Having been teetering on the brink ever since its season one finale, producers of NBC’s Heroes took full advantage of the writer’s strike, ordering in a much-needed overhaul of their bloated flagship franchise. Heads have rolled and former Pushing Daises honcho Bryan Fuller has been put in charge of the writer’s room to try and ring a little consistency out of the idea sponge.

Heroes has made stars out of bit part actresses like Hayden Panettiere and Ali Larter and catapulted Masi Oka’s Hiro Nakamura to the status of global phenomenon. Indeed, it was a wild ride for viewers too – an adult-oriented comic book that placed ordinary people in extraordinary situations that actually made the comic book appealing to people who don’t like comic books. But a lack of clear direction and characters who seem to alternate between good to evil based on which way the wind is blow have threatened to derail the series entirely.

The tagline that got everyone talking “save the cheerleader, save the world” always did seem more like a slogan than a solid basis for a storyline. Yes, it was an inventive show about people with other worldly abilities, but as we arrive now at what we believe to be season 3.5 it has as yet failed to integrate a deeper narrative, nor managed to set its characters against realistic, urgent situations.

Heroes, as it were, before the strike comes over like a members-only club where only those with abilities inhabit the screen. This is fine, except that it gives the writers carte blanche to essentially be really, really lazy. When they want to introduce a new character, instead of thinking of a realistic entrance point or a plausible connection to the ongoing narrative, all they need to do is cook up a power and drop them into the show.

Thus they remove from themselves the responsibility of ever having to connect the dots in a meaningful way or unbalance the character dynamic by forcing them to engage with normal people. We wait with baited breath for the day it is revealed that Mr. Muggles craps explosive poop. Sadly what this inevitably leads to is a situation where the extraordinary becomes the norm – if everyone is special, then no one is and you don’t have a show anymore.

The subtly melodramatic comic book dialog might be cool on the surface, but last season stretched its limited scope closer and closer toward breaking point. Chic contemplation gave way to clumsy exposition where everything has to be bluntly stated because the plot is spinning its wheels, preventing characters from actually taking action. What kept things moving in season one was the ticking-clock element of the bomb and such a device has been sorely lacking ever since.

The standout episode of the series so far, “Five Years Gone,” offered a terrifying vision of the future and a perfect destination for a long-term story arc. Instead they blew it with a shockingly lackluster finale that promised a mighty kaboom and delivered a weak fizzle. Much was made of the odd way in which all the characters all seemed to inexplicably come together in New York only for all but two of them to essentially do nothing, but that is symptomatic of a writing team that has no clear vision for the bigger picture.

Yes the 800-pound gorilla in the room pounding all these complaints into the floor is the writer’s strike and it’s true that you can’t totally blame people who were not afforded the opportunity to finish a story started. But based what we did get, they would have a very hard time convincing anybody they were in a position to deliver anything resembling a rewarding pay-off.

Hopefully, they can bounce back strong for a resurgent third season like Lost did and perhaps the writers strike is the best thing that could have happened as it would have given the creative team time to regroup and refocus on an agreed destination for the narrative. Honestly, the best thing they have going for them right now is the complete and total lack of anything better having premiered in the last year.

Fuller has a large and currently captive audience for their odyssey, but he better stop treading water quickly or that audience will start to drift. With this new season getting back to the original arc of Nathan and a government of oppression that lead us to the likes of Five Years Gone there remains promise. What Heroes desperately needs at this point is something to upset the established order or things and end the stagnation. It’s both unrealistic and unfair to expect a complete reinvention because the show is what it is, but if we’re to continue with melodrama cloaked in mysticism then we need something to turn the story world on its head. “Kill the cheerleader, save the world” – now that would certainly shake things up a bit.

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