Can NBC's "Heroes" (9 p.m. Monday, WPXI) reclaim its pop culture cachet? That's the question facing the series as it tries to recover from a rocky and truncated sophomore season.
Monday NBC airs a recap at 8 p.m. and two hours of new "Heroes" episodes beginning at 9. The first of the two hours, the only one made available for review, shows a marked improvement from the disjointed storytelling last year.
Even if you don't remember where the story left off -- and it's easy to have forgotten since the last new episode aired in December 2007 -- the first hour makes it easy to catch up.
Viewers learn quickly who shot Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) and you get a sense why.
Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) clashes with his mother, Angela (Cristine Rose).
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia
His father deceased, Hiro (Masi Oka) finds himself running his dad's company and bereft as "a man without a quest." That doesn't last long.
Evil Sylar (Zachary Quinto) has his power back and terrorizes Claire (Hayden Panettiere) as if she were Drew Barrymore in the first "Scream."
"It's all behind me now," Sylar says of his recent bout with power impotence. "Like a long night after a bad taco."
Some plot twists seem a little abrupt. Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who hasn't had powers in the past, starts to crave them and cooks up a scheme to get what he wants. A character thought to be dead shows up without explanation. And another character appears with a new name and no explanation of how she got it.
The first hour of "Heroes" answers enough questions and moves the story forward in such a way that a few "Huh?" moments won't matter as long as they're answered in short order and don't linger for too long. Fans didn't find out about what happened in the first-season finale of "Heroes" until the eighth episode of season two. The writers can't let questions hang in the air that long this time around.
"By the end of the third hour of the show, you'll have answers to most of those questions," said series creator Tim Kring in a teleconference with reporters earlier this month. "Because we've been off the air for nine months, we didn't want to drag a lot of story behind us. We didn't want it to feel like you had to watch two years of the show to catch up. We wanted to give answers really quickly and move forward on this volume and so you'd have a clean path in front of you.
"The goal for us with these volumes from now on is to answer 90 percent of the questions by the end of the volume."
"Heroes" begins the season with the 13-episode "Volume III: Villains," which is expected to challenge viewers' expectations of who is a hero and who is a villain.
"What defines a villain?" said "Heroes" writer Adam Armus in July. "Whose morality should dictate what is right and what is wrong? People will be crossing the line."
In the second hour Monday, Sylar battles Elle (Kristen Bell) and ends up releasing a dozen Company prisoners (with abilities) from their cells.
"Heroes" producers make another smart move, in contrast to season two, by not shoehorning in too many new characters too soon. The first hour of Monday's premiere keeps its focus squarely on the show's original characters.
"We're not introducing any new characters who have their own storylines," Kring said. "We are concentrating on the core characters we've had for two seasons now. We have a pastiche of storytelling where there are multiple characters and stories going on at the same time, but what's different in this volume is they're all feeding on the big giant story."
Time will tell whether "Heroes" is truly back on track, but this week's first hour gets the season off to a positive start.