[1 September 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Heroes Season 2 was always destined to be compared, perhaps unfairly, to Season 1, and of course, a certain segment of viewers and critics were always destined to compare it unfavorably.
Now that Season 3 officially approaches and Season 2, subtitled “Generations”, is out on DVD in beautifully cinematic widescreen, the reproving remarks have resurfaced. Some blame the writers strike, others point to series creator Tim Kring’s statement that Season 1 was about ordinary people discovering extraordinary powers, while Season 2 was these extraordinary people trying to readjust and reintegrate in the ordinary world, as if that’s somehow a boring concept. Several naysayers complain that the second season is too broad in scope, the main players are too isolated and far flung and there are too many new faces and story fragments. Some cite the simply inevitable impossibility of meeting the wild expectations following the phenomenon that was the first season.
Sure, these things all may have had some impact on Season 2—particularly the writers’ strike, which is responsible for cutting “Generations” to only 11 episodes instead of 24—but this was by no means a sophomore slump, as some are saying. This is exciting, engaging and often literally electric viewing. Kring is still quite capable of surprising us with entirely unexpected twists, which makes some people’s assertions that this season’s lesser rating can be attributed to a sense of familiarity absolutely ludicrous.
Naturally, however, it does have elements in common with its predecessor. It has a great mix of expanding horizons and big events as well as focusing on characters’ relationships and smaller moments like Season 1, but these horizons and events are even larger and the relationships are deepening.
For instance, in the first season, Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere) and Mr. Bennett (Jack Coleman) had, arguably the most resonant relationship. This father’s devotion to his daughter, and hers to him, was admirably steadfast, if eerily unquestioning, even after they discovered some of each other’s secrets. In Season 2, Claire has grown more suspicious and distrusting, and is asserting her defiance, even as he tries harder to control her.
That tension is juxtaposed with the new relationship between Matt Parkman (Greg Grunburg) and Molly (Adair Tishler), whom he has adopted. They represent the trust and fierce protectiveness that is unconditional love. Despite the fact that he isn’t always able to protect her, she still trusts him to try.
The shifting of these relationship dynamics may be the most fascinating aspect of Season 2, more so than the introduction of the new characters like Kensei/Adam Monroe (David Anders) and new powers like the lightning charges that new face Elle emits, more so the loss of powers like the ones Niki (Ali Larter) experiences, more so than the loss of memory plaguing Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia). Possibly, the way the characters relate is even more fascinating than the reappearance of Sylar (Zachary Quinto, who is still the most chillingly powerful villain out there, even when he’s powerless). It’s the very tangible, tangled relationships that really drive the show.
Hiro’s (Masi Oka) friendship with Ando (James Kyson Lee) is mirrored in the friendship formed, and later shattered, with Kensei. Kristin Bell as Elle, in a wickedly fun twist on the rebellious daughter seeking her father’s approval is contrasted with both Claire who is her peer, and Molly, who is the child she may once have been. Likewise, her father Bob (the always wonderful Stephen Tobolowsky), who has the enviable power to transmute metals into gold, is the polar opposite of Noah Bennett. He seems soft on the surface, but he has a heart of… well, it’s definitely not gold.
Bob is one of those characters that Heroes really excels at fleshing out, you never know quite what he’s about, but you sure want to find out. It’s that urge to find out what happens next, or what happened to one character during a time when another character was experiencing an event, and how they might be connected is what keeps Heroes, and especially “Generations” compelling TV. Creating and sustaining that urge is where the forces behind the show really excel. The bonus features on this set are evidence of that.
The extras on these four discs are great for several reasons. There are deleted scenes that help immensely to fill in pieces of story that may have gone otherwise unexplained, and help to make up a bit for what was lost because of the writers’ strike. There is a section titled “Untold Stories”, which further supports the explanations of the deleted scenes, and looks more closely at others. There are the expected featurettes, such as a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming season, and the unexpected material, like the five-part, animated, documentary on the history of Hiro’s hero, called, Takezo Kensei: Sword Saint, which is narrated by John Rhys-Davies!
But the most spectacular special features on the Heroes Season 2 set are the commentaries. There is a full commentary on each of the 11 episodes, and each one includes different combinations of cast, crew, creators, writers and producers—the last even features the composers, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, which is unusual. Some of the best commentaries, of course, come from the actors behind favorite characters, with Greg Grunburg, Adrian Pasdar, Kristen Bell and Zachary Quinto being the standouts. Masi Oka is wonderful, as well. The variety of personalities and their individual insights into every tantalizing detail of the show is what makes this DVD set worth owning, whether or not you happen to think Season 2 fell short for whatever reason.
With Heroes “Generations”, we may not have been able to have the complete experience as it was originally intended, but surely the in highly anticipated Season 3, which begins on September 22, Heroes will once again strike gold. Because, as this DVD set shows, Kring, and the writers, cast and crew still have that Midas touch. They are a bit like Bob, that way.