You’ll have to forgive Greg Grunberg’s excitement. While talking to EW, he marveled at the strange twist of fate which has resulted in him again playing telepathic cop Matt Parkman in NBC’s forthcoming Heroes Reborn. He first heard there was going to be a Heroes revival at the same time the rest of the world did: when NBC aired a cryptic 15-second teaser during the Olympics, which was actually a last minute addition to the telecast, capping off a successful negotiation with show creator Tim Kring. The original cast members all scrambled to figure out what the heck was going on, and the information NBC released through its sparse Heroes website wasn’t particularly helpful, describing the show as standalone, the plot as “shrouded in secrecy” and only partially leaving the door open for original cast members to pop back in. Now, Heroes Reborn is months away from its debut (9/24), and we know that in addition to Grunberg we’ll be getting Jack Coleman as Noah Bennet, Masi Oka as Hiro and Sendhil Ramamurthy as Mohinder. Grunberg is so psyched he told EW, “I mean, this never happens. Never!”
Actually, this happens all the time now. Reviving dead shows is the trendy thing. Some were canceled before their time, like Arrested Development. Others never got to go out on a satisfactory high note, like X-Files and Twin Peaks. Others are Netflix’s Fuller House.
But Grunberg’s get points for enthusiasm. In fact, everyone from Heroes Reborn seems to be saying the right things, most likely aware of fan apathy, as indicated when nearly 60% of EW.com readers picked the “Eh, I might check it out” option in response to a poll gauging fan interest in the days after the Olympics teaser. That’s not exactly the type of impassioned response the X-Files people received. When set photos revealed Gillian Anderson’s new Scully wig is at best a strawberry blonde the internet completely lost its shit because how dare they make Scully anything other than a redhead. Heroes isn’t going to get the same level of attention because it was nowhere near as big as the X-Files for as long as the X-Files was. However, for that first season Heroes was astonishingly addictive television, and it holds up on Netflix re-watch. Not so much for the other three seasons. Amnesiac Peter (Milo Ventimilia) with the Irish gangsters! Hiro trapped in feudal Japan! Those Mexican Wonder Twins (I’m not looking up their names) and the show’s thinly veiled commentary on immigration! Sylar’s search for his father! Moreover, Sylar’s (Zachary Quinto) bizarre yo-yo’ing betweein “hero” and “villain,” and that weird stretch where Sylar had permanently morphed into Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) after Matt tricked him into believing he was the real Nathan!
Not even the cast could keep up with the insanity, which many claim was ratcheted up because NBC kept squeezing even more out of them, upping the third season to 25 episodes and planning a spin-off bridge series, Heroes Origins, which was derailed by the WGA Strike. Ramamurthy told EW, “We were just trying to keep our heads above water. I can’t imagine how the writers’ room can come up with that much story. And as an actor you’re like, ‘Please, not another 16-hour-day.’ Those conditions are not conductive to a good TV show.”
They swear that they’ve learned their lesson. According to NBC’s Executive VP of Programming, Vernon Sanders, “We’re very excited about this 13-episode form. Reborn has a definite beginning, middle, and end.” Obviously, if it’s a hit NBC will renew it, but if they are to be believed they will not cliffhanger us with something insane like Hiro stuck in fuedal Japan. Kring promises, “You will get an ending. I think a lot of people who log on to serialized shows are very skeptical that they’re never going to get an ending. Here you have a beginning, middle, and end to your experience.”
So, Heroes Reborn shouldn’t have any filler episodes, and it will have a clear ending. Sounds good so far. What about death? The first season of Heroes was sort of like the Game of Thrones or Walking Dead of its day, raising the tension and dramatic stakes by killing off characters we never expected to see go. Then the show lost its nerve, and people kept coming back from the dead in increasingly implausible ways. Only Claire was supposed to be literally unkillable!
They swear the grim reaper is back with a vengeance on Heroes Reborn, “If you’re going to have life-and-death stakes the audience needs to understand it, and they need to painfully accept it by having certain characters killed off – and that’s exactly how we felt the first time around,” Kring says. “Also, as you are racing toward the end of a story, you need less people sort at the end to pull off the ending — it helps to have fewer characters than what you started with.”
NBC is high on what they’ve seen so far, and gave Kring and company an additional $2 million to go back and make their first episode look more epic. “We’re all trying to play catch-up to the bigger spectacle that is television right now on shows like Game of Thrones,” Kring says “And I also think it’s a great vote of confidence for the show that NBC is asking for us to go bigger.”
The first trailer they released looked overly ponderous to some, and the sad version of a Metallica song doesn’t help with that. However, to me it looks remarkably like the first season, stripping away the excess and getting back to the story of a diverse group of people drawn together across the globe.
It also vaguely reminds me of the Wachowski’s Netflix drama Sense8.
But what, specifically, will the new season be about? Everything will be instigated by a terrorist attack in Odessa, Texas blamed on the heroes, who are now known to the world after Claire forced them out into the open in the series finale. Noah Bennett will be drawn out of seclusion to investigate the attack. “It’s actually Noah’s story that takes us through the big plot of the new series,” Kring says, “[Still] If you’re a new viewer you should have an easy time ramping into the show.” The returning heroes will all be supporting players, making room for new additions like a sword-wielding girl in Tokyo (Kiki Sukezane), an Army vet (Ryan Guzman) and a husband and wife duo (Zachary Levi, Judith Shekoni) seeking to avenge their son’s death.
If any of the other original heroes are returning they’re trying to keep it a secret. For example, it seems odd to have Noah around in a world in which his daughter Claire forced all heroes into the open and not also have Hayden Panettiere back at least putting in a brief appearance as Claire. However, that’s apparently how it’s going to go down. No cheerleader this time, although she stopped being a cheerleader by that third or fourth season.
Overall, the Heroes Reborn people are mostly saying the right things. Jack Coleman even wants us to rethink why we’re so down on the later seasons, “Some of the criticism was fair. I think there was also a great deal of piling on. We like to build things up and tear them down with equal ferocity. There were episodes in the third and fourth seasons that were really strong and still got criticized.” However, as I recently covered in relation to the Terminator franchise it’s one thing to nail your PR babble and another thing to actually follow through on your promises. Kring’s most recent show, Touch, never caught on, and the decline in the original run of Heroes does coincide with around the time Bryan Fuller left his position as Co-Executive Producer to make Pushing Daisies. Plus, while the notion of normal people becoming superheroes seemed novel in 2006 it kind of feels like it’s latching onto a fading trend in 2015. However, Heroes wasn’t really built for the long-haul, and a 13-episode limited series might turn out to have always been its ideal format.
Heroes Reborn premieres in the US on September 24th.
What do you think? Are you still in the “Eh, I might check it out” crowd? Are you singing The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as a reminder to not fall for this shit again? Or are you all in on this? Let me know in the comments.