I remember the exact moment I heard NBC was reviving the ashen corpse of Heroes for another lap with Heroes Reborn. I assumed, like all folks who had been burned by the first run of Tim Kring's epic-superhero-story-turned-episodic-car-crash that it was an elaborate prank, perhaps a viral stunt to promote an irreverent Tonight Show cast reunion skit.
We're now mere hours away from the premiere of Heroes Reborn, so if it is a prank, I give NBC credit for a truly stunning level of goof commitment. In the ever-more-likely circumstance that Heroes Reborn is an actual show that will air on television, I'd like to offer a few of the biggest issues with the original Heroes that I'm hopeful Reborn will sidestep.
Keep in mind, I'm no TV writer, just a lapsed fan who can't afford to have his heart broken again, so my layman observations may not a great show make. But I know that had these suggestions been taken by the original show, it would have cut by at least 40 percent the number of times I screamed "KRIINNNNGG!" to the heavens as a crude, futile prayer to have the time I wasted on Heroes returned to me by a forgiving god.
Call it "Lost-itis." Heroes had a really bad habit, especially early on, of withholding key bits of the narrative and then deploying them as "twists." This can make for some buzzy end-of-episode stingers, but they're all sizzle and no substance. They rarely move the narrative forward, as the characters have typically been privy to the new information the audience has just gleaned.
Heroes was also crippled during its initial run by being a show known for twists. The best example of that came early in season two, with the relatively stunning reveal that evil brain gobbler Sylar was still alive after being stabbed by time-hopper Hiro in the season one finale. Or rather, it would have been stunning if the episode hadn't literally been marketed with the phrase "Sylar's returned."
At the beginning, the world of Heroes was peppered with a handful of non-evolved humans who just happened to be some of the show's most compelling characters. There was Peter Petrelli, whose belief that he had abilities that he couldn't manifest at will almost led him to suicide, or Mohinder Suresh, the impossibly handsome scientist obsessed with finishing his father's research on evolved humans. And of course, there was Ando, Hiro's lovable long-suffering sidekick and occasional conscience. These characters were defined in many ways by the fact that they hadn't evolved. They were mortals walking among gods and, crucially, a relatable presence for all us non-evolved folks watching at home.
Over the course of the series, Mohinder juiced himself with super strength and senses, Ando gained the ability to amplify the powers of other posthumans (and, just for kicks, shoot energy blasts), and Peter turned out to have ... every power imaginable. We viewers lost our foothold on the universe, and the characters lost some of their most compelling traits. Let's not go back down that road.
Speaking of Peter Petrelli and his tendency to yoink abilities from every hero that stumbled into his field of view, let's avoid that particular power this time around, OK? The problems are numerous, but the most pronounced is that it mutes the impact of literally every other character on the show. Why does it matter if another hero goes missing/gets killed/leaves the show if Peter ... or Sylar ... or Peter's dad Arthur can just replicate their power without breaking a sweat?
It also makes it extremely difficult to write an interesting challenge for a hero who can basically do anything. My favorite example is at the end of season one. Peter is about to explode and level New York because of a radioactivity ability he absorbed. In a beautiful sacrificial moment, Peter's brother Nathan flies him into the night sky so he can explode in safety. ... Well, it should have been a beautiful sacrificial moment, except for the fact that Peter can also totally fly. In the brother world, we call that "a real dick move."
Side note: A case could be made that Peter could only use one absorbed power at a time — even though that hadn't ever been stated by the writers. But if that was the situation, I'd humbly submit that Peter could have absorbed a new power to erase the radiation ability. So there. It's still dumb.
It is incredibly hard to satisfyingly introduce time travel into a story, because it means practically anything can be undone, thereby drastically lowering the stakes and the viewer/reader/listener's connection to the story. Doctor Who, for example, avoids the issue by creating "fixed points in time" that can't be changed. (Except, of course, when they totally can, but we're not talking about Doctor Who here, OK?)
time travel should not only be excluded from Heroes, but every story ever
In Heroes, the limitation is that characters traveling back in time can't create a paradox (read: fixing the thing that caused them to travel back in time in the first place). This not only makes traveling into the past literally pointless, it creates some truly mind-numbing narrative Twister to work around it.
In season three, a future version of power-absorber Peter Petrelli brings his past self into the future so that he can convince Past Peter that he needs to change the past (which is Past Peter's present) as a workaround for this rule. If you need more proof than this plot point — recently recognized by Guinness as "The Dumbest Sentence Ever Written" — that time travel should not only be excluded from Heroes, but every story ever, I really don't know what to tell you.
This is a similar issue to time travel, but the introduction of a character whose blood can bring anyone back to life is also quite the narrative wet blanket. Claire is the first character we meet with this ability (known in Heroes-speak as "rapid cell regeneration"), but no fewer than six characters have displayed it by the end of the series.
In one season two episode, for example, Noah Bennet (the horn-rimmed glasses man) is brought back from a gunshot wound to the head by Claire's blood. While an impactful moment, to be sure, it's pretty short-sighted, as this plot line moves death in the world of Heroes from a weighty conclusion to more of an inconvenience.
It's a safe bet that the writers of Heroes discovered many of these issues for themselves as the series went on, but by then the die had been cast and they were forced to load down the story with so much contrivance, convolution and contradiction that it was eventually smothered.
I'll let you in on a little secret: I initially set out to write a recap of Heroes for sane people who bailed after the first season. I quickly concluded, however, that it was an impossible feat. Reading episode synopses of Heroes isn't so much like being told a story as it watching a beleaguered group of writers trying to escape a volcano by leaping across a series of ever-shrinking narrative pedestals before the flaming magma of their own story choices swallows them alive.
In closing, I would like to highlight this point with an actual paragraph from the Heroes fan wiki, from the page about ability absorption.
According to Arthur, the removal of abilities from a targeted evolved human is permanent, but they can, in fact, be at least partially restored. Matt Parkman, Jr. partially restored Hiro's ability, allowing him to stop time but not teleport, and Peter Petrelli restored part of his ability with the formula. Hiro's powers all eventually returned, but due to a brain tumor Hiro developed, he didn't have full control until his tumor was removed, showing that powers stolen can be fully returned.
So, Heroes Reborn, if you're looking to succeed where your predecessor failed, here's the short version: Don't ever force a human being to write a paragraph like that ever again.