comparison between "Heroes" and "Lost" recently so, obviously, there are similarities. You don't have to agree but your comments are unjustifiably cruel.

It's clear that you put a lot of time into your rant and I suggest that you channel your energy into more positive things, like your own blog, and not hide behind an "anonymous" title when attacking someone.
Anonymous said…
i am an insider on the show. several things have been changed. and no matter what version you've seen, the first episode that airs will be different. they DID go back and reshoot the special effects. the terrorist plot has been cut. the fate of isaac, the painter, has been changed. the story for DL, the black father, has been changed completely.

this show is only like lost in that it is a large ensemble cast and the story unfolds slowly. the race of some of the characters is only similar because it is a large ensemble and they have strived to make it as diverse as possible. in a way, it's a lot more socially advanced than any other show on television. there is a black man married to a white woman who have a mixed child. there's a mixed woman dating a latin man with a white man wanting to be with her. there are more minorities than white folks on this show. it's very exciting.

withhold judgement until you watch what nbc airs on september 25th. you are gonna fall in love with it, i promise. i know what happens up to episode six and i gotta say, it keeps getting better.

and if i haven't convinced you yet, let me just say that i was told this is jeff zucker's (the head of nbc) favorite new show. and he knows a thing or two about television, right?
Anonymous said…
We are eagerly anticipating the start of Heroes, and have set up a fan forum dedicated to the show. http://heroes.tvwebchat.com

Be sure to stop by and say hello!
Anonymous said…
When setting up a first episode with an ensemble cast from different walks of life having different powers it is expected to be filled with exposition. In the 55 minutes you're introducing 7 major characters each with their separate storylines. That gives each of them an average of 7 plus minutes. And in that time you need to establish who they are, what their personalities are, and also demonstrate their abilities. But once you get that out of the way the storyline would move faster. I suspect that will be the case once episode 2 comes out. I was expecting this to happen anyway so I wasn't frustrated about this. Remember it's broken into two parts and it wouldn't be wise to blow your load on part one.

Since I've never seen any episodes of "Lost" I have no comment about the character comparisons between the two shows nor which show is better. However the African American kid on "Heroes" haven't displayed any unusual powers that you speak of other than he's precocious.

I do agree that some of the writing is contrived and plots awkward. I wonder why the cheerleader is depressed about her powers like it's ruining her life? And how does the shoplifting mom fit into the storyline? And the symbolic eclipse seemed wasted since it had no visible effect to the already superpowered characters. Perhaps more will be explained later...

But despite its flaws I'm still intrigued on how this all comes together. Perhaps Hiro( which BTW is my favorite character) will be instrumental in bringing the L.A. cop, the Texas cheerleader, and the Las Vegas stripper to New York with his teleporting abilities. And how would that come about I wonder? From the guidance of Suresh or that evil Government guy who's also the father of the cheerleader? Or perhaps the visions from the strung out artist with precog abilities?

All and all I still liked the show alot and I hope it gets better. The preview for next week's episode seems very promising with Hiro stopping time to what looks like an attempt to save a little girl from a colliding bus. And the telepathic cop getting captured by that evil Government guy looks good. My interests were also piqued when we discover that exploits of our characters are also depicted on some comicbook that Hiro picks up from New York. So I'm still very optimistic about this...
Anonymous said…
First of all I couldn't disagree more about your take on the premiere episode of Heroes. I have seen both the original full length premiere and the cut down NBC aired version.

You have to keep in mind that the first episode was only half of the premiere. The premiere comes in 2 halves. First "Genesis" and second "Don't look back."

Genesis was simply an introduction to the characters, Theirs lives, situations, some very important relationships with one another/or lack there of.

You are introduced to the basic storyline, The underlying idea and the prelude to a "greater ideal."
you know something is coming, someting big and everyone will be involved.

The Premiere episode was design to give you all of these hints, intrigue you with all of these unanswered questions, and invite you into the story. Unanswered looming doom and character involvement therein is what will bring you back for the second part. It's created to be a drawing serialized drama with a rather subtle sci-fi edge.

Heroes is a mix between a VERY toned down X-men, and plausible dramatic realism. Its not an over exaggerated sci-fi action series. Thats what makes the show unique and interesting.

And as for the similarities with Lost, Yes it is NBC's answer to that hit show. But only because NBC has realized that the key to a prime time success is a serialized show including an ensemble cast of intrieguing characters in a mysterious situation complete with twists turns and weekly Cliffhangers. It's that serialized appointement viewing Television that coaxes ratings.

That is the connection with Lost, and the only connection. you are stretching with the charater to character connection. Those are all regular character traights and situations.

Heroes will be a hit... its going to gain a huge M18-49 and will be around for a while.

and as a side note, The apparent overlooking of the eclipse was just setting the stage for a later discovery in the story line.
Anonymous said…
I don't agree with your comments on the show. When I watched Lost, I really loved some episodes but the majority of the time I'd rather turn off the tv. I thought Heroes was going to be stupid because of the trailers and everything and didn't catch any of it. Although after watching the third episode, I think Heroes has the makings of a really big hit. It's like every childhood dream with dark twists. And the fact that's its like watching a comic book makes it twice as cool.
Anonymous said…
Just noticed something funny.

It seemed our mind-reading police man became a pilot and got himself killed on a weird island.

One more connection with lost I guess.
taodon said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
i enjoy both series and cant understand your negitive comments about heroes? isnt it your job to have an open mind when reviewing new programs? this show is a seperate entity, maybe take a nap before reviewing your next series that way you wont be soo cranky
Anonymous said…
Hi there I really like your website for the NBC Heroes Series, I've just begun my own blog on the topic and I've added a link from my main page to your main page and I was wondering if you would be interested in a link exchange with me.

If you are interested in placing a link on your site to my blog can I ask for you to place the words "Heroes Episode Listings" as the anchor text.

Example:

Heroes Episode Listing

Thank You.
Anonymous said…
do you feel like a tool knowing how succesful the show is now and that lost is fading?
Anonymous said…
It must feel so awful.

Over a year later, Heroes is still running strong, getting better and piling up the seasons.

But everyone makes mistakes once in a while, right?

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