At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss Heroes (premiering tonight on NBC, 9 PMET) as a watered-down version of X-Men. To do so, however, would be a huge mistake. While it does tread on familiar comic book-inspired territory, Heroes painstakingly avoids splashiness, instead painting its characters in subtle tones of normalcy shaded by the extraordinary.
The creation of Tim King (Crossing Jordan), the pilot episode zigzags across the globe, introducing us to a disparate group of characters, from an indestructable Texas cheerleader to a Japanese office drone with the ability to displace time and space to a male nurse who believes he can fly to a Vegas stripper haunted by a separate personality within herself to a drug addict artist who paints visions of the future. Their stories are told in separate vignettes, loosely connected by an Indian researcher's quest to redeem his dead father's reputation. All of it has something to do with a solar eclipse, which has awakened the protagonists' latent abilities, as well as signaling dire events for all earth.
On paper, it all sounds more than a little hokey, but Heroes transcends any cliches by cloaking it all in ambiguity. The characters in the pilot episode are three-dimensional people — a devoted single mom with a questionable past, a male nurse whose dreams of flying symbolize his relationship with his politician brother, a high school student who can do no wrong, and so on — whose lives are taking an unexpected and unwelcome turn.
The pilot episode focuses on the characters' individual stories and inner turmoils, rather than their unusual abilities. It's a teaser, to be certain, but it beckons us to return to find out how the mysteries presented here develop. If Heroes can maintain the focus of the pilot episode, focusing on the characters and their relationship to their environment, NBC may have a sleeper hit on its hands. This is a show that promises social insights presented in allegorical style.
Here's hoping that it doesn't deteriorate into comic book cliches.