The original Heroes was yanked off the air just five years ago, but it feels like it existed in a much older, much more distant era. The very concept of TV has changed drastically in the years since Heroes, which felt revolutionary even though it didn’t really innovate much — it just had a fresh, less-kitschy take on a kitschy genre.
Now, its revival, Heroes: Reborn, which aired this week, stands to inherit the legacy of its ancestor left behind. But perhaps it’s too late.
What Heroes, and its contemporary Smallville laid the foundation for has been built upon by Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Marvel’s Daredevil. Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and Marvel’s Jessica Jones will premiere this fall and propose even fresher spins on the genre than there ever has been before. Heroes: Reborn may be a 2015 revival, but it still feels so 2006.
Despite my own predictions, Heroes: Reborn is still kind of uncomfortable with its own genre. Is it really a superhero series, or is Heroes actually just a sci-fi with comic book roots? No one in the original Heroes ever donned a “masked identity” typical of other superheroes, but one finally has in Heroes: Reborn. And no one else. And he gets shot. (As it stands, someone might succeed him, again — why has no one else thought of this?)
But Heroes never tapped into the comic book Golden Age for its stories. Distinctly post-9/11, the original Heroes had more in common with X-Men, a parable for civil rights and liberty that placed the superpowered as victims instead of standing as paragons of truth and justice and all that neat stuff. They never aimed to be the guiding light for humanity as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El told a baby Kal-El in Superman.
And it’s leaving Heroes: Reborn behind. Superhero TV is dominated by a hybrid mix of Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age traditions that are more about adventure and embracing powers than hiding it. The Arrow will combat drug trafficking and crime lords one week but team with The Flash to fight a kooky mad scientist the next. Heroes: Reborn feels too pessimistic to have any fun.
Heroes: Reborn is asking a lot of questions: What did Noah Bennett make himself forget? What has become of Primatech? What is at the center of the game by Mr. Otomo? Where is Mohinder Suresh? What will happen to Luke and Joanne, who have set out to seek and kill every EVO? When they’re answered, however terribly (this was the true downfall of the original series), will Heroes: Reborn still try to be a superhero show, or will it have gone full X-Files and be about conspiracies?
It’s false to suggest for Heroes: Reborn to be successful it should just copy what its contemporaries are doing. But, for its own benefit, it should recognize how out of the loop it is from the rest. Only then could it be smart enough to deviate and truly stand on its own.