Heroes Returns, More Rad Than Ever, Say Stars

When NBC's Heroes returns later this month, expect the best season since season one, according to stars Masi Oka and Hayden Panettiere. Just don't expect to see too much Ando/Hiro bromance, and not because of Hiro's terminal illness.

Talking to reporters this morning, Oka and Panettiere talked about the upcoming fourth season of the show. Oka said that the cast and crew of the show are aware of critical reactions to the show's second and third seasons, but that that's made the show better for its return:

It's hard not to ride the highs and the lows of the show. Without a doubt, season one was definitely lightning in a bottle where we had something special. Season two and season three, it was hard to meet the expectations, but season four, there is some sense that our backs may be a little bit against the wall, but because of that, we're creatively swinging for the fences. There're so many bold choices and risks being made, there's a lot of creative freedom in some sense because of that. I'm really really excited about this season. I would probably say that this is as favorite a season... as season one.

Part of the reason for that, Oka went on to explain, is the shorter length of season four:

[A shorter season is] actually fantastic... I think 25 episodes stretches out a storyline that should've been compressed... That means you dilute it, you dilute the storyline and make it filler, and that last episode isn't going to be as strong as it should be. Having 19 just allows you to be creatively tight, make every episode so packed with story, character development, action, all that, and ultimately it makes a better show.

Both Panettiere and Oka's characters will be dealing with more down-to-earth problems this year than previous end of the world scenarios; Claire, Panettiere explained, will be dealing with the whole new world that is college:

[My character is] in college and dealing with a new best friend and roommate. We have a very interesting relationship together, but she's really the first person that she's been able to let in on her secret and someone who's really a confidente, but that's a very delicate balance that can easily fall apart. One little misstep and her dad will bring Rene the Haitian in to wipe their memories and then that'll be that, and she's happy that she's semi-caught up to that normal life she's been chasing. Where exactly are we going to go? I think there's going to be some manipulation and some really fun stuff.

Hiro, however, has less fun stuff ahead, considering that whole "terminal illness" thing he's going through - which, Oka revealed, is the result of freezing time while keeping more than just himself able to move about, an explanation that was cut from the end of the third season - but, as Panettiere herself asked, can anyone really imagine a Heroes without Hiro? Turns out, Oka can:

I think it would be a very bold move. I don't think anything's been set in stone yet [about whether or not Hiro will actually die]. We really don't know which direction they're going to take it... Whatever gets decided, I want to make sure that it's something that won't betray the audience. In that we're asking them to take this really emotional and sweet ride with Hiro, so we don't just want to pull the rug and say, oop! [The illness] is not there! Whatever outcome we come up with, we think it should offer some poetic justice to the storyline... I want to make sure we don't cheat death, like we have in the past and not give it the weight that is meant to be.

It's an emotional and sweet ride that Hiro will be undertaking without such close contact with sidekick Ando, however; Oka said that the bromance between the two will be affected by Ando marrying Hiro's sister in the first episode of the new season, something that came as a surprise to Panettiere, who then promised that she really did read the scripts she was given. Of course, maybe she was just waiting to watch the episodes herself:

Because I was working so much last season, I Tivoed all the episodes so I could watch them back to back to back, and I could not put my remote down. "Just one more episode! Please!" And this is a show that I'm on, and I don't generally like to watch myself. But it's exciting, and it's smart, and I don't think it belittles the audience, and I think it's just one of those rad shows.

She then checked herself, and asked, "Did I really just say that? Did I really just say 'rad show'?"

Heroes, NBC's most rad show, returns September 21st.