Though Heroes has been seriously disappointing me this year so far, that's kind of what I expected. After all, remember Lost? The second season was a severe dropoff from which the show has not yet recovered, even though it got more and more popular; Grey's Anatomy had a more consistently well-written and -structured first season than Lost, if a shorter, and became incurably soapy in the second season; Veronica Mars had a bumpy second season all the more stark because of its unparalleled first year;Joan of Arcadia didn't survive to year 3...we all know the drill. The sophomore season is supposed to suck, right?
Brothers and Sisters, on the other hand, hasn't had a noticeable drop in quality. This is a sadly underrated show, probably in part because it stars Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame -- the reason I began watching without any expectation of taking it seriously. I was surprised to find that, despite the absence of any dancing babies, hallucinatory or otherwise, Brothers and Sisters was one of the most honest portrayals of family life I've ever seen.
Last year's arc was made clear in the pilot, when all five Walker brothers and sisters had to confront their patriarch's death and the subsequent revelation of his secret life with a mistress (and a love child who came on the scene later on). This gave the first season a fair amount of cohesiveness, and most episodes followed a surprisingly effective formula: at least one soapy secret is shared with at least one Walker sibling, who is then sworn to secrecy, but promptly breaks the promise, leading to loud public family drama at the end-of-episode party, where the entire clan gets inevitably drunk.
We start the second season with William's death pretty firmly in the past, except in the premiere, which is Kitty's birthday and the one-year anniversary of the death. Holly, the mistress, and her daughter Rebecca have settled into the fabric of Walker life -- Rebecca is definitely part of the family, though tenuously so, while Holly is definitely separate and finally seems almost content that way. Rather than the one big arc of William's death, the family is dealing with Justin's return from Iraq and the pain he undergoes from his wound. But the storylines are rather more diffuse, and often are more like continuations from last year than new ones -- Tommy's dealing with his son's death at the end of the first season, for example, Kitty's still campaigning for Robert's presidency, and Sarah is coming to grips with the end of her marriage. The whole drunken-Walker-family-at-climactic-party conceit has also been much less used so far, and I rather miss it, but it would be out of place for the family to be going to parties with Justin first in Iraq and then so recently returned.
Nevertheless, the show still has this uncanny sense for the rhythms and ups-and-downs of family life, and for the intricacies and quirks and voices of each character. One of the things I also appreciate is the continuity -- the return of Kevin's ex-lover Scotty, for example, in Sunday's episode made me extremely happy, and was effectively used to demonstrate how much Kevin has changed (I also think Kevin and Scotty are being set up for a reconciliation now that they're each rather more mature, and that makes me even happier). People get closure on this show, their histories matter, and their lovers sometimes come back on the scene in unexpected ways for reasons of character and story, not for the purposes of wringing cheap drama out of a current relationship.
Now that I've written the above post, though, I'm wondering if the lack of sophomore slump is merely because these first few episodes will prove to be the continuation of the first season in spirit, and the rest of season 2 will be its own separate entity. In that case I'll have to bite my tongue. Still, I'm extremely satisfied with how this year is going, and I'm glad to see the Walker clan back in full force.
In Summary: Brothers and Sisters is in top form, and deserves to have the hype that the seriously-slumping Heroes is still getting.