Heroes: Season 2

Like a lot of fans from season 1, I couldn’t quite get into season 2 of Heroes when it first aired. I watched three episodes and then decided the time I was devoting could be better spent talking to my children or trying to figure out what was going on over on Lost. That was disappointing as I’d really liked season 1 and the whole idea of a comic book come to life. Now, with season 2 out on DVD, I had another chance to see if Heroes can, if not wow me, at least show me that things got better after the first trio of episodes. They did, thankfully, get a little better. Heroes was, like most television shows last season, a victim of the writer’s strike. It went off the air and, unlike Lost and others, never came back. So season 2, called “Generations,” only features 11 episodes. After sitting through the first two or three, that seemed like 11 too many. The writers, who kick off the season 2 four months after Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) goes nuclear and is flown away by his brother Nathan (Adrian Pasdar,) seem to be running in place. Other holdovers from last season like Claire (Hayden Panettiere), Noah (Jack Coleman), Parkman (Greg Grunberg), Niki (Ali Larter), and Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey) are working hard at fitting in and hiding their powers from the world. In fact, Claire basically lives out the same events at a California high school that we saw last season in Texas. Same blonde cheerleader nemesis and all. This time she has dropped the gay male confidant and picked up a new car (hello product placement!) and boyfriend with powers, West (Nicholas D'Agosto). Other than the flying boyfriend, though, her whole plot line starts out a little stale.

The whole narrative, in fact, starts out a bit stale. Peter wakes up in shipping container in Ireland with no memory, so we get the whole “woah, I have powers” thing again. Parkman is a cop in NYC rather than LA while he and Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) try to protect Molly (Adair Tishler). Bad guy Sylar (Zachary Quinto) wakes up with no powers and can’t seem to get them back the old way and thus, like so much of the story, he has to start again from ground zero. Unfortunately, the one story that doesn’t feel like a copy from last season is Hiro (Masi Oka) in feudal Japan meeting his idol, Takezo Kensei. This plot, which is key later in the season for setting up a bad guy, is just stupid. It lurches around in a silly melodrama for a few episodes and makes you almost scream at the television “get him out of there and back to interacting with the others!”

Fortunately, the ship does get righted somewhat in the middle of the season and while we watch a plot unfold to kill the heroes parents and possibly unleash a killer virus on the world, things are humming along again. Ok, it’s not nearly as interesting or tight as the first season but it does a satisfactory job bridging that season with the upcoming “Villains” season. A lot of characters and plot lines have to share time but, unlike the aforementioned Lost, it never gets so convoluted that you think the creators and producers are just screwing with you. The look and effects are still reminiscent of a comic book come to life and those are echoed in more of the departed Isaac’s cool paintings of the future (again provided by artist Tim Sale.)

As is often the case in the second season of an ensemble drama, new characters need to be introduced to keep things “fresh.” Chief among these are Heroes own version of Lost’s Paolo and Nikki, Maya and Alejandro. Two characters that are so annoying and useless that you wonder what the hell the writers were thinking. If the same person came up Maya and Alejandro and Hiro’s Japanese odyssey, he should be canned immediately. Maya can kill people by crying and Alejandro can bring them back to life if he holds her hand. I think. I don’t even really care, I just wanted them to die, and soon. The whining and running they do trying to get from Central America to New York was unending and every time their names showed up on the bottom of the screen, I groaned inwardly.

Much better are Bob (Stephen Tobolowsky) the duplicitous face of “the company” now that Linderman is gone (probably) and his psycho daughter Elle (Kristen Bell) who shoots lightning out of her hands. Their dynamic is sort of the anti-Noah and Claire and that idea, once Claire stops being a silly sex kitten stereotype, is compelling. There are other new players, including Micah’s extended family and Parkman’s father who make you start wondering who doesn’t have a power, rather than who does. Still, with all the characters and plot lines running through the 11 episodes, you expect a few clunkers and drilling down the essence of the show by the last few episodes yields a satisfactory, although not astronomical, payoff.

It’s possible, with a full season, the writers could have made the dud episodes a faint memory. Here, they take up a little bit too much of the total, but there is some great stuff as well and it evens out in the wash. If you dropped out at some point when season 2 was on television, this is a good way to get back into the storyline and see if they can hit the ground running with season 3. As noted above, the season 2 DVD of Heroes contains only 11 episodes on 4 discs, compared to 23 on 7 in the season 1 set. The reduced amount of actual material combined with somewhat so-so plot lines this season make this a set that all but hard core fans should leave for a rental. There are a lot of good extras, but, in a trend that is likely to continue as more strike shortened seasons are released on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s tough to shell out top dollar for what amounts to half a season.

The extras are kicked off by; get this, a commentary for every episode. I tip my hat to any show that cares enough to give fans the commentary option on every episode rather than just half or less. Even better, they don’t fall into the trap of some Universal DVD releases (I’m looking at you Dunder-Mifflin) and try to cram eight to ten people into each commentary. Almost every commentary has either two or three people, typically one actor and one or two producers and/or directors. All of the main season 2 actors except Larter and Panettiere do at least one commentary and Grunberg and Coleman do two. Creator Tim Kring and executive producer Allan Arkush are also around frequently. Obviously, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about 11 different commentaries provided by about 20 different people, but they do, typically, provide a good balance between behind-the-scenes information and plot explanations. The only drawback for the hard core fan is that the commentaries were previously released on the Web during the initial run of the show, so you may have already heard them.

Nearly every episode also has a couple of deleted scenes that last about two or three minutes each. Rather than gathering all them together in one place, the deleted scenes are kept on the disc with the episode, which makes more sense than showing them all in one place. There isn’t any commentary or explanation of what the scene was supposed to show or why it was cut, but none of them are really that interesting. Mostly they just flesh out the characters a little more with some color. The one thing that is fun is that the scenes never got their special effects completed, so you can see the wires that West uses to fly before they are digitally erased and some things have crude animation rather than polished effects.

The rest of the extras, like the commentaries and deleted scenes are scattered over the four discs. There is a 15 minute fluff piece called “A New Beginning” that sets the stage for what is going to happen in season 2. If you watch it after you watch all the episodes it’s totally useless, but watching it first does provide a nice spoiler-free introduction to the season if you need a brief refresher (like I did.) Much more interesting and satisfying is a 23 minute extra called “Genetics of a Scene.” While the title is a little pretentious, it is a true backstage look at four different scenes. Two are introduced by producer/director Allan Arkush and two by producer/director Greg Beeman. So scenes including where Nathan flies off with Peter and where Hiro fights the battle of 12 swords are shown from set-up to completion. It’s good insight and information and one of the better things in the set to watch.

There is a little filler, most of it on the second disc. The 23 minute fake documentary “Takezon Kensei: Sword Saint” treats the character as a subject for a Biography Channel special. There is some cool animation to illustrate his exploits but the fake talking heads are actually pretty lame. I mean, couldn’t they make it look a bit more real? Of course, it looks quite a bit more real than the fake eight minute investigative news report called “The Drucker Files.” I have no idea what they were going for here or how this guy fits into Heroes, but it was pretty boring. I think it originally appeared on the Web. “NBC.com Featurettes” includes some viral videos that were shown on the network website to publicize the show. There is also an introduction to next season with some information about the first episode.

The extra that will probably be of the most interest to Heroes fanatics is the alternate ending to the season. This ending, which lasts about 18 minutes, takes the story in a whole new, and much darker, direction by changing one event. Not every scene had been shot, so some of it is represented by storyboards. The alternate ending is paired with a 12 minute explanation by producers Tim Kring, Jeph Loeb, and Jesse Alexander. They explain how the writer’s strike forced them to change episode 11 to have the ending that was aired because they weren’t going to be able to explore the original (now called the “alternate” ending) in future episodes, some of which had already been written and partially shot. The parts that were filmed were either used in the alternate ending or included in “Untold Stories.” That section, lasting about 13 minutes, shows some plot points that would have been key in episodes 12 and 13, if they’d been completed. It’s an interesting look at what the writer’s strike did to one show and how it altered the whole arc of the show.

The disc is a nice transfer with good sound. It should satisfy most Heroes fans, but, again, it’s only 11 episodes and they aren’t quite up to the standard of season 1. The heavy amount of extras does add back a little value, but this is not as impressive as the season 1 DVD set. Think before purchasing this as you can probably go the rental route unless you are a hardcore fan.