“Heroes”
Mondays at 9 p.m.
NBC

While it’s no secret NBC’s “Heroes” needs resuscitation, how to rescue the super-powered action-drama is one of television’s greatest mysteries.

“Heroes” creator Tim Kring was once overwhelmed with praise for the show’s outstanding freshman season. But after two years, it has become commonplace for Kring to apologize to fans for the series’ rapid deterioration. He does, after all, have plenty to apologize for: beloved characters have been mishandled, tiresome plots have been recycled and simply uninspiring storytelling has become the norm. Though Kring’s mea culpas are often laced with promises of a forthcoming resurgence, this has yet to come, and ratings have steadily declined as viewers have grown impatient. All this begs the question of whether the series can survive if it doesn’t receive the much-needed boost.

A strong start to the show’s fourth season, titled “Heroes: Fugitives” (which begins tonight), could help put an end to such fatalistic thinking. Admittedly, this all sounds familiar. The series’s third go-around, “Heroes: Villains,” which began in September, was supposed to atone for the show’s lackluster second installment — but it didn’t. With “Villains,” Kring and his creative team sought to re-energize the “Heroes” fan base by introducing characters who use their powers for nefarious purposes. They also promised a season-long battle royale between these new evil characters and their more moralistic counterparts. Instead, the “Villains” overloaded the series with empty new characters and nonchalantly toyed with viewers’ conceptions of the originals. As the season progressed, it became clear “Villains” wasn’t as much about providing meaningful character development — which fans have been yearning for — as it was about merely shocking people.

Accordingly, Kring’s declaration that “Fugitives” will restore “Heroes” to its former glory should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet there is also reason for his optimism to be infectious. Racking their brains to find the root cause of the show’s recent problems, the “Heroes” creative team reached a compelling diagnosis, and the “Fugitives” storyline has been designed to directly correct the ills. Kring’s theory is that his central characters have become too much like superheroes and less like normal people with superpowers, making them less relatable. He recently explained to Comic Book Resources how “Fugitives” will help remedy this problem: “Once (the characters) are on the run they become much more ordinary. … (We can get) back to who these characters are by making them fugitives.”

NBC released footage online that shows the cast blending back into society and carefully using their powers so they aren’t discovered. Essentially, Kring has developed a thoughtful way to make his heroes less super by revoking their status as masters of their environment, putting them back in the vulnerable position they were in throughout the show’s highly acclaimed first season.

Undoubtedly, “Heroes” is at a crossroads. It certainly seems that Kring has the vision required to save his show, and now it’s just a matter of execution. Perhaps “Heroes” is cursed to never come close to matching its opening act, but if there was ever a time for Kring to show us that it can, the time is now.

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