Sunday, December 03, 2006

"SAVE THE CHEERLEADER, SAVE THE WORLD"? Mags tells us why we should be watching Heroes (Mondays on NBC at 9pm ET/PT, 8pm CT)


There is nothing sillier than the premise: "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World." At least that's what I thought.

This is what NBC says about its new series Heroes:

From creator/writer Tim Kring (NBC's "Crossing Jordan") comes "Heroes," an epic drama that chronicles the lives of ordinary people who discover they possess extraordinary abilities.

As a total eclipse casts its shadow across the globe, a genetics professor (Sendhil Ramamurthy, "Blind Guy Driving") in India is led by father's disappearance to uncover a secret theory--there are people with super powers living among us. A young dreamer (Milo Ventimiglia, "Gilmore Girls") tries to convince his politician brother (Adrian Pasdar, "Judging Amy") that he can fly. A high school cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere, "Ice Princess") learns that she is totally indestructible. A Las Vegas stripper (Ali Larter, "Final Destination"), struggling to make ends meet to support her young son (Noah Gray-Cabey, "My Wife & Kids"), discovers that her mirror image has a secret. A fugitive from justice (Leonard Roberts, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") continues to baffle authorities who twice have been unable to contain him. A gifted artist (Santiago Cabrera, "Empire"), whose drug addiction is destroying his life and relationship with his girlfriend (Tawny Cypress, NBC's "Third Watch"), can paint the future. A down-on-his-luck Los Angeles beat cop (Greg Grunberg, "Alias") can hear people's thoughts, which puts him on the trail of an elusive serial killer. In Japan, a young man (Masi Oka, NBC's "Scrubs") develops a way to stop time through sheer will power. Their ultimate destiny is nothing less than saving the world…

Joining Kring as executive producer are Dennis Hammer (NBC's "Crossing Jordan") and Allan Arkush (NBC's "Crossing Jordan"). David Semel ("House") executive-produced and directed the pilot. The drama is produced by NBC Universal Television Studio.

My husband and I rarely miss a movie or television show based on comic-book heroes. To be clear, I am not the one who rushes with excitement to the local theater, but it has become a ritual in which I partake in order to be a good mate to my husband and a good sport to my cousin and her husband. In other words, I like these types of stories OK, but I am more of a social viewer, as some might consider themselves a social drinker.

To be honest, I was less than enthusiastic when my husband mentioned Heroes to me this year as we were planning what to DVR on prime-time mainstream networks. (Our schedules allow us to meet about midnight to view a few shows on television. We are second-shifters here.)

My secret plan was to avoid watching Heroes altogether. I assigned the show to him; he was to watch it first, then let me know whether it was worth my time. I could not imagine that a weekly serial-type drama of hero-like comic-book characters could manage to hold the audience, and more specifically me, on a television budget and format week after week. I am from the Batman generation, just to date myself. I could not envision anything but silly.

After the first two episodes, my husband encouraged me to take a look. Still skeptical, I acquiesced.


Now, I promised Ken that I would do better than "wow" in my description, so here goes.

This series has the most tightly woven plot I have ever seen on television. The premise is introduced by way of a panel painted by one of our Heroes who is able to paint the future. The panel shows a nuclear explosion that destroys New York City. From this the whole series works its way backward. The Heroes are brought together from different locations in the world through "random" events to prevent world cataclysm.

We have been introduced to at least ten heroes so far. The actors here are a rare and varied group that meshes seamlessly, and the writers have cemented our connections to the characters by making each hero an individual to us. Very quickly and effortlessly, we care.

These regular folks' superpowers are limited to one per person. The only exception so far is Peter Petrelli (right), whose superpower is that he can absorb the superpower of the person he is near at the time. Very interesting.

The mix of comedy and drama is wildly successful. The uncertainty as to who will ultimately be the bad guys and who the good guys is a constant puzzle. The element of surprise is at all times in full use. The intrigue is heightened by the way the writers use time travel as well as flashbacks. Unlike many of its peers, this sci-fi adventure uses time travel very well. If you can imagine what a virtual-reality vehicle might feel like if it could transport us from one era to another and instantly locate us at any point in an unfolding tale, perhaps that would be an accurate representation of how watching Heroes feels to the audience.

The relationships between the characters never become hokey. The plots of individual lives are entwined with the plot of the world. The personal details of love, politics, religion, and mysticism become the stage on which the international drama is set. It isn't forced--it flows. We get enough each week to satisfy our longing for more clues, and yet we're also presented with more questions. Which is fine with me. Once you start watching, you don't want the mystery to be completely solved. You just don't want the story to end.

Where did the heroes come from, with their genetic specialness? That remains to be solved. Do they save the world? We don't know yet. How did they come to discover their powers? We are learning this slowly.

There isn't a dull minute. The characters are all human. Superpower or no, these are flawed characters, no one all good and yet no one completely evil--at least so far. We can feel sympathy for the murderer and disgust with the victim, but we're never sure what they'll do next, or who pulls the strings.

For this hour a week, escape! Allow yourself to relax and just enjoy the show's story-telling expertise of the writers the creators, and the actors. We seldom get this much entertainment without renting a movie or leaving our homes for the theater.

You can watch episodes on the website, and also explore features on the site. I'm going to bookmark Hiro's blog and go play with the features on the page.

Heroes? I'm hooked!!!!


Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 seems to me to have more than lived up to the promise of that extraordinary premiere episode. Assuming it attracts enough viewers to survive, it seems likely to become one of the landmark series in television history. We don't have room for the whole remarkable cast, so I've got Matthew Perry (Matt) standing in at right.

I might mention too that I've also gotten hooked on NBC's Friday NIght Lights (Tuesday nights at 8pm ET/PT), the show about a small-town Texas high school football team. Boy, was I wrong in assuming that this came from the "Let's go after the moron viewers" mindset that gave us NBC's unspeakable My Name Is Earl. I just assumed that the show is a dewy-eyed tribute to the great American pastime, high school football. Hardly.

In fact, the show almost attacks its subject, looking at it from the perspectives of newly hired coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), who doesn't understand yet that he'll never be allowed to run a clean, character-building program, and his wife Tami (Connie Britton), a guidance counselor at the school, who deals firsthand with the social rot that football worship inflicts on the quite-troubled-enough culture of a high school--not to mention on the kids' home life (including her own).

That would make at least three serious, well-executed hourlong dramas introduced by one network in one season, which I think is pretty remarkable.--Ken


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