Barry Garron
9-10 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25

Part sci-fi, part mystery and wholly unique, "Heroes" is one of TV's most imaginative creations and might, with luck, become this year's "Lost." Its mix of danger, humor, drama, romance and science creates a unique and surprising flavor of programming. At the same time, it fills scene after scene with characters that wouldn't or couldn't easily fit into any other show.

Creator-writer Tim Kring is anything but coy about his ambition. An advisory at the start of the pilot tells viewers that "Heroes" is about "a seemingly random group of individuals" who "will not only save the world but change it forever." The opener mostly introduces us to people in the midst of discovering their super powers (or "special abilities," as Kring puts it); the following episode spells out the nature of a huge disaster they soon must prevent.

Among others, there's Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), a nurse who can't shake the feeling that he can fly; Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), a Texas high school cheerleader who instantly heals from any injury; Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), an artist who unconsciously paints future disasters; Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a Japanese office drone who can bend the space-time continuum; and Niki Sanders (Ali Larter), a sexy Vegas webcam girl and single mother, who, when she blacks out, is capable of unimaginable strength and brutality.

Some embrace their powers; others fear them. Hiro rejoices that he is no longer just a cipher. Claire is bummed that her recuperative power sets her apart from her schoolmates. The varying reactions are as much a part of the series as any future small or large battles between good and evil. What's more, Kring has repeatedly said these heroes will remain, for the most part, individuals and not become members of some "X-Men" or "Justice League of America" consortium.

The only certain thing they have in common is an indirect link to Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy), a geneticist from India who is pursuing the work of his murdered father in the fields of mutations and human potential. Dad was figuring out how to identify and locate these mutant people. Mohinder tries to make sense of the research, fully aware that he is being observed and menaced by someone whose interest in the subject is less benign.

"Heroes" has been smartly cast, but the story is king. People connect with one another at odd times and in unpredictable ways. Scenes jump from place to place halfway around the world, but director David Semel keeps it from getting confusing.

"Heroes" isn't the best choice to flow the audience from the anti-thinking "Deal or No Deal," but it offers distinctive counterprogramming during its 8 p.m. Monday slot. If NBC can weather the inevitable fall off from its lead-in, "Heroes" may one day save the night.

NBC Universal Television Studio
Executive producers: David Semel, Tim Kring, Dennis Hammer
Producer: Skip Beaudine
Co-producer: Lori Motyer
Director: David Semel
Teleplay-creator: Tim Kring
Director of photography: Adam Kane
Production designer: Curtis Schnell
Music: Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman
Set designer: Crista Schneider
Casting: Jason La Padura, Natalie Hart
Peter Petrelli: Milo Ventimiglia
Mohinder Suresh: Sendhil Ramamurthy
Simone Deveraux: Tawny Cypress
Niki Sanders: Ali Larter
Claire Bennet: Hayden Panettiere
Nathan Petrelli: Adrian Pasdar
Hiro Nakamura: Masi Oka
Isaac Mendez: Santiago Cabrera
Micah Sanders: Noah Gray-Cabey