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TIFF TV Review: Heroes Reborn is a Pretty Weird Reboot

Probably for the best.

Heroes Reborn

During the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of Heroes Reborn, part of the new Primetime Selections, which started just this year at the festival, creator Tim Kring said that his hope for this franchise is to have a series that’s elastic enough to allow for new and old characters to inhabit its world.

He also, rightly so, shrugged off the praise he’s received for having one of the more diverse casts in primetime this season as something that’s just “logical.” Truth is, he’s right on both counts. If the original series and new reboot weren’t as diverse as they are (from the very beginning), the big issues they wanted to look at and sense of global world-building would stand out as simply implausible and whitewashed. After all, the phenomena of EVOs has always been a global phenomenon.

Oh yeah, EVOs is the new term for “specials” or “heroes” in Heroes Reborn. And just to catch all you up that didn’t stick with the original show past season one (I know there are a lot of you), here’s what you need to know: In the last seasons of the show, after finding the chemical way to give powers to others and an extended period where people with powers were taken in as prisoners of the state (and we were given a history lesson that all this has happened before), an extremist who believed in the power of specials recruited them so he could create an all-powerful circus of special … but then he got caught before he could do real damage to innocent bystanders in Central Park.

Unfortunately, stopping him forced some of the specials to expose their powers, making it clear to the world that these powers do exist and there are people with superpowers among us. Wrapping all that up, I see why a lot of you left the show, not to mention their unwillingness to settle on powers for a couple of characters (I’m looking at you, Peter Petrelli and Sylar). But, I actually did stick to the show throughout its many ups (“5 Years Gone” was super cool episode) and downs (season 2 was definitely a low point), and I’m kind of glad to see it back. Confused and not completely sure it will work, but glad.

In the 5 years since, specials have become known as EVOs (evolved humans)—so many Rachel Ray flashbacks with that term—by the public. Clearly, the show wants to make connections between EVOs and the LGBT community, including having a massive rally decorated with rainbow. Sadly, it becomes the site of a terrorist explosion, which is blamed on EVO extremist Mohinder Suresh (original cast member Sendhil Ramamurthy).

Now, I like Ramamurthy fine, but the thought of more narration from his character is bumming me out, because that got really old, really fast. Hate crimes against EVOs begin occurring on a regular basis, until they all go back into hiding. HRG aka Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman), no longer remembers his role as the “paper salesman” or special agent. But he soon realizes there is a conspiracy that should free Suresh of any blame, bring some peace back to humans and EVOs, and bring justice to those actually responsible for killing is daughter Claire (if she’s dead … because remember, that character shouldn’t be able to die).

But enough about HRG and Suresh. Let’s talk about some of the other things that actually make this reboot kind of weird and interesting. First, there is a return of a character that I barely even remember (who has also been recast, which they can do on this show), who I felt kind of got the short end of the stick last time she was on, so I’m glad to see more of her character. We also have a kid (Once Upon a Time’s Robbie Kay) with powers that basically make him the modern day equivalent of Anthony Freemont from that iconic Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” and finally answers the question, “Where is that cornfield he’s sending people to?”

Zachary Levi (the oddest addition to this franchise) wants that kid dead just because he’s out to kill all EVOs with his partner, Joanne (Judi Shekoni). The person protecting the boy also has a bizarre power in which the only weapon he needs is a penny. (Who is this guy, Ricky Jay?)

Oh, and then we have the two characters who suggest this “limited series” is going to be a pretty odd part of network primetime. There is a genuine, costumed superhero (the first two episodes essentially give us his origin story), which had me saying “about time on a show called HEROES!” And then there’s a girl in Japan named Miko (martial artist/actress Kiki Sukezane), who has the ability to jump in and out of video games. Why? No idea, but she’s on a mission to save her father by doing a lot of sword fighting, and she is really good at it.

These two additions are weird, and even when we had the Heroes comics, things didn’t feel this strange. The comics were always very clearly rooted in a certain seriousness to the bigger thematic ideas of the show. The superhero and the video game character (along with the super nerd who works with HRG) feel lighter and funnier than anything we saw in the original series, which might be the biggest reason to recommend this as something at least worth trying a few episodes of (I saw the first two and will watch the third).

Heroes got really, really serious and almost consumed by the pressure to make social commentary. This show seems more interested in making a fun and creative show first, so they can populate cultural references and bigger ideas throughout, without turning people off. And oddly, even after starting with some pretty dark events (bombing a building, shooting up a support group, and a guy cutting off his own arm) the show looks more colorful and varied than it ever did during the original four years. Unfortunately, for a reboot of a show that always had an impressively state-of-the art use of effects for a TV series, the effects in the first two episodes of were a little lacking, especially the fire scenes (although I saw it on the big screen, so it might look fine on TV screens).

One thing I have to say is that, as much as I enjoy Zachary Levi on the show, he is definitely not Zachary Quinto, and we don’t have the strong character relationships the original show developed pretty early. But they’re working on it, especially with the masked avenger and his young ward and the very sweet relationship between Robbie Kay’s Tommy and his childhood sweetheart. But as much as I like Jack Coleman, he doesn’t see totally back into his HRG role in the first two episodes … yet.

Ultimately, I’m going to generous with recommending this 13 episode “limited series.” It isn’t exactly where it needs to be, but it’s heading in the right direction. And by episode 4, I think we’ll know if it’s worth your time or something you can pass on. Tim Kring seems to have a real plan and purpose for the show that goes deeper than wanting another series on primetime or to milk something familiar for all it’s worth. So if you were a fan of the original for most of the show, it certainly doesn’t feel like something that will disappoint you.

If you gave up on the show, you should probably give it a few episodes on the VOD service and watch to see if it comes together. If you’ve never seen Heroes before … well, I’m doubting you are interested in a reboot-sequel anyway.

(image via NBC)

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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