DVD Review: 'Heroes, Season One'

There's no reason why "Heroes" should have worked as well as it did. The first-year NBC drama balanced dozens of characters in locations around the country, running through myriad story arcs in a genre -- comic book-style superheroes -- well outside of the typical network television purview.

With a high concept narrative -- Save the cheerleader, save the freakin' world -- and a spiffy production gloss fueled by top notch effects and stellar stunt work, "Heroes" became last year's most buzzed about new show (not the same as "most watched," but the fourth place network will take what it can get). Now why is it that I can't get into a conversation about "Heroes" without people telling me how much they thought the waning moments of the finale stunk?

"Heroes" is exactly the kind of show that rewards intense DVD viewership and the first season arrives on disc on Tuesday (Aug. 28) in exactly the caliber of compilation it deserves. NBC's press release for the DVD lists 19 members of the ensemble cast, a list that doesn't even include the legion of actors who passed through for brief cameos or extended arcs. It was already a complicated enough tapestry to begin with and the seven discs include at least 50 deleted or extended scenes, helping to fill in some major and minor character gaps stretching across the season.

While all viewers will probably want to follow Hiro (Masi Oka) and Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) and Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) and Claire (Hayden Panettiere) and Mr. Bennett (Jack Coleman) and Sylar (Zachary Quinto), watching the series on DVD allows for a little cherrypicking when it comes to the less universally adored characters or plotlines. My own version of the first season of "Heroes" wastes a lot less time on Simone (Tawny Cypress), Isaac (Santiago Cabrera), Matt Parkman's (Greg Grunberg) cheating wife, Nathan's not-so-paralyzed wife (Rena Sofer) and the frequently forgotten D.L. (Leonard Roberts). Instead, the characters played by Jayma Mays, Nora Zehtner, Christopher Eccleston and Eric Roberts all seem much more central.

The wonders of selective editing are particularly important to the DVD's most intriguing feature, the 73-minute studio pilot seen mostly by industry insiders and one group of excited fans at San Diego Comic-Con. A phenomenal insight into the storytelling process and studio creative decision-making, the original pilot features a notoriously excised terrorist storyline, an plot that introduced mind-reading Matt in the first episode rather than later in the show's run. In an interesting, but rarely revelatory nuts-and-bolts commentary, creator Tim Kring explains that the network worried that if "Heroes" were to be an 8 p.m. show (it wasn't) that darker, ripped-from-the-headlines arc wouldn't be appropriate. Kring admits now that he understands the choice and watching the cut footage -- more "Sleeper Cell"-lite than fitting with the show's eventual tone -- it's obvious that the network's move was correct.

In addition to Kring's commentary on the extended pilot, the set includes eight addition episode commentaries featuring writers, directors, random production assistants and just about every member of the cast you could hope to hear from. Of the tracks, I can recommend any of the three featuring the always excitable Grunberg, plus the track on the "Landside" episode with Masi Oka and kickass guest star George Takei. Disappointingly, the finale commentary offers neither apology nor explanation for the concluding anti-climax.

A variety of featurettes appear on the seventh disc, including glimpses at the special effects and stunt work and a profile of Tim Sale, the artist responsible for the show's all-important paintings.

The fifth disc also includes a game that lets users see if they have the power to read minds. I don't, but if you did, you probably already knew that.

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