In 10 Words or Less
Trying to recapture the magic, but coming up short
Loves: "Heroes" Season One
Likes: Comic books, Hiro, Sylar
Dislikes: Convenient plot twists, Peter, "Heroes" Season Two
Hates: Maya and Alejandro
The Story So Far...
It's hard to imagine another point in TV history where you could put a serialized drama about superheroes on the schedule and have it succeed. The story of an assortment of everyday people who suddenly discover they have special powers and are connected in ways they can't imagine, the series is as ambitious and impressive as anything seen on TV before. NBC hit big with the concept as viewers wanted to know if Japanese geek Hiro and his friends could in fact save the cheerleader and save the world, racing against the prophesied destruction of Earth and the evil super-villain Sylar. Universal released the first season of the series on DVD in August of 2007, and DVDTalk has a review available here.
In sports, and other competitive areas, there's a phenomenon known as "the sophomore slump." After having a great rookie year, an athlete will sometimes struggle in his second season, perhaps due to a new level of comfort, perhaps because there's no longer an element of surprise on their side. Or more deadly, perhaps they get exposed as a one-trick pony. Whatever the reason is, the syndrome is real, and "Heroes" suffered from it.
The first season of the show was an incredible juggernaut, with a storyline that ladled out action and mystery liberally, following a tight plot that felt fantastically paced. The writing made the cast of characters diverse and well fleshed-out, from the conflicted, hesitant savior-to-be Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) to the silent, mysterious Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis), which made the challenging act of juggling the immense ensemble and its interwoven storylines work better than anyone really could have hoped. When it all came to a head, fans were left with a cliffhanger climax and teaser that made them hunger for the next season to start, so they could see what's next for the group.
Anticipation may have been too high though, as the show was greeted by disappointment following its return. The reason for that disappointment may have been the show's ambitious approach to Season Two, which expanded the series' reach, both geographically and temporally, as Peter is lost with amnesia in Ireland and Hiro has been displaced to feudal Japan, where he's teamed up with his legendary childhood idol, Takezo Kensei. Unfortunately for Hiro, Kensei isn't the man he thought he was, so Hiro has to do some damage control. The story itself isn't a bad one, and David Anders is entertaining as the swordsman, but the storyline requires six episodes to complete, and is tenuous in its connection to the rest of the show (or at least it seems that way.) That the creators needed a framing device of Hiro's pal Ando reading Hiro's adventures via scrolls says everything about the relevancy of this plot to the series.
Back in the modern world, things weren't much better, as a trip to South America introduced brother and sister Alejandro and Maya, who are trying to get to America so Dr. Suresh can help Maya with the "sickness" inside her (which obviously involves a super power.) Columbus' trip to America felt shorter than the path these two took to the New World. Part of the problem is their whiny natures, part of it is the fact that their story feels like it rarely progresses until all of a sudden, it's done. After managing the story so well in season one, pacing seems like the one special power that no one has. It's unfortunate, because there's a very engaging story about an older generation of heroes being hunted, that just doesn't play out as well as it could if it wasn't hampered by the less-impressive tales.
Also joining the cast is Kristin Bell (Veronica Mars), who adds a playfulness that was sorely missing from the show, as an electricity-wielding hellcat who's severely socially and emotionally inept. She's accompanied into the group by Monica (Dana Davis), a disadvantaged girl from New Orleans (and a cousin to techo-savant Micah) who has one of the more unique powers on the show, as she can mimic any skill she sees. She also is one of the few people on the show who actually wants to act as a superhero, which is a pretty realistic desire in our comic book-friendly world. These two ladies are a step up from Ali Larter's split-personality-powered Niki, who manages to somehow be less interesting this season, though she has a much reduced role.
No one is as wasted though as season one's pivotal cheerleader Claire, and her father Mr. Bennett as well. With Bennett on a quest to destroy the company that wants to get its hands on his daughter, an effort that you'd think he would understand isn't likely to succeed, and Claire dealing with CW-level issues like bitchy cheerleaders and boyfriends. Why the show felt it necessary to give her a superpowered beau is a mystery, as it begins to feel like there are less people without powers in this world. Making her the "guy" in the relationship, by making her the strong, tough one would be a good opportunity to play with gender roles, since the show rarely misses a chance to slap a stereotype onto a female character.
Of course, a superhero is only a good as the bad guys he faces, and the Heroes have a trio of foes this time, with Sylar making a return, though not in the way one might expect, and two new, darker villains hiding in the shadows. The predator taking down the original heroes heads up a solid story that reveals a lot more about the connections between the show's stars, but that thread has to share time with the "nightmare man," who traps people inside of their fears, which once again splits the show's focus in a way it didn't need, and results in at least one of the stories getting a half-hearted and disappointing end. Hopefully, they can fix these problems in Season Three, because another run like this could bring about a half-hearted and disappointing end for the whole show.
With the writers strike, the second season of "Heroes" was severely shortened to just 11 episodes, which makes for a much smaller set this time around, shrinking from seven discs to just four. The packaging is mostly the same, with a less-cramped four-tray, four panel digipak with episode descriptions and extras information, which is inside a stiff slipcase with embossed holofoil cover art. The discs feature well-design animated anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to play all, select episodes, check out the bonus material and adjust languages. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French, though there's no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers are simply brilliant, with solid, appropriate color, an extremely high level of fine detail and no noticeable dirt, damage or compression artifacts. Fortunately, the special effects aren't affected by the clarity of the image, as they integrate smoothly with the rest of the footage.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are equally impressive, knowing just the right times to flex their muscle. The dialogue is kept mostly to the center channel, where it lives with the music in a cleanly-separated manner, while the sides and rears handle specific atmospheric effects, sounds and music enhancement. Some scenes, specifically the skirmish toward the end of the finale, are as dynamic and exciting as a feature film, as you can hear the action all around you.
The big extra on this set is the slate of 11 audio commentaries, one per episode, which, like the tracks on the first season, were available on the "Heroes" web site during the season as video commentaries. Shot during the season's production, they are once again light on any perspective, but it's still interesting to hear from the cast and crew at a point when they don't know what's going to happen to the characters. The participants come from all over the cast and crew, with little repetition, so you get a variety of voices and insight, with Grunberg, Pasdar and Oka offering up the best commentary, mixing questions and their own experience to create a quality track. The only one I have any issue with, aside from the very quiet delivery of Ventimiglia, is the finale, as putting the two composers on the most important episode of the season seems like a weird choice, though they present a great deal of info on how the show's sound was crafted. Perhaps with another 12 episodes planned, their placement didn't seem that odd at the time.
- Four Months Later: Creator/Executive Producer Tim Kring, Co-Executive Producer Jeph Loeb and actor Jack Coleman
- Lizards: Executive Producer Allan Arkush, actor Greg Grunberg and Co-Executive Producer Michael Green
- Kindred: Episode Director Paul Edwards, Co-Executive Producer JJ Philbin and actor Zachary Quinto
- The Kindness of Strangers: Kring and actors Dana Davis & Adrian Pasdar
- Fight or Flight: Grunberg and Executive Producer Greg Beeman
- The Line: Co-Executive Producers Adam Armus & Kay Foster and Coleman
- Out of Time: Director Daniel Attias and actor Masi Oka
- Four Months Ago... : actor Milo Ventimiglia and Beeman
- Cautionary Tales: Director Greg Yaitanes and actors Kristen Bell & Ashley Crow
- Truth & Consequences: Director Adam Kane and actor Stephen Tobolowsky
- Powerless: Arkush and composers Lisa Coleman & Wendy Melvoin
There's a decent amount of deleted scenes included throughout the four discs, 17 scenes running almost 25 minutes, which mostly focus on expansions of scenes, ideas that were saved for later in the series and moments that just didn't work in the big picture.
The rest of the extras are featurettes spread across the set, starting with "'Heroes': Season 2 - 'A New Beginning'," which spends over 14:30 promoting the then-upcoming second season of the show. The value is obviously limited, as these interviews talk about secrets and mysteries we already know about, but if you're new to the season, it's a good place to start for a primer on what to expect.
Disc Two has a few more featurettes, beginning with the 24-minute documentary "Takezo Kensei: Sword Saint." Originally available on the website of the Yamagato Fellowship (a Nakamura family organization), it's a really well done fake history of Hiro's hero, with animation and illustrations of Kensei's battles, and could easily pass for a real doc. There's more viral video in the 8:32 Global News Interactive clips that detail the life of Richard Drucker, an evolved human who was connected to The Company. It's inclusion here, after being a part of the Heroes Evolution online experience, is odd, since Drucker is not a character in Season Two, and was limited to the online graphic novels.
Disc Three offers up "Genetics of a Scene," a 23-minute featurette about the making of four scenes from the second season with Arkush and Beeman serving as guides. It's a rather in-depth look at the show's production, as the two directors talk about the challenges they faced and the techniques they used, which is supplemented by on-set footage, special effects in-progress shots and cast interviews that help illustrate the stories. It's a great piece from both a technical and entertainment standpoint, with great insight into how much goes into directing, including time management.
The remainder of the extras are on the final DVD, which holds more content than any of the other discs. Things gets going with the "Season 3 Sneak Peek," which goes to the set of the new season of the show, for over eight minutes of interviews and production footage that should whet the appetite of the show's fans, though seeing Maya is a part of this featurette is a disappointment, and there are some possible minor spoilers and info about where the show picks up in Season 3.
As exciting as it is to find out about the next season, the most interesting extras in this set, aside from the "Genetics of a Scene" pieces, reveal the season's alternate ending. The season finale wasn't planned to unfold the way it did, and it was in fact shot with an entirely different story, and the final 18 minutes of that ending (including some storyboards) are presented here. This is no minor change, a fact that's unfortunately revealed by the text on the back of the box, if you haven't watched the series already. Is it a better ending? Not in this reviewer's opinion, though it does make Nathan Petrelli much more interesting. It would have been much harder to follow up on this ending as well. The alternate ending is followed by an 11-minute discussion between Kring, Loeb and co-executive producer/writer Jesse Alexander, who discuss the thoughts behind the change, and where the show would have went had the ending remained in tact. You rarely get to follow a show on a different track than the one it follows, making this an extremely interest opportunity to enjoy.
Next up are "Untold Stories," a 12-minute six-pack of clips that show storylines and characters that would have been explored had the writers strike not shortened the season. Like the alternate ending, it's another look at what could have been, and considering "Heroes" fans' hunger for info about the characters, even these non-canonical elements are tantalizing nuggets, especially the final "act" which shows a scene from episode 13, that could be part of what Season Three brings to the table.
A trio of short featurettes from NBC.com put a cap on the main extras content, including the demolition of Linderman's casino, The Corinthian, home-video evidence of Maya's power, and an awkwardly rendered clip of the Season One finale, as shot on video from Brooklyn. It's somewhat filler, but at least it relates to the show. The extras wrap up with a short automatic gallery of art by Tim Sale, who provided the prophetic paintings by Isaac and Peter, and a few previews.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to the writer's strike, we only got 11 episodes of the second season of "Heroes," but it got off to such a slow start, one wonders if another volume would have solved anything. At least, once the far-flung early story threads are dealt with, the show settles back to its original quality, before arriving at another disappointing end. The DVDs carry their own weight though, with a solid video presentation and a wealth of extras that truly do add to the series, and would have meant a DVDTalk Collectors Series rating if the show was better. The alternate content, which was affected so much by the shortened season, is worth a look by fans of the show, along with the rest of the extras, even if the show itself isn't up to the standards of Season One. Heck, if you only watch the final four episodes, it's a pretty good show.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.