The saga of NBC’s breakout hit “Heroes” is oddly inspiring. Remember back in the Fall of ’06, everyone was excited about this new show, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” It’s Sorkin Does SNL! What could go wrong? Like millions of TV viewers, I tuned in for “Studio 60,” and then just left the TV on, discovering a kind of cheesy “X-Men” ripoff with an eye-rollingly bland and weirdly jingoistic title. And, like millions of viewers, by the third week, I’d stopped even turning on the TV til 9pm, completely exasperated by “Studio 60” and enthralled with “Heroes.” I’m a sci-fi junky, for sure, especially if the World Hangs in the Balance, but “Heroes” had unusual charms for a network TV show: first of all, its ethnic diversity was unparalleled for prime-time, with multiple interracial romantic relationships, and significant portions of the show taking place in Japanese with English subtitles. After a while, I began to get the sneaking suspicion that the producers had chosen the title “Heroes” as a kind of cover—behind the vaguely 9/11-y protection of that word, the show was free to push the envelope.
Not that its first season was without troubles. The cast’s diversity didn’t extend to the gays, and what appeared to be a gay character seemed to suddenly re-enter the closet; plus, an extended subplot about a mother’s “bad side” got kind of annoying. Its finale was also underwhelming, with the flying politician sacrificing himself to save New York City in a cheap “oops sorry I’ve been evil this whole time but now I’m real sorry” plot twist. But for sheer inventiveness, the series reached some amazing heights, most notably an episode set five years in the future, full of head-spinning unexplained situations and dystopian terror. Plus, hello: George Takei!!
Tonight, we pick up where we left off: Hiro’s stuck, inexplicably, in feudal Japan, baddy Sylar survived, and a new bigger baddy is apparently on the way. “Heroes” is no “Buffy” (despite its superhero cheerleader subplot) and who knows if the series can survive the transition from ignored underdog to great white hope of a sinking network. But tonight at 9, I’ll be tuned in.