The producers of “Heroes” were initially rather smug about not repeating the missteps “Lost” ostensibly made, but they’re discovering that keeping a heavily serialized, massive-ensemble sci-fi drama on track represents a circus-quality juggling act. Thus far this season, their big, gaudy hit is experiencing a similar flight path — gradually losing casual viewers unwilling or unable to follow its arcane mythology, leaving behind a hard-core (but not quite so impressive) audience. The Nov. 12 flashback episode helps fill several key gaps, and the show remains highly entertaining. That said, rebounding to peak ratings form might be beyond its powers.
Series creator Tim Kring delivered a kind of mea culpa to Entertainment Weekly (after an “All is well” interview with the Los Angeles Times), and certainly, there have been some mistakes this season, beginning with the plot that sent time-bending Hiro Nakamura (the terrific Masi Oka) popping back to feudal Japan. The producers also erred by piling on so many new characters — their version of the plane’s tail section — making it difficult to maintain continuity regarding the existing cast members.
No spoilers here, but the episode titled “Four Months Ago” — which should have aired four weeks ago — rectifies some of these problems, including the what-got-us-here stories behind power-mimicking good-guy Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), suffering from amnesia; and super-powered stripper Niki (Ali Larter). At the same time, additional details about the homicidal Maya (Dania Ramirez) — whose uncontrolled power remains a trifle sketchy — only underscore the ways in which the series overreached to incorporate fine actors such as her, Dana Davis, Kristen Bell and David Anders into its teeming super-powered universe.
In similar fashion, by presenting the characters with another futuristic apocalypse to thwart — in this case, a deadly viral pandemic — “Heroes” has essentially replicated the first-season template, albeit without the pithiness of that “Save the cheerleader, save the world” slogan.
To be fair, the series itself is in no immediate need of rescue, and NBC’s role in its ratings dip — sandwiching the still-young program between two unproven newcomers, “Chuck” and “Journeyman” — shouldn’t be ignored. Even so, the show is learning a hard lesson, where adulation at Comic-Con doesn’t always dictate sustained mass-appeal success.
To its credit, “Heroes” has lost none of its ambition and continues to chew up great gobs of story each week. In doing so, however, it has merely reinforced what proprietors of that other series could have told it — namely, that these days an audience is more easily lost than found.