I’m pretty jaded as a TV viewer. Takes a lot to get me hooked nowadays, after being an addict for most of my life. I have a handful I follow religiously: Battlestar Galactica, CSI, House, Dexter, Criminal Minds, Masters of Horror, Studio 60 and a few others I watch but can live without. Despite watching the first few episodes, I never got as sucked into Lost, Prison Break, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy as most of the known universe, although I still collect them for family and friends.

Save for BSG, it’s been quite a while since I got so into a show that I felt the anticipation keenly and counted the days until the next week’s episode. TV had lost its appeal for me, because quality material (i.e. the kind I liked) was few and far between. Until now.

Enter Heroes.

I caught an early release of the first episode long before NBC began running the series, from a special promo of a theater chain in the US that gave away download details and passwords to get an early special 72-minute edit of the series pilot. I got hooked from the first scene.

If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t have any idea what Heroes is all about, it’s an alternative take on what is is to be a superhero, without dipping into the DC and Marvel universes and the whole comics scene in general, yet utilizing the best elements from all of them with the notable exception of spandex. It’s about ordinary folk who slowly discover they have powers, some of which weren’t necessarily good things, and folk who aren’t necessarily good ones.

The characters are all regular people, with regular human problems, who find themselves with superhuman powers: a beat policeman trying unsuccessfully to become a detective and save his failing marriage finds that he can read minds; an up-an-coming politician finds that he can fly; an internet stripper with a young son and jailed husband finds she has a literal alter-ego with super-strength and zero morals; said young son has uncanny ability to fix and alter any gadget; said jailed husband finds he can literally walk through walls – and thus leaves jail; a PYT cheerleader finds she can’t get hurt because she can spontaneously regenerate; a heroin-addicted painter and comic-book illustrator can paint the future; a Japanese computer programmer can teleport himself and travel through time; a girl can really do Jedi mind tricks; a homeless bum can render himself invisible; a couple of people who can steal or absorb other’s powers, and so on and so forth.

Some of these folk struggle to deal with their emerging powers amidst dealing with mundane everyday problems like adulterous spouses, vicious loan sharks and high school politics, as well as major ones like sinister consipiracies, organized crime and doomsday scenarios. All the various and disparate threads are tied together somehow, and viewers are kept on the edge of their seats by the comic-book-arc, cliffhanger abangan ang susunod na kabanata plot structure and writing.

It’s a character-driven show, which is its edge, I think. Heroes is a direct descendant of Lost and a host of other character-driven mystery/scifi/drama shows, and the attraction is that you or me could be any one of these characters. The CGI takes a backseat to the story and the people, at least for now.

The creators have a bit of admirable restraint as well, at least until the middle of the current batch of episodes. You don’t get to see any superhero anything until the last few seconds of the pilot, and then nothing overt until much later; it’s like they were just teasing the viewers with little hints here and there, episode after episode, and then all of a sudden there is a jaw-dropping moment of undeniable super-hero shtick where you see what these guys can actually do.

Despite being a show about superheroes, it’s not kiddie-friendly stuff. There are graphic scenes of a sort that might even put CSI to shame – like living heads being divested of brain matter and full-on autopsies. Plus stuff like adultery, murder, internet pornography, rape, drug addiction, terminal illnesses, crime, graft and corruption. On the other hand it’s got stuff like flying, invisibility, samurai swords, time travel and dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. It’s got something for everyone!

On a more geek note (as if we could get any geekier), Heroes is also one of the shows that shamelessly uses brazen product placements that have no pretensions to subtlety (they can’t beat it into our heads enough that Hiro Nakamura drives a Nissan Versa), and uses digital and online tie-ins to the hilt, complete with narrative sub-plots that exist completely online through virtual comic books you can download, plus a too-busy and full-to-bursting website. But they sure know to make hay.

Despite the commercialism infused into the show, Heroes is still an amazing, fresh look at the genre that keeps people coming back for more. It’s a critical hit – it was nominated for Best Drama Show at the recent Golden Globes (it didn’t win – that honor went to Grey’s Anatomy, but at least the cast had a nice time as presentors for other awards.) The show’s 13th episode airs tomorrow in the US, and a local cable channel is planning to show the series soon. If you can get around the NBC website’s location detectors (US only, but there are PWiT readers who can easily get around this, no sweat), all the episodes are available online for free as streaming video, if you’ve got the bandwidth. And it’s also available on the iTunes Store, another (skirtable) US-only path. Of course there are other means, but let’s not open that can of worms, shall we?

Heroes is a true geek show. And the fact that it’s an unqualified hit means that the geek-world-domination-plan is finally catching hold.

It’s time to ask yourself the question: Are you on the list?

UPDATE: Heroes begins airing on Star World on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 9PM.

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