As our collective memory has not been wiped clean by the character known as The Haitian, we are still able to remember the series “Heroes,” and the way it devolved across four seasons from an intriguingly new take on superheroes into a dull, self-serious muddle. When “Heroes” began, in 2006, it suggested that the characters needed to find empowerment in what made them different from the rest of society. It was a winning vision of self-esteem set against a global backdrop. When “Heroes” ended, in 2010, it suggested that the characters needed to be laid to rest in TV cancellation eternity, or else become suffocated in a tangled, oppressive mythology before our eyes.
So: Why? Why is NBC bringing back a series that, only five years ago, had lost not only viewers and critical respect but also an overall sense of storytelling momentum and foresight? Is the network so desperately in need of pre-sold titles — which is why we’re seeing so many movies adapted into TV series these days, as well as the return of “The X-Files” and other old shows — that it’s turning to its own recent graveyard for material? Is there some focus group somewhere raving about this reboot; has the cult audience for “Heroes” exploded in its absence since they didn’t know what they had till it was gone; does show creator Tim Kring have pictures of some NBC somebody tucked away somewhere? Why?
What I do know is that the reboot of “Heroes,” which is called “Heroes Reborn” and premieres on Thursday at 8 p.m., is only one example of an epidemic of unoriginality among the networks. It’s not a new phenomenon, of course, but the lack of imagination on network TV seems more self-destructive than ever right now, as viewers have — and take advantage of — many other alternatives on streaming services and cable. On Sunday night, the networks took home only two of the major scripted Emmy Awards in yet another sign of the failing model that is commercial TV. I wish the networks were fighting just a little harder to survive, with sharper weapons in their cache.
After previewing the two-hour premiere of “Heroes Reborn,” I can’t say it quite justifies its revival, especially now that we’re in the middle of a superhero boom on TV with “The Flash,” “Arrow,” the forthcoming “Supergirl,” and other shows. It strikes me as simply more of the same overwrought drama that we left by the side of the road in 2010, with a few returning characters — most notably Jack Coleman’s Noah Bennet — and a bunch of newcomers, none of whom is quite as charming as the young evos (evolved humans) from the first series, such as Hiro. When the action begins, it looks as though the evos are at peace with humans. But hatred lurks, and June 13 becomes a 9/11-type date after a massive, lethal explosion at a human-evo “Unity Summit” in Odessa, Texas.
The government blames the evos for the tragedy, and they are forced back into hiding. There is a couple, Luke and Joanne Collins (Zachary Levi and Judi Shekoni), who are out to avenge the death of their son. There is a conspiracy theorist named Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski), there is another shadowy corporation, there is an ominous atmosphere that just won’t quit. It’s not nearly the worst thing you’ll find on network TV this fall, and it’s coherent to people who didn’t see the first series, but it’s not fresh enough to inspire a commitment.
NBC is calling “Heroes Reborn” a “13-episode event series,” which, in today’s coded network-speak, means that it will end intentionally — unless it’s a hit, in which case the show will go on. And on and on and on. “Heroes Re-reborn,” anyone?
Starring: Jack Coleman, Gatlin Green, Ryan Guzman, Robbie Kay, Zachary Levi, Rya Kihlstedt. On NBC. Thursday, 8 p.m.