Paul Drinkwater
Gillian Flynn
February 09, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST


TV Show
Current Status
In Season

We gave it an A-

NBC’s Heroes is simply the neatest fantasy on TV. Neat in two ways: The idea of ordinary nurses, cops, and cheerleaders developing superpowers to save the world is just comic-geeky cool. But Heroes is also refreshingly disciplined, its oversize story line corralled into user-friendly chunks. What a smart little mind game to present each episode as its own chapter: Even when Heroes meanders — a rarity — the series still seems like it’s making progress. (Something the 80 other serial dramas that debuted this fall can’t say.) And despite all its insider-y nicknames and hidden clues, the show is the definition of accessible. For those wary of fantasy, the entire concept of the hero’s journey is even spelled out: Japanese time-warper Hiro (Masi Oka) regularly spouts truisms like, A hero doesn’t hide. A hero must find his place. A hero never gives up. Doesn’t get more plainspoken than that.

Heroes‘ mythology is clever but familiar, playing as it does with traditional American ideals. Community: The heroes must work together to succeed. Individualism: The heroes must learn to appreciate their unique gifts, from invisibility to the power of flight. Humility: A deep strain of be-careful-what-you-wish-for-ness runs through the series. Cop Matt (Alias‘ Greg Grunberg) wants better communication with his alienated wife — now he can read everyone’s mind. Vegas mom Niki (Final Destination‘s Ali Larter) wishes she could better fend for her son — now she has a split personality with fists of fury. Cheerleader Claire (Hayden Panettiere) wants to please her overprotective dad — now she literally can’t be hurt.

The cinematography itself is beautifully throwback, filled with vivid shots worthy of comics masters like Lou Fine and Will Eisner. The camera peeks through doorways and windows, giving characters their own subtle frames. Creator Tim Kring even sneaks in some superhero costumes, like Claire’s patriotic cheerleading outfit and Niki’s woman-in-prison jumpsuit. (Larter, performing a seamless two-step between doting mom Niki and her badass alter ego, has at least two heroes’ worth of magnetism.)

A few obstacles appear on the horizon. Boyish Hiro — with his hammy subtitles — is in danger of spinning into look-at-the-cuddly-panda cutesiness. Then there are the ”add-ons,” like a recent episode in which flashed on a business card; this, naturally, leads to a real website, à la Lost‘s Not a problem itself…unless, like Lost, Heroes gets more invested in its riddles than in the mystery itself. Finally, a request to NBC to stop those bombastic promos, which promise that every next episode will be so shocking we may die. Heroes is classic, clean-lined TV — and that’s thrilling enough.

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