For “Heroes,” the writers strike actually came in the nick of time: Just as NBC’s promising sci-fi serial appeared to be careering off course, the work stoppage truncated its second season. Back with new spring in its step, the show continues to feature an intriguing assortment of characters and bite off huge chunks of story, but it’s time-hopping shenanigans risk wearing thin — again warning of alternate-future Armageddons that even the “Terminator” pics have never entirely mastered. Although the series remains plenty of fun, that might not be enough to halt its downward ratings trajectory.
NBC smartly previewed the season premiere at Comic-Con, trying to create buzz for the show and compensate for its forced hiatus.
For the heretofore uninitiated, well, don’t bother. Suffice it to say that the world of “Heroes” is one where assorted people have been gifted with “abilities,” a polite way of saying “super powers.” As the series has progressed, the ranks of these “unique” individuals have swollen until you wonder if there are any normal, old-fashioned, power-free humans left.
Season three begins with a crisp mix of action and comedy, with most of the yuks coming from hugely appealing nerd-hero Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), back from his misguided stint in feudal Japan with a juicy (and quite funny) subplot. Also front and center, helpfully, is Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), whose ability to absorb the powers of others — mirroring that of the show’s glowering villain, Sylar (Zachary Quinto) — looks to figure prominently in season three.
Beyond the “Terminator” franchise, “Heroes” owes an obvious debt to “X-Men” — including its preoccupation, thanks to the character of Maya (Dania Ramirez), with whether it’s possible to “cure” these extraordinary powers. Series creator Tim Kring and his writing staff have also exhibited considerable courage by moving the plot along in leaps and bounds — killing off characters and toying with the space-time continuum.
At a certain point, however, as these flourishes mount upon each other they begin to yield diminishing returns and demand more from the audience — one reason a series like “Lost” experienced a decline as casual viewers drifted away. By comparison, “Heroes” is more sloppily plotted, at times slipping into a “We’re making this up as we go along” quality as opposed to the rigid arcs upon which “Lost” relies. That can be thrilling for awhile, but there’s always the danger of a near-fatal misstep.
In terms of balancing storylines for its sprawling cast (and keeping them within the same century), this season feels as if its back on track, but the path ahead remains perilous. The most ardent fans probably wouldn’t have it any other way, but given that success hinges in part on retaining those who didn’t camp out at Comic-Con, staying in contact with the rails seems highly advisable.
Such an approach might not save the cheerleader, but it could just save the show.