Since the dawn of time -- or at least since the advent of comic books, movies and television -- we've been obsessed with people who could do really cool things like fly (Superman), climb up the side of buildings (Spider-Man), hypnotize (vampires) or do Vulcan mind melds (Mr. Spock).
Yet somehow it was still a surprise when the big hit of the fall TV season was not a show involving castaways or the backstage antics at a network studio, but was about ordinary folks who suddenly possessed extraordinary abilities. NBC's "Heroes" shot to the top of the ratings faster than a speeding bullet and bypassed pretty much every big buzz show of the fall season.
Those who don't watch "Heroes" want to know what the fuss is about. The cast, after all, is relatively unknown. There are no colorful superhero costumes (where's the fun in that?). Plus, the driving impetus through much of the fall season was to "save the cheerleader, save the world" -- and who wants to save a cheerleader?
That's the point. The humanity behind the characters of "Heroes" makes this show about much more than superpowers. It's about a father who will go to extremes to protect his daughter; two brothers coming to terms with each other; a mother trying to protect her son; and just normal folk who discover they're really not so ordinary.
So far these heroes are coming to terms with their new gifts and realizing their greater purpose is to save the world. How and why is a journey they're still on -- and taking a willing audience along for the ride.
Here's a quick look at the "Heroes." New episodes begin at 9 p.m. Monday on NBC, bringing along a new hero played by Christopher Ecclestone ("Doctor Who"). Also look for upcoming appearances by "Star Trek's" George Takei as Hiro's father.
Claire Bennet, Texas cheerleader (played by Hayden Panettiere).
Ability: Spontaneous regeneration
Her peers: The Crow, Wolverine, the Hulk, Michael Meyers
Claire's ability to self-heal has provided some of the show's most comic and grisly moments. (She once woke during her own autopsy.) The fate of the world is somehow tied to the survival of this high school student.
Matt Parkman, L.A. cop (played by Greg Grunberg).
His peer: Charles Xavier (Professor X)
Telepathy is one of those superpowers that comes with a downside. His ability makes him a suspect in a double-murder, gives him excruciating headaches and nosebleeds. It's also how he learns his wife is having an affair with one of his friends.
Nathan Petrelli, New York politician (played by Adrian Pasdar).
His peers: Superman, Mary Poppins, the PowerPuff Girls and the Greatest American Hero
Nathan is a reluctant and often not very likable hero. He can fly, but goes to extremes to keep it secret. He's also an adulterer and corrupt politician -- but things may not be as black and white as they appear.
Peter Petrelli, male Hospice nurse, New York City (played by Milo Ventimiglia).
Ability: Power absorption/mimicry, clairvoyant dreams.
His peers: Rogue ("X-Men"), Synch ("Generation X"). The Watcher also has prophetic dreams, as has Anakin Skywalker (see also Isaac Mendez, below).
It first appeared both of the Petrelli brothers could fly. Then we learned Peter is a human sponge who can absorb powers. He may also be the most powerful of the heroes since he was destined to save the cheerleader. Unfortunately, Peter also saw himself as the catalyst for an apocalyptic explosion.
Isaac Mendez, Manhattan junkie (played by Santiago Cabrera).
Ability: He paints the future during precognitive trances.
His peers: Raven from the Disney Channel can see the future. Destiny ("X-Men") writes about the future in her diary.
Isaac thinks he only has his special power when he's high and it's tough convincing him otherwise. But keeping Isaac clean may be a key in the upcoming episodes.
Hiro Nakamura, a nerdy Japanese office worker (played by Masi Oka).
Power: Manipulate time, teleport.
His peers: Avatars ("Charmed"), Clockwork ("Danny Phantom"), Kronos (Marvel).
This appropriately named sci-fi geek is the fan favorite of the show. He is the everyman who just wants to be someone special and is literally watching his dream come true. His belief in his newfound powers has helped bring the heroes together.
Niki Sanders, Las Vegas Internet porn star and single mom (played by Ali Larter).
Ability: Niki has superhuman strength through a deadly mirror image of her dead sister, Jessica.
Her peers: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde; Dr. Banner/The Hulk; Gollum/Smeagol
This has been, so far, the one storyline we can do without. Is there something sinister going on or does Niki just have a split personality? (Boring.) It's also becoming a family affair with Niki as her fugitive ex-hubby D.L. (Leonard Roberts) can move through solid objects, an ability called phasing, and their son Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey) appears to have his own powers as well.
Other key players:
Mr. Bennet, Claire's adoptive dad (played by Jack Coleman), may be the only one we've met who knows what's happening. Also called H.R.G. for his ugly horn-rimmed glasses, Mr. Bennet searches for the heroes, only to have their minds erased by a mysterious Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis). The Haitian appeared to be mute until he asked Claire if she could keep a secret. Whether H.R.G. is just an overprotective dad or the worst of the bad guys remains unclear.
Mohinder Suresh, a geneticist from India (played by Sendhil Ramamurthy), may be able to help the heroes. His father, Chandra, had a theory on how the heroes were gaining their powers but was murdered by his "Patient Zero," Sylar. Mohinder is slowly unraveling the mystery.
Sylar, aka Gabriel Grey (played by Zachary Quinto). Gabriel is a watchmaker with the ability "to fix things" and a hero who can absorb powers. He became the sinister Sylar once he began murdering the heroes to steal their powers.
Eden MacKenzie befriended Mohinder and knew his dad. Like a Jedi Knight, the doe-eyed Eden (played by Nora Zehetner) used the power of suggestion to get her way. The question of whether she is good or bad was answered in the fall finale when she seemingly committed suicide so Sylar couldn't steal her power.