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‘Heroes’ hasn't learned from sophomore slump

We haven't seen a face yet, but there appears to be a new super in "Heroes" town. He or she seems to be impressively powerful, with the ability to increase an object's gravity, making it heavier and more lumbering. Or maybe it's just a sinking feeling. Coming off of a strike-truncated second season so woebegone that show creator Tim Kring actually apologized for it, "Heroes" season three has, afte
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

We haven't seen a face yet, but there appears to be a new super in "Heroes" town. He or she seems to be impressively powerful, with the ability to increase an object's gravity, making it heavier and more lumbering.

Or maybe it's just a sinking feeling. Coming off of a strike-truncated second season so woebegone that show creator Tim Kring actually apologized for it, "Heroes" season three has, after five episodes, given every indication that rather than shaping up, the writers have taken leave of their senses.

It could be that they're just the victims of yet another new character. But when the folks responsible for "Heroes" aren't ignoring the lessons they were supposed to have learned after the season two fiasco, they're adding elements that go beyond hackneyed and nudge up against total apathy.

Same old, same old

Remember the first season of "Heroes"? How it was pretty good? The writers obviously do. And they're trying to copy as much of it as possible in the hopes of recapturing some of the same magic.

Why else would the show trudge through so many frustratingly similar storylines? Niki may indeed have died last season, but with the introduction of ice-queen politico Tracy Strauss, Ali Larter once again gets to play a character coming to grips with powers she can't control, she doesn't want, and which serve as a metaphor for her personality.

Add to that the major identity crisis of discovering that she has a doppelganger (mirroring trip-twin Niki's split personality), and her affair with Nathan Petrelli, and it's the exact same character arc that Larter went through in season one. And if the show lasts long enough to introduce a third triplet, she might be lucky enough to go through it yet again.

Invulnerable cheerleader Claire is also stuck in her season-one rut, once again at odds with her morally gray father, HRG, over issues of trust, this time involving his current partner. The superlative "Company Man" episode seemed to have resolved those problems when he made a substantial personal sacrifice to keep her safe from the sinister Company. But Claire seems doomed to repeat the cycle ad infinitum, her moony brattiness apparently as indestructible as she is.

"Heroes" has tried to disguise some of the repeated storylines by switching the characters. Psychic Matt Parkman (and his African spirit guide, Usutu) and a badass time-travelling Peter Petrelli are both trying to prevent a tipping point that will cause the world to descend into a dystopian future. But neither of them has honed their powers enough to see that painter Isaac and a sword-wielding Hiro have walked these exact paths before.

It would be a mistake to assume that the writers were hoping the entire audience underwent a Haitian mindwipe, though. In fact, they're counting on viewers remembering, if the pale echoes of some of the more resonant first-season dialogue is any indication.

"I've walked through fire, and I haven't gotten burned," Claire said to her flamethrowing biological mother, Meredith, who later told her "You gotta learn to save yourself before you can save the world," as if reminding the audience that this show was once fun and cool.

But "Heroes" isn't just rehashing the good stuff. Parkman has been stranded in Africa on a journey of self-discovery, the writers having clearly learned nothing from stranding Hiro in feudal Japan last season. The details are different (there's no love triangle in Africa — yet — and Usutu doesn't seem to be malevolent — yet), but both stories isolate one of the main characters in a foreign land with no direction home.

Peter was headed down a similar path when he was trapped in the body of a superbaddie. With nobody to believe that he was who he said he was, a new group of untrustworthy associates and new, untested powers at his disposal, it was like trapping him in Ireland with amnesia all over again. The story has since been resolved (although in the "Heroes" universe, these sorts of things need to be qualified with a "probably"), but along with Parkman's storyline, it showed an indiscriminate approach to self-plagiarism.

Most baffling, however, is the sneaking suspicion that the writers just don't care anymore. It's becoming increasingly clear that nobody knows what to do with power-stealing serial killer Sylar, who was almost killed in the season one finale and whose return should have at the very least been shelved for a year or two.

Instead, "Heroes" has subjected him to two appallingly hackneyed standbys. First, the anonymous schlub with dreams of grandeur was revealed to be the long-lost son of the superpowered Petrelli dynasty. After that soap-opera retcon, he was recruited to work for the Company and partnered up with HRG, because why not release an unrepentant murderer on his own recognizance and team him with the father of a girl you've made it your mission to kill?

It's a joke of a plotline that makes no sense at all, and the characters are forced to act in ways counter to everything they've done on the show so far.

They're not the only ones acting like idiots. Hiro watched his dead father tell him via videotape not to open a safe that contained horrible secrets that must never be let out. Naturally, he opened the safe without a moment's hesitation, and the horrible secrets were immediately stolen by speedster Daphne. Hiro was last seen putting a sword through his best friend Ando more or less on a dare.

But the show's dumbest, most insulting moment came this past week, when Tracy, after accidentally freezing a reporter to death, wanted to turn herself in to the authorities. Nathan warned her against it, explaining that he'd tried to hold a press conference to tell the world about his flying powers.

What was the response of Tracy, the governor's aide who tapped Nathan to fill a vacant Senate seat while following his recovery from a high-profile assassination attempt at that very same press conference? "What happened?"

What happened, indeed. If the people who make "Heroes" don't even bother watching the show, why should anybody else?

Marc Hirsh is a writer in Somerville, Mass.