Features TV

OPINION: Opportunities for HEROES REBORN

Written by Will Webb

It’s come, the day I have been waiting for since Heroes was cancelled. We’re getting another series. For reference, imagine the feeling that Firefly fans had when Serenity was announced- it’s like that but for an even smaller group of people. By the end, Heroes was four seasons down and in a graveyard slot on BBC Three.

Why did I hang on so long? Well, Heroes has always been a good idea. Most examples of the genre tell us that superhero shows do not work on television; either they never show the powers being used, or they’re underwhelming when they are shown. History is full of failed superhero shows, and we’re still making them (has Agents of SHIELD improved? Is anyone still watching to find out?) But the Heroes pilot remains to my eyes one of the best pilots ever, and the first season pushed the boundaries in terms of on-going depictions of heroes in live-action.

A few moments stand out; that fantastic image of the cheerleader demonstrating her regeneration power, the creeping dread on hearing Sylar’s voice or seeing his silhouette, the reveal of Malcolm Macdowell as Lindeman (still a favourite for villain reveals), the Japanese salaryman-cum-superhero stopping time on the subway train. Individual episodes, including my favourite- “Family Man”, with a powerhouse performance from Christopher Eccleston and Jack Coleman plus some incredible CGI work. In these instances, the show displayed a clear skill with forming striking imagery. With that potential, it’s a shame the show lost its way so rapidly, due in no small part to the WGA strike which its second season unfortunately coincided with. This sort of skewered the show’s arc-heavy leanings, a hit from which it never fully recovered.

Heroes Reborn, then, is a chance to wipe the slate clean. We’re years down the line, arc-based TV is the norm, and shows like Game of Thrones have proven beyond doubt that big visuals can be carried off on the small screen. But it’s been a while since Heroes was on screen, and even longer since anyone watched it; what can Heroes Reborn do? Broadly, they have three options:

Start with a totally clean slate.
Heroes had a strong central concept, of people all around the world discovering they had powers and reacting in different ways to that. Until the Petrelli family became overpopulated by skeletons in closets and formed a plot tumour, this was the main focus. In fact, Tim Kring (the showrunner), originally planned to change the principal cast once a season, to showcase different sets of characters as much as possible. Assuming he could do this with a beloved cast was perhaps a little naïve (even American Horror Story, which changes its plot every season, keeps most of the main cast). But why not start from a clean slate?
Clean the ‘soap’ elements out, with nods for fans.
Heroes was never afraid of a good continuity reference, especially with George Takei as Hiro’s dad (and of course his license plate was NCC 1701). The announcement for Heroes Reborn said it was going to be a stand-alone arc, like 24’s upcoming Another Day, so it seems unlikely that they’ll continue the full story in the miniseries. But season 4 ended with Claire publicly ‘outing’ herself as a powered individual, and hinting toward a whole powered community; dealing with that revelation could provide some interesting situations for a new cast to deal with: people having to ‘come out’ as being powered’, arguments about the politics of having a powered person in the Senate (as Nathan was before his base-breaking demise). This also removes the need for too much set-up, which could cloud a miniseries, and would help to speed the plot along (Heroes was notorious for its filler in later series).
Follow original series characters in new settings.
This sort of relates to the above approach. I think this is unwise if it forms the backbone of the series, since Heroes doesn’t have an exactly legendarily loyal fanbase, and it’s been ages since it was on TV. But doing this in a limited sense might provide some interesting context; my comparison here is the reboot of Dial H for Hero, which begins as a stand-alone until it reveals that some of the events depicted are being co-ordinated by a very, very much changed version of one of the main characters of the original comic. This sort of thing can help a universe feel lived in when done right; when done badly, it leads to all kinds of continuity lock-out.

It’s a while yet before we’ll be seeing Heroes Reborn, but as the above shows, there are a number of interesting options for the creatives behind it to explore. The exciting fact is, we’re finally going to have new superhero TV from the people who really nailed it first (sorry Bill Bixby fans).

About the author

Will Webb