SPOILER ALERT: This article reveals major plotlines for season 2 of Heroes
The arrows are flying. A dozen of them, launched from the bows of 17th-century samurai warriors assembled on a watercolor green field and about to rain down upon the head of one Hiro Nakamura. But they don’t. Instead, the squall of pointy death screeches to a cartoonish halt, frozen in space by the time-traveling/time-stopping supernerd with a clench of his bespectacled eyes. It’s a surreal image, though for now it exists only in the mind of Masi Oka, the Emmy-nominated star of NBC’s Emmy-nominated sensation Heroes, who actually finds himself sneaker-deep in farm grass, trying to bring this comic-booky moment to life. In this scene from the show’s second-season premiere (airing Sept. 24), Oka is supposed to execute his character’s trademark reality-pausing maneuver — they call it ”the squishy-blinky” around here — yet he is being thwarted by the most insidious of bad guys: a breeze. See, when time stands still, wind shouldn’t be rippling through the grass. The solution is simple — throw down a bluescreen, manufacture some lawn with F/X — but it’s slow in coming, as the on-set producers are currently sipping smoothies and joking with Oka’s dialogue coach about turning U.S. states into Japanese-sounding words. ”Or-ee-GON!” ”Wash-ing-TON!”
”It’s a little like the first week of school,” says Oka during a break in the (in)action. ”A little hard to focus.”
They’d better buckle down quickly, because there’s homework to be done. As any student of TV history can report, sophomore seasons can be slumpy. Cockiness, ambition, the ridiculously unreasonable demands of journalists (those jerks!) and network execs (see: No. 4 NBC, desperate to maintain its one certifiable hit) — a small sample of the kryptonite that can cripple a phenom’s follow-up year. Heroes — created by Tim Kring, the non-nerd whose ingenious conversion of geek tropes into mainstream drama has made him TV’s newest cult pop auteur — would seem to have the brains and humility to avoid these pitfalls. Listen to this: ”I’ve been a stick in the mud the past year,” admits Milo Ventimiglia, whose Peter the Power-Absorbing Super Sponge was last seen blowing up over Manhattan with brother Nathan the Flying Slimeball (Adrian Pasdar). ”Parts of this — the crowds, the blind excitement of people — terrify me. That kind of closed me off. But this year…I’m trying to embrace it more.”
Nonetheless, there are reasons to sweat. First, there was the nearly 20 percent drop in ratings last spring after a momentum-killing seven-week break. Then there was the cliff-hanger-heavy finale, which spawned much What happens next? wonder, yet also inspired a lot of That was it? disappointment. And now, with the departure of writer Bryan Fuller, who left to create ABC’s new buzz fantasy Pushing Daisies, the show must press on without one of its most valuable players. Emmy nods or not, it’s time for Heroes to prove itself all over again. And Kring knows it. ”Season 2, in many ways, is about lessons learned,” he says. ”The stakes are higher, that’s for sure. But I try not to think about them, because it doesn’t make an already challenging job any easier.”
Like we said: The arrows are in the air.
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