Here’s the good news: In the pantheon of Heroes television, Heroes Reborn is actually all right. It wasn’t nearly as gripping as the original show’s zeitgeist-grabbing first season, but it also wasn’t as terrible and/or boring as the show’s godawful second, third, and fourth seasons.

The bad news is that this means Heroes Reborn is still pretty mediocre. But if, like me, you were expecting total disaster, you may have ended last night’s two-hour premiere with the pleasant surprise that you didn’t want to kill yourself to make the pain stop.

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Heroes Reborn’s smartest move is that it jettisons the incomprehensible yet moronic mythology it developed over the original series. Instead, it mainly focuses on a new assortment of characters and a new premise (well, new for Heroes, at least): those with superpowers are feared and hunted by the government, but also by a shadowy organization that seems to have more nefarious goals in mind. Of Heroes’ original stars, only HRG seems to be a main player, who discovers the conspiracy and starts trying to unravel it.

The two-hour premiere was mainly concerned with introducing the new cast and their specific issues: Here are the new characters you need to know:

Tommy—A high school kid with the most standard high school problems of all time: A bully, a crush on the bully’s girlfriend Emily, and superpowers he can’t let anyone know he has (he can teleport things, although he originally doesn’t know to where). He and his mom have been on the run, because people keep discovering his powers.

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Carlos—A soldier, back from the war, who is believed to have done something very heroic there but secretly didn’t. He has a beef with his brother—something about abandonment, yadda yadda—who has been covertly fighting crime in a luchador mask; when the brother is shot by the shadowy organization that’s hunting the superpowered, he decides to put on the mask himself. Adding a luchador to Heroes is absolutely the best decision the reboot makes.

Luke and Joan Collins—Chuck’s Zachary Levi and his wife lost their kid a year ago at the weird human/EVO peace summit that Primatech held a year ago, which… uh… blew up. So now they’re hunting down EVOs and murdering them, because they think people with powers are too dangerous to exist. When they try to kill Tommy, he teleports them to Primatech (where he apparently grew up?) but there they discover a giant list of people with powers to kill.

Molly Walker—A redhead introduced at 1:22 in the two-hour premiere who seems to be a not particularly skilled con woman. Her power is that she can locate anyone by thinking of them (apparently, her character was on the original series as a child; Primatech used her to find people with powers). HRG is searching for her to see if she can find Claire, who he thought died in the Odessa summit explosion, but maybe didn’t?

Quentin—A pudgy, nerdy type who wants to find out what really happened at the human/EVO summit a year ago and why it exploded (Supposedly Mohinder from the original series took credit for the terrorist attack, which, even if he didn’t do it, makes Mohinder more interesting than he ever was on the original series.) He tracks down HRG and joins him as they search for the truth.

Miko—A Japanese girl living alone in a strange apartment. In Heroes Reborn’s most ridiculous storyline, she’s—and this isn’t going to make any sense but bear with me—the daughter of a guy who created a MMORPG called EverNow, but somehow doesn’t know she’s the inspiration for a secret character in the game named “Katana Girl.” She enters a room in her apartment where her dad maybe worked, as if she’d never been in the room before, and finds a sword. When she unsheathes the sword, she is transported Tron-style into EverNow, where it turns out her dad is being imprisoned. I think Heroes Reborn thinks being able to enter what is apparently a retail videogame is a super-power, which is madness, but more on this in a second.

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Malina—A girl at the end of the episode who starts pensively at the aurora borealis and a weird circle thing in the sky, and warns us “It’s coming.”

None of these characters are going to win any originality contests, and yes, the show seems to be throwing a whole pile of plots at the viewer, hoping one will be intriguing enough to stick around for: Who’s hunting the heroes? What is this ominous event that’s coming? Is Claire alive, i.e., did NBC have enough money to convince Hayden Panetierre to guest star?

But again, I was mentally prepared for Heroes Reborn to be as bad as Heroes used to be, which meant its modicum of quality came as a pleasant surprise. I’m not that invested in the new characters, but I also don’t hate them, which is a major improvement. I’m not stunned by the evil secret organization or the vague impending apocalypse, but I understand them, and the Petrelli family doesn’t seem to be involved, so I’m willing to see how they play out.

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And most of all, I’m thrilled that the show has avoided relying on its previous incarnation for goodwill. I fully expected that Heroes Reborn would send out a parade of previous Heroes, each time presented as a momentous return, as if the arrival of classic characters like Mohinder or Parkman or Mama Petrelli were somehow intrinsically interesting, as if anyone cared about their characters or even liked them. I also expected the show to try and build on its previous mythology, under the mistaken belief that people had nothing but pleasant memories of the original Heroes series, and that it wasn’t a brutal, torturous disaster for 75% of its existence. But Reborn didn’t do that! It has HRG as a main character, but his memory has been wiped by the Haitian (the only other original character who makes an appearance in the first two episode), which provides him with a personal mystery to solve, but also helpfully wipes out all the continuity madness that made the first series unwatchable.

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty of time for Heroes Reborn to fall in this trap. There’s plenty of room left for creator Tim Kring to make the same mistakes—for characters to change motivations and personalities haphazardly, for the story to have no satisfying ending, or for a character to briefly become a cockroach for a while.

But as of last night, Heroes Reborn was actually inoffensively watchable. It wasn’t good, necessarily, but it also was not godawful. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised.

Assorted Musings:

• All I really want to talk about here is Miko’s storyline, which is the dumbest thing I’ve seen since Hiro’s dead mom kissed him in a dream and cured his inoperable brain tumor.

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• First, I can’t tell you how awful the CG is. It’s like an off-brand Dreamworks rip-off released straight-to-DVD in 2003 bad. The character models are bad, the animation is bad, the action is bad… it’s so bad. But the show is not probably ashamed of its awfulness, because we get several scenes of Miko Tron-ing into the “game” and it appears we’re going to get many, many more.

• Because, for some reason, Miko’s storyline is basically Tron: Legacy. Her dad is trapped in the game—for some reason—and Miko has to free him. Even in terms of Heroes, this is a very strange story for Heroes to decide to incorporate, as it seems to have nothing to do with super powers..

• In fact, Miko’s sword may be magically transporting her into the game; the only reason I think it might be a super-power is because this is ostensibly a show about people super-powers. I have no idea which solution is less dumb.

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• I also don’t understand anything involving Miko. So her dad created this super-popular game, but she didn’t know about it? Even though one of the game’s main characters is modeled after her? And she never went in her dad’s office despite never leaving her apartment? Even after her dad disappeared? What the hell?

• All that said, it’s still way better than any Hiro storyline from Heroes seasons 2-4.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robbricken.