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Future's bleak, but here comes 'Heroes'

TELEVISION REVIEW

September 22, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

After a summer watching actors as diverse as Robert Downey Jr., Steve Carell and Christian Bale save the world, or some small part of it, it would certainly seem that Americans need more heroes like they need another drop in the Dow Jones. (Actually, the appearance of International Markets Gal or Anti-Foreclosure Man would be welcome.)

Comic heroes, superheroes, disaffected and often drunken heroes -- sitting in the darkened multiplex it was difficult not to worry, just a bit, about Tim Kring and the good folks at NBC.

A supersonic hit when it premiered two seasons ago, “Heroes” fell into disarray last season, going on an incomprehensible world tour and spending too much time in ancient Japan. In such a hero-saturated market, how could they rebound with Season 3?

Apparently, by focusing on villains, or at least that's the subtitle -- "Volume Three: Villains" and presumably that's the plan. NBC made only the first of tonight's two-hour premiere available to critics, but it was short on heroics and long on dark foreshadowing.

It opens four years in the future, when things are not going so well. We know this instantly because Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) has a huge scar on his face and Claire (Hayden Panettiere) is not only a brunet, she's wearing black leather. And aiming a gun at Peter.

"I can fix it," he tells her. "All of it."

"It" seems to refer to a world in which the heroes are hunted and imprisoned. Claire shoots anyway, as if the empathic Peter could not bend time -- which naturally he does -- and bam, we're back where we left off last season.

To recap as non-spoiler-alert as possible, Nate (Adrian Pasdar) gets shot, only this time we see who does it; Hiro (Masi Oka), bored with his new CEO-ship, blithely puts the world back in peril; Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy) goes all "Young Frankenstein" over the origins of everyone's various powers; a character we thought was definitely dead apparently isn't; and in a grisly scene, Sylar (Zachary Quinto) finally gets what he has always wanted.

Clearly the writers have big plans -- a world broken in half and devoured by hot lava seems to figure in prominently -- and there are a few very hopeful signs in the first hour. A super speedy blond by the name of Daphne (Brea Grant) makes her first "appearance" in Hiro's office, and she's cute as a button. Nate gets religion, and that's always interesting to see on television.

Mohinder, the world's worst researcher throughout the story line, appears to be stepping over to the dark side -- something that promises to make him more interesting, if only because he could not possibly become more boring. Hiro has a vision in which the true-hearted Ando (James Kyson Lee) has become slightly less steadfast, adding new dimension to a character seemingly doomed to sidekick status.

Which brings us to some of the less reassuring aspects. Even just a half hour in, it's difficult not to wish everyone would just lighten the heck up. The graphic novel noir feel is becoming increasingly oppressive, and everyone is just so grim. Hiro provides some comic relief, but his trademark insistence on being a hero is getting a little old and, frankly, self-aggrandizing.

Meanwhile, the dialogue seems to be retreating into a comic-book familiarity that borders on camp. Whatever happened to the snappiness of "Save the cheerleader, save the world"?

One hopes that Kring and his writers also spent some time in front of the big screen this summer. Because there they would learn that the real secret of a good hero movie is not the plot twists or cool graphics but the resonance of the characters and, above all, the witty banter.

Without a generous scattering of smart riposte, even matters of life and death that involve hot lava and exposed brains can fall flat.

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mary.mcnamara @latimes.com

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'Heroes'

Where: NBC

When: 9 tonight

Rating: (Not rated)

"Heroes: Countdown to the Premiere" airs at 8 p.m.

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