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'Heroes': The good, the bad, and the meh of the season premiere

Heroes is back, boys and girls, for its fourth season, aptly subtitled Redemption. A better name couldn’t have been chosen, as that’s exactly what this show needs. It needs to redeem itself in the eyes of people like me, once-loyal viewers who’ve felt betrayed by what’s  transpired in the superheroic world that executive producer Tim Kring built.

And, in case you’ve forgotten, last season ended with Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) dead and Sylar (Zachary Quinto) brainwashed – by Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), and Angela Petrelli (Christine Rose) – to believe that he was the dead senator. (And look like him, too, thanks to Sylar’s shapeshifting power.) The Bennets have split up. Hiro (Masi Oka) and Ando (James Kyson Lee) are putzing around Tokyo. And Mohinder’s some kind of taxi-driving snake-man.

So how’d the season premiere do in picking up those threads?  Here’s the good and the bad.

GOOD: Superpowered carny folk. Robert Knepper tore it up as Samuel, the apparent chieftain of a band of traveling carnival workers. I suppose it was only a matter of time before Heroes stumbled on a circus as a natural place for the “differently abled” to hide in plain sight. It’s a little unclear what Samuel’s power is – all we see him do is put crazy temporary tattoos on folks that have either divine wisdom or choke ex-Sith Lords (Ray Park, out of make-up for once). New blood is necessary to make Heroes work, and Samuel seems to hold more promise than that south-of-the-border sibling disaster.

GOOD: Peter Petrelli. Milo Ventimiglia’s always been good as the dutiful, power-absorbent son who wants nothing more that to help people. And by distancing himself from everyone with powers, he’s doing just that. He’s super-paramedic-man: Leaping over garbage trucks in a single bound, ripping doors off cars, saving damsels pregnant with twins. Plus, Peter might be the only sane person on the show: “The further I stay away from you, and whatever it is you’re doing, the happier I’m gonna be…. My life is simple. I understand it. I don’t need for things to get complicated.”

GOOD: Mohinder Suresh. Where was he? I don’t know, but I hope he stays there.

UNDECIDED: Claire as Veronica Mars. Claire is taking time during her freshman year in college to solve the murder of her roommate. And she’s forming her very own Scooby gang, beginning with Gretchen (Madeline Zima), who’s rumored to have her sights on Claire – and we saw the first stirrings of that in this episode’s awesomely blunt Guitar Hero bonding moment.

BAD: Claire’s ongoing obsession with everything “normal.” I don’t get it: Why does Claire Bennet (Hayden Panetierre) harp on living a normal life, having normal experiences? Is Kring trying to say something through Heroes’ clear position on powers? Sylar relishes in them, and he’s evil. Claire hates them, and she’s good.

BAD: Hiro Nakamura. When, oh when, can we mercy-kill Hiro Nakamura? Dial a Hero? Literally saving cats from the Tokyo equivalent of trees? Didn’t we already have a whole season of these two acting like overgrown kids? For a second, about halfway through the two hours, Hiro was interesting. The idea that all of his space-time slippage has given him brain cancer – or is a result of his brain cancer – would’ve given him some drive, some purpose, some reason to stop acting like a child. He went on at length about how monkeying with the past was forbidden, that nothing good ever comes from it. And not 30 minutes later, after taking a slushy for Ando, thereby allowing his sister and his best friend to get it on, Hiro decides that going back in time and futzing with the space-time continuum is a capitol idea.

BAD: Sylar. I was kind of hoping for more time with Sylar’s consciousness buried in Nathan’s body. Play the sleeper-cell dynamic, like in Battlestar Galactica when we learned the truth about Boomer – we knew something bad was going to happen, but we didn’t know what or when. That’s how you build tension. But rather than let that sit, let us get used to the wolf in sheep’s clothing, we already get to see “Nathan” bugging out. Plus, Sylar is now a manifestation of Matt Parkman’s imagination? Or is he actually buried within Matt? Or do I actually care? Survey says, no, because this was done far, far better on BSG (and underscored by having BSG cylon Rick Worthy in the same scenes).

BAD: The pace. It was almost a full hour before anything halfway interesting happened: When Ray Park’s carny knifemaster went up against Tracy the ice mistress (Ali Larter). And it was 30 seconds of flash. Boom. Done. Heroes seems to think that what viewers want from it is mood building. People confessing in hushed tones how they feel about stuff they’ve done. Talk. We’ve had season after season of the same thing. And the viewership, and the buzz, and the critical praise, have all steadily dropped off. Isn’t the definition of madness doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time? Why should we care any more about what’s happening here, given that it’s the same thing we stopped caring about so very long ago?

I’m encouraged by the circus storyline, even if I can see where all of this is headed: Everyone gets drawn to Samuel’s three-ring nightmare – by hook, crook, or free will – and have to band together and take him down. Oh, and Sylar will do some bad stuff along the way. Heroes isn’t subtle enough, or self-aware enough, to vary that formula. The question, for all of us, is will we keep watching?

I will. I’ve invested four bloody years in Heroes, at the very least, I need to see how it ends. At this point, it’s become a matter of pride. I am, however, pretty sure I’ll spend much of the show’s remaining life shaking my fist at the TV. How about you? Are you in?

Originally posted September 22 2009 — 12:30 AM EDT

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