On Thursday, viewers will get their first taste of the latest creation from the TV reboot factory with the two-hour premiere of Heroes Reborn. Although the original series debuted with monster ratings in 2006, the show went off the rails creatively in later seasons. As a result, only a fraction of the audience was still hanging in there by the time the series aired its final episode, during which cheerleader Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) told the world that she had superpowers. And while it seemed no one was really clamoring for a reboot when the show was first announced, the 13-part event series has become one of the fall's most-anticipated new shows.
NBC is promising the show will be a return to Season 1-level glory (in terms of story, if not ratings), and Thursday's two-hour opener mostly succeeds in setting up a potentially intriguing new chapter. Creator Tim Kring has wisely chosen to focus most of his effort on a new batch of evolved humans—now called "evos"—rather than try to slavishly connect this incarnation to his former work.
"I wanted this to live or die on its own merits," Kring told TV.com. "I had always felt that the brand and the franchise of Heroes—a premise about an indeterminate number of people who are discovering that they have these extraordinary abilities and have to find one another in order to save the world—was a very elastic idea that could tell hundreds of stories with hundreds of characters. It was never a story about just certain protagonists. There was always a way to repopulate it. In some ways, it is kind of a test of the elasticity of the brand to come back and do a show about basically new characters.
"Picking up and doing a fifth season of the show was just not possible for a million reasons," Kring continued. "The world is a very different place five years later. After Claire Bennet outed herself to the world as someone with powers, just as her father had warned, the world did not accept these people, and they are now hunted and persecuted and exploited. It's a much more dire world than it was before. It sort of begged a brand new story."
That's not to say that the original show is completely ignored. To the contrary, the way into the new story is Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), who is reeling from the death of his daughter Claire during a terrorist attack at an event that was meant to celebrate the advances in human-evos relations. "It was very much to send the signal that this was not the old show," Kring said. "The idea of the unbreakable, regenerating, self-healing character somehow dying begs all kinds of questions. Noah believes that she died in the same way that everybody else in the world does, only to discover that there was more to that story. It is that personal journey that ends up uncovering the meta-plot of our story."
Indeed, Noah is spurred into action by Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski), a "truther" who makes Noah realize his memory of certain key events may have been wiped as part of a larger conspiracy to cover up the true reasons behind the attack that killed so many. Soon enough, Noah is putting on his horn-rimmed glasses and tapping into his days as a hero-hunter for Primatech, which has now been replaced by another nefarious corporation.
"Noah Bennett is very much a bridge character," Kring said. "His journey of discovery is unpacking some of the backstory that's happened in between the two series. By following his journey and his clue trail, it allows a new viewer to get a primer on the former series. In other words, it was very important to make it feel that you would not be penalized for not having watched the former show. If you have watched the former show, I think you might have a deeper, more satisfying experience with some of the Easter eggs that we're leaving for you. But HRG allows a new audience a pathway into this new story with an avenue to learning about the former series."
But if Quentin is right and this conspiracy is setting up a cataclysmic event in the future, there's one problem: The people with the ability to save the world are now mostly living in hiding—and for good reason. When not being persecuted by "normal" humans—the show's commentary on real-life human- and civil-rights issues is limited to protests with "God hates evos" signs— those with powers must also avoid being found by people like Luke (Zachary Levi) and Joanne Collins (Judith Shekoni), a couple who hunts and kills evos after their son died during the attack.
"They really came out of early conversations with Zachary Levi about the kind of character that he wanted to play was very opposite and against type for him," Kring said. "I wanted to create a married couple whose entire relationship is hinged on a dark path because of a deep personal loss. Then I started to become fascinated with the idea of: Can you redeem someone you start off in a very bad, negative place? What does that path to redemption look like for somebody who starts at that level?"
The first evo on the couple's hitlist is Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay), a teenager who has the ability to make people and objects disappear, even though he has no idea where he's sending them. "I really did want to harken back to some of the origin stories of the discovery of power," Kring said. "He is on a bit more of a twisted journey of his own about discovering what this power is. It's what he calls the worst power ever. His is really the closest thing to the archetypal hero's journey—trying to deny the call to destiny while destined for something great."
Meanwhile, thanks to the show's shorter episode order, most of the other evos we meet will be in full control of their powers. "This one is a bit more cranked up," Kring said. "There's no real time to have a lot of introspection about what's happening to you. The world needs saving in a very, very big way and the stakes are very high. There is sort of no time to think about those things. It's really just all about acting."
But the new characters do have their own unique arcs. For starters, there's Miko (Kiki Sukezane), a Japanese girl who is searching for her missing father. And crazily enough, much of her story takes place thanks to her ability to... enter a video game?! "It was sort of a chicken-and-egg idea," Kring said. "I wanted to create a character that was able to enter an alternate universe. We landed on the idea of a video game because I think so many people are growing up with this as a familiar world that they inhabit when they play these games hours at a time. The execution of it has been incredibly complicated, but amazingly exciting and fun to do."
And the show also takes time to explore the idea of heroes without powers. Ryan Guzman plays Carlos, a war veteran who is having trouble returning home when he is offered a chance to become a luchador vigilante known as El Vengador. " In Carlos we wanted to have a character who is struggling with his own idea of whether he's a hero or not," Kring said. "Then there is this idea of the superhero suit that we have never really done on the show. Heroes had always had a no-Spandex clause, but this was a way for us to do it."
And, of course, eventually some of the original characters will surface as well. Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) will both make appearances later in the season, as will Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who is suspected of being behind the inciting terrorist attack. "We wanted to make sure that there was a new cast in place and to feel that these characters from the former show were in support of the new cast," Kring said. "It wasn't about taking over the story. It was about coming in and having a role and moving out."
While it's still uncertain how all of these various characters will converge, Kring promised this story will reach a definitive conclusion. But could this ultimately be the springboard for a full-on revival of the franchise in series form?
"We're approaching this as a volume of a show that has 13 episodes," Kring said. "The contract that we are making with people who tune in is that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Should there be a need, a desire, for more story, then, again, it's incumbent on us to put the premise of the show to the test with the idea that it can be elastic enough to come up with a brand new story about saving the world and a group of characters who would have to come together to do that."