What “Heroes Reborn” needs to learn from its past

Posted by Miguel Santa Maria & filed under Pop Culture, Superheroes, Television.

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This Thursday, Heroes returns with a new standalone mini-series, Heroes Reborn. However, as much as fans anticipate it, there is likely much reluctance from everyone else. This is especially considering the original show nosedived in ratings after its first season, resulting in cancellation.

Even so, the first season was a massive success when it first aired, earning multiple award nominations. After re-watching some of that season myself, it was easy to see why. From coherent character development to the interesting twists, Season 1 proved to be a very engaging experience. Simultaneously, it also emphasizes what the show did wrong later on, to repel a lot of its viewers.

Thus, with Reborn right around the corner, here are a few things it should learn from its best season, and the mistakes of the rest that should be avoided.

1 – Diversity is essential

The most refreshing element of Season 1 is that every hero came from all walks of life, all over the world. People from different ethnicities, nationalities and social status, were all interacting with each other – from the uptight senator Nathan, to Japanese pencil pusher Hiro. With this approach, it really felt that anyone in the world can be “special” and “unique”. It is also appropriate, considering that the main conflict of the season was stopping a nuclear explosion. This is an incident with global ramifications and should be addressed with such a team in mind.

This is unfortunately overlooked in the later seasons. As this Wired article mentions, the cast became heavily Caucasian based instead. In fact, it became yet another generic cast like most other U.S. action-dramas.

2 – Keep it human

The main draw of the show was superpowers, but more importantly, it was its aspect of humanity. It’s always interesting to see how characters reacted to their own talents. This was not because of how amazing they were, but their concerns on how these amazing powers affected their lives.

For example, Claire hides her abilities due to her fear of losing her family, while Peter relies on them to suppress his inferiority complex. The more interesting parts are when a character’s key concern is not superpower-related at all. This was the case with Niki, who prioritized her son’s well-being above all else. This creates more insight into their personalities as much as their superhuman abilities.

More importantly, focusing on human anxieties, help us relate to and sympathize with these people. It provides a realistic take on the superhero story that keeps us as viewers, invested in their stories as a result.

On that note though…

3 – Not everyone needs superpowers

One of my personal favorite characters in Season 1 was Mohinder Suresh – a professor on a quest to find other ‘heroes’ for the betterment of humankind. Simultaneously, his quest was also motivated by a desire for closure with his late, estranged father. This is another good example of that focus on humans, which keeps us emotionally invested.

More importantly, Mohinder was simply an ordinary professor with no abilities. Yet, he managed to play an integral role in the grand scheme of things. This reinforces the positive notion that anyone can be important – even those without any world-changing powers. Unfortunately, showrunners gave Mohinder “Spider-Man”-like powers in later seasons. As a result, it effectively waters down that key theme.

4 – Don’t be ridiculous, but don’t be boring

Problems with the later seasons involved relying on silly “shock-value” plots, and as one reviewer noted, treading too much on the familiar. Both of these scenarios ultimately took away from the grounded character focus, that the first season excelled at. They either created plots that were too absurd to be taken seriously, or bored viewers into apathy.

One example of this was a dual-identity crisis with Sylar and Nathan around Season 4. Not only did some viewers find this a wholly unnecessary conflict, but it eventually fizzled into nothing important.

This is worrisome for Reborn, given it is headed for a cosmic doomsday plot. However, we have yet to see if it can strike the balance of keeping things interesting, yet sensible like Season 1.

5 – Don’t play too nice with your characters

Tragedy and loss are important to a character’s growth. It isn’t enthralling TV either if everyone kept getting their way. Characters need adversity; they need to make mistakes and learn meaningful lessons from them.

A good example in Season 1 was Hiro’s noble act of reversing time in order to save a diner waitress from being murdered. Tragically, after falling in love with her, he discovers that she is terminally ill. This teaches him an important lesson that some things are out of his hands and ultimately, out of his control, regardless of his abilities.

This element is also important as the show became problematic in caring too much for many of its characters. Many of their action plots became inconsequential as a result – effectively making them overpowered. Simultaneously, the risk of character loss grew absent, causing a bloated cast and repetitive character arcs.

6 – Just leave it alone

With the slew of issues that propped up later on, it is quite obvious that the show’s concept can only be taken so far. As mentioned, subtlety and human focus in response to superpowers, were the highlights of Season 1. Unfortunately, going further meant the tiring retreads as well as the unnecessary escalations that the later seasons had to suffer from. Again, these are detrimental to what made the premise interesting in the first place.

At the end of the day, it is important to accept that some things are not meant to go on. Fortunately, Reborn is already confirmed to be a temporary affair. Considering that this rebirth was already unexpected, this still makes an important reminder to watch their second chance for success at the show.

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