The theory of natural selection and its evolutionary backbone have been abridged by pop-culture many times before, but never so errantly. Without even a hint of explanation, NBC’s new drama “Heroes” transports viewers to a world where ordinary and ethnically diverse people suddenly acquire superhuman abilities. Why? Because Darwinian dictum says so.

Morgan Morel
Congratulations, class of 2006! (Courtesy of NBC)

But looking past the insipid, paltry explanation for mankind’s sudden leap into superheroism, “Heroes” presents a compelling premise – one that adequately, if a bit tenuously, manages the dilemma of man’s greater gifts sprouting from his darkest debilities.

Set in many demographically correct locations throughout the world, “Heroes” centers on several characters with one thing in common – they’re all good people facing tough situations. We have the genius Indian scientist working on cutting-edge bio-research when an unknown man – who’s either a big, bad National Science Foundation enforcer or a pragmatic mobster – steps in and whacks his father. Tense dialogue in terse ethnic accents follows.

Then we have the Japanese 9-5er whose greatest desire is to do earth-shattering things like bend reality with his mind and teleport into women’s bathrooms. There’s the struggling, coked-up artist who suddenly starts painting vivid impressions of impending disasters, the loser younger brother of a Congress hopeful who swears he can fly and even a vengeful stripper/single mother and an indestructible cheerleader. What’s not to watch?

The show touches on just about every theory comic books have ever espoused about the rise of superheroes, and it finally settles on the darkest, most au courant of the bunch. It suggests that superheroes spring from simple misery, their extraordinary abilities necessary to bring a flailing world sporadically back to equilibrium. And in an age when our favorite big-screen superheroes all seem in need of a good, long chat with Dr. Phil (Spidey’s so depressed he’s already busted out the black suit), that’s an idea audiences are sure to find enthralling.

Though it works in its grand scheme, “Heroes” has glaring problems with its literal construction. The dialogue may be the most vapid of any worthwhile TV show today. The only storyline that isn’t staggered by moronically indiscreet dialogue is the one about the Japanese office worker – but that’s only because all of his lines are in Japanese. You’d think middle America would be an easy topic for American writers to write about, but when the cheerleader starts mumbling something about being popular and the kid who thinks he can fly busts out the “you gotta believe me!” routine, it’s obvious that there’s quite a void there.

With a cast of characters so vast that even the hour-long pilot couldn’t introduce them all, “Heroes” is an ambitious creation. It seeks to work on several levels at once and though it fails at that for the most part, its best moments are remarkably compelling. Even if its “tortured-superhero-who-saves-the-world-but-can’t-save-his-own-soul” core is hackneyed in concept and execution, the numerous disparate storylines – and a clever twist coming in the next episode – make the show one worth giving a chance. For now.

Star Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Mondays at 9 p.m.

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