Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
I'm always a bit skeptical when it comes to the "next big thing" on network television. After watching brilliant shows like Firefly and Arrested Development burn brightly and then vanish, I just find it way too painful to tune in week after week, only to be disappointed in the end. But the magic of DVD technology has given me an alternative: Whenever I catch wind of a hot new show, I stay patient. I wait to hear what the critics and the viewers think. I avoid spoilers while trying to figure out if said program will be returning for a second season. I do pay attention to about 35% of what's on TV -- I just don't watch it.
Were it not for DVDs, I'd never have discovered the relative awesomeness of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Masters of Horror, Veronica Mars, Six Feet Under, Dexter, Deadwood, and about a dozen others. While some folks love settling in for "one episode a week," I simply opt to stay out of the conversation until the DVDs hit the scene. Which brings us to a series that I so desperately WANTED to watch -- but I made myself wait. And I'm really glad I did, because after watching all 23 episodes of the first season of Heroes -- I'm convinced that it's one of the best network exports of the last ten years.
So yes, while you and all your friends were waiting on pins and needles every week, I ignored Heroes completely and just waited patiently for the DVD. And boy am I glad I did. Despite all the "toldja so!" comments from everyone I've spoken to, I fully expected to enjoy Heroes and its tasty mixture of sci-fi, superheros, and soap opera. But I didn't expect to rampage through all 23 (45-minute) episodes over the course of three days. Taken as a DVD experience, Heroes feels a lot more like a movie than a TV show. A really long and really excellent movie.
To try and break down the numerous plot threads, origin stories and character backgrounds would take more words than you'd want to bother with. Suffice to say that Heroes takes place in a perfectly realistic universe -- aside from one big difference: All over the world people are starting to discover some really strange powers. Here's a partial roll call:
Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) is a button-cute cheerleader girl who can instantly regenerate and heal any injury.
Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) is a good-guy, go-nowhere street cop who can hear other peoples' thoughts.
Niki Sanders (Ali Later) has superhuman strength, a murderous alter ego, and an amazingly short temper.
Micah Sanders (Noah Gray-Cabey), Niki's son, can speak to machines and computers.
D.L. Hawkins (Leonard Roberts), Niki's husband and Micah's father, can walk through solid objects.
Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is a drug-addicted artist who can paint the future.
Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) is a congressional candidate who can fly.
Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), Nathan's little brother, can absorb the special powers of any "hero" he's standing near.
...and that's only a few of the more colorful characters. We've also got a brilliant young geneticist looking for revenge, a mysterious government man who's in hot pursuit of our various heroes, and a rrrrreally creepy serial killer called Sylar -- but I don't want to give anything away. But the Hero-makers pull off a near-impossible task: Smaller story arcs that actually FIT into a (much) larger saga!
"Stand-alone" episodes that are still integral to the bigger picture! Random characters that repeatedly bump into one another -- with interesting repercussions! I can only imagine how many story meetings and writers' retreats it must have taken to wedge so many cool sub-stories together into one cohesive whole. It's impressive, basically.
You'd think that a "superhero" series would live or die by its action scenes and special effects, but that's not even remotely what Heroes is about. What kept impressing me, episode after episode, was the pitch-perfect ensemble cast and the consistently clever screenwriting. And yes, when the action and the flashy bits show up, they're really quite cool -- but the characters are the key, and series creator Tim Kring is to be super-commended for letting the humanity shine through in such a potentially broad package.
Although there's plenty of gee-whiz and derring-do to go around, Heroes sometimes focuses on the more fascinating mundane aspects of the story.
How, for example, would a normal joe explain to his wife that he can read her every thought? How would an unkillable teenager actually feel about being invincible? Sincere emotion and sci-fi spectacle don't always make for a comfortable marriage, but Kring and his crew have pulled off something really special here: An old-fashioned "serial" adventure that borrows from the finest comic books, that never goes for the easy twist or obvious turn, that keeps the surprises coming -- be they good news or bad news, and always keeps wit, character and humanity a priority over easy action or hollow gimmickry.
Plus, as much as I hate to employ such an overused cliche, Heroes really does have something for everyone: It's smart, sexy, exciting, romantic, weird, funny, and intelligent all at the same time. It takes stock characters and old-fashioned heroics and updates them in the most fascinating of ways. I'm not saying Heroes is one of the best TV shows I've ever seen -- but please feel free to ask me again after two or three more seasons have gone by. All I can really say is that we need more shows like this one -- but not ripoffs.
The stellar DVD package presents all 23 episodes in a beautiful widescreen format. Audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 (also very slick) with optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French.
And best of all? My extra-long wait for Heroes pays off in the supplement goodies department. On disc 1 you'll find a 73-minute version of the pilot episode, with optional commentary by Tim Kring. (I'd recommend watching this version AFTER you're totally done with the season, but it's an excellent addition all the same.) Peppered throughout all seven discs are about an hours' worth of deleted scenes, which are always cool. You'll also find a dozen audio commentaries scattered throughout the set. Various actors, writers, and producers chime in to talk about their new hit, and (of the tracks I've heard) everyone seems to be having a good ol' time indeed. On disc seven you'll find about an hour in featurette goodness. Basically a bunch of pieces covering "making of," "special effects," "stunts," etc. If you opt for the HD version you'll get a few extra bells & whistles, but I'm reviewing the standard DVD set -- which (honestly) I can't wait to watch again some time in the next few months.