For many, the second season of this runaway NBC hit was hampered by many things: expectations from the first classic story arc, a writer's strike that seemed to sap all the life out of the media momentum, a familiarity with the characters and the concept, all of which made a sophomore slump all the more likely. Cut down to 11 episodes, and without the planned Origins prequel series to back up its premise, many believed that their favorite superhero show was faltering before it could completely catch on. Such assessments were definitely premature.
When last we left the everyday avengers and their evil antagonists, New York City was saved from a cataclysmic event. Four months later, the authoritarian Company continues its investigation and control over the superhumans, focusing specifically on a new disease that could wipe out their special abilities -- as well as a large percentage of the population. In the meantime, Hiro (Masi Oka) is transported back to feudal Japan, where he discovers something very interesting about the legendary Takezo Kensei (David Anders). Elsewhere, fugitives Maya (Dania Ramirez) and Alejandro Herrera (Shalim Ortiz) make their way from Honduras to the United States. Along the way, they meet up with a now-powerless Sylar (Zachary Quinto). Finally, amnesiac Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) remembers who he is, while the cheerleader Claire (Hayden Panettiere) moves to California with her family and tries to have a normal life.
Subtitled "Generations," season two of Heroes is actually quite enjoyable. It does what any pop culture phenom attempts to do when given the go ahead: broaden its approach without abandoning its core audience. For the most part, it does. And unlike other examples of said stratagem -- Twin Peaks, Lost -- creator Tim Kring acknowledges that he and his creative staff weren't always successful. It didn't help that the far more epic scope of this season was shuttered by events both within and outside of its control, but Heroes is already hampered by a viscous cycle story arc -- unless the bad guys are going to be allowed to win, good seems predestined to defeat, and therefore marginalize, anyone evil.
Still, Heroes attempts to keep things suspenseful, introducing the new threat known as the Shanti virus and exploring its devastating effects on characters like Niki (Ali Larter) and Sylar. Of course, with the oppressive Company involved, our champions are required to once again find common ground to defeat a common menace. But with almost a half season missing, we end up with something akin to Peaks' "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" dilemma. Once we discover the truth, and its implications on the rest of the cast, we grow tired to having taken this prematurely stunted plot path. Indeed, Heroes works best when it uses the smaller issues between the superhumans as a way of preparing for a much larger clash -- and something like that needs time to take root and prosper.
Sure, one could argue that Hiro's feudal Japan storyline goes on for far too long, or that new characters like Maya and Alejandro seem tossed in randomly for freshness purposes only. Both subplots sap necessary energy from the main thread, and yet they argue for a series willing to explore the human element of its characters at the cost of nonstop narrative drive. Of course, that doesn't mean we need sappy family reunions, chemistry-free romances, or the occasional lapse into standard TV storyline stereotypes.
But as an example of boundary-pushing television, of a cinematic conceit used to make the boob tube less geared toward the lowest common dominator, Heroes really excels. True, this latest season doesn't contain the bang that was the first's expositional setup and nuclear threat, but within this shortened space, the best of the series still shines through.