- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ordinary ‘Heroes’

Superheroes have been running roughshod over movie theaters for years, so why shouldn’t they invade the small screen?

NBC’s new drama “Heroes” appears to jump on the superpower bandwagon, but the first episode isn’t so simple. It takes the Marvel Comics approach to the genre, featuring flawed heroes who have the same neuroses we all do.

These heroes are not just deeply flawed, they’re also confused about their powers. So are we. Tonight’s show, airing at 9, reveals only snippets of what the heroes-to-be can do.

It’s the “Smallville” approach: he’s Superman but doesn’t know how to fly yet. It’s a smart way to roll out a series, particularly when the NBC suits hope the show is starting a long and lucrative run.

“Heroes” follows a multi-ethnic group of Joes and Janes scattered across the globe who find their lives complicated by otherworldly gifts.

Claire (Hayden Panettiere) is a squeaky clean cheerleader who can walk through fire and jam her hand down a trash compactor and minutes later be perfectly healthy. Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) is a 30-year-old male nurse who finds himself hovering over the floor when he rolls out of bed. Most promising is a clumsy Japanese man named Hiro (Masi Oka) who can turn a clock’s hands backward and likely do much, much more.

The rest of the heroes are far murkier, as is the show’s overall purpose. We understand a supervillain of sorts will emerge and our heroes will slowly gather to confront the threat.

Let’s hope that looming battle packs more inventive situations than we see tonight. It’s always a pleasure to watch when a superhero first discover his or her powers, but there’s a mopey quality to these “Heroes,” and the psychobabble offered by a few of them is already tiresome.

‘Runaway’ a keeper

The CW, the new network created out of the ashes of the defunct WB and UPN, has only two new prime-time programs airing this fall. Luckily for the fledgling channel, one of them is among the strongest shows of the season.

“Runaway” debuts tonight at 9. It stars Donnie Wahlberg (Mark’s big brother and member of the 1980s boy band New Kids on the Block) as Paul Rader, a Washington lawyer who has his own problems with the legal system — he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Paul jumps bail and flees the city when the real murderer threatens his family, wife Lily (“24’s” Leslie Hope), teenage son and daughter Henry and Hannah (Dustin Milligan and Sarah Ramos) and young Tommy (Nathan Gamble). They try to patch together a normal life for themselves in Bridgewater, Iowa, while Paul tries to figure out who the real killer is.

Call this a family thriller. The premise allows the producers — who include “Sex and the City’s” Darren Star and “Law & Order’s” Ed Zuckerman — to make a suspenseful show that also delves into the characters’ emotional lives.

It’s a savvy move. Marketers are probably thinking men will enjoy the tense moments when federal agents get clues to the Rader family’s whereabouts, while women will wonder how the resentful kids will cope with the move and the need to keep their stories straight.

The show strikes just the right balance between the two elements. Tonight’s premiere starts out with suspense, as the family makes its way to its new home (with Toronto standing in for the American Midwest) with the cops hot on their trail. But even here, we see how the trauma has affected each family member differently: angry Henry misses his girlfriend, optimistic Hannah looks forward to starting a new life, while poor Tommy has real trouble remembering his new name and background.

When Lily looks at Tommy’s handheld video game and says, “That better not be the one with guns,” it’s hard not to laugh: The Raders have become a family of felons, after all.

The CW, like the networks it replaces, targets a young demographic. For “Runaway,” that means a cool soundtrack with pop and alternative hits. But the music never overwhelms the story, and the acting here, even from the teenage cast members, is all grown up.

The strong performances of Mr. Wahlberg and Miss Hope, along with what could turn out to be an intriguing mystery, make “Runaway” worth catching.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff reports.

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