Fans of the canceled CW series Veronica Mars responded to the news that that show's heroine, Kristen Bell, would be joining the cast of Heroes with great excitement. After all, that series was a spiky delight, one that seemed perfectly in tune with Bell's actorly mix of prickliness and emotional vulnerability. It was a hoot to watch little Veronica Mars, week in after week out, investigate crimes, deal with her PI father, and talk her way out of trouble with guys two times her size. What would Bell bring to Heroes?
More of the same. The writers of Heroes seem determined not to tax Bell too much as an actress, as the first episode has her poking around Ireland, asking guys twice her size if they've seen Peter Petrelli, and cracking wise. She's even still working for her father, who — we guess — is Stephen Tobolowsky, the New Face of Evil. The only difference now is that Veronica Mars has lightning shooting out of her hands, and she kills a dude.
So the jury's out on whether Veronica Mars can save Heroes. We didn't mind her appearance at all, but that wasn't because she brought something new and exciting to the table; it was because she was an old and familiar character from a better show dropped into the trashier Heroes universe. Bell's spiky vulnerability has been replaced by whininess and smart-assitude. When Veronica Mars gets written by the Heroes writers, she sheds subtext and depth, as if Willow unexpectedly paid a visit to the girls on Charmed.
But you know who just might save Heroes? Our new villain, the Nightmare Man, a.k.a. Parkman's father. Maury Parkman is played by Alan Blumenfeld, a character actor with a wonderful, broad, sweaty face and a résumé that makes you want to weep: The guy's been working since WarGames and has dozens of TV shows on his résumé but always plays the rabbi, or the lawyer, or the judge, or the heavy, and has never gotten more than six episodes on a series his entire career — and that was on Family Ties.
Last night he made the most of his opportunity, drawing in his estranged son — Greg Grunberg somehow transformed into a real actor in his scenes opposite Parkman — then trapping Matt and his traveling buddy Nathan in nightmares straight out of Psych 101. Nevertheless, the scenes were vivid, the danger seemed real, and Maury got a great and classic villain moment: walking away from the scene of the crime, his face transforming from put-on innocence to leering evil. Hey, a few pulp thrills! Maybe that's what Heroes needs.