If nothing else, credit NBC with this year’s blindest — and perhaps most ambitious — leap into the serialized unknown, with a wild sci-fi premise that has cult hit potential but will need a heroic confluence of events to extend its appeal beyond that narrow core. Very little in “Heroes” is clear after the extra-long pilot — indeed, even through three episodes — which ask viewers to embark on an open-ended journey fraught with the threat of world annihilation, strange powers and talk of mutation toward a “next evolutionary step” that won’t sit well with those convinced the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Series creator Tim Kring developed “Crossing Jordan,” but he reaches back to one of his earlier, shorter-lived efforts, “Strange World,” with this program’s mysterious tone. Leaping from one character to another, we’re introduced to an otherwise-unrelated roster of folks who — after an eclipse darkens the globe — realize they possess inexplicable abilities, from an indestructible cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) to a stripper (Ali Larter) with a shadowy other self that looks just like her.
Best among the bunch is Hiro (Masi Oka), a Japanese nerd, complete with subtitles, who exhibits time-shifting mental powers, quotes “Star Trek” and enthuses about breaking out of his humdrum life. There’s also an artist (Santiago Cabrera) who paints the future, and a youth with a politician brother (Milo Ventimiglia and Adrian Pasdar, respectively) convinced that he can fly.
Although the powers are interesting, most of them aren’t visual in the Justice League mode, which will conspire to both keep the budget down and the “wow” factor limited. Lacking initially is any sense of how the members of this group might wind up being connected; indeed, three episodes in, the various parallel lines have barely begun to converge, which inevitably will cause patience to wear thin.
The second and third hours also incorporate comicbooks into the plot, which will further enhance the show’s status as a geek wet dream with marginal mainstream allure.
In addition, as some storylines become more interesting, others look more pallid by comparison and slow the narrative, proving that not all heroes are created equal.
That said, the premiere does possess a sweeping feel, some style and considerable intrigue, and it manages to be serious without becoming silly. That’s no small feat, since according to NBC, the characters’ destiny involves “nothing less than saving the world.”
Still, “Heroes'” first challenge will be to save itself, representing as it does a peculiar fit sandwiched between “Deal or No Deal” and Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” Fox’s “24” won’t invade “Heroes'” timeslot until January, which is a small blessing, but this is nevertheless one of those concepts seemingly destined to leave a small but outspoken fan contingent grumbling next summer at Comic-Con about its cancellation.
And with that, as they’re fond of saying around NBC, open the case.