Trying to recapture the magic, but coming up short
The Story So Far...
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.
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.
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.
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.