I’m willing to forgive Lost its poor showing during its mini-season last fall. Maybe it’s because I recently watched The Prisoner, and just started up on the second season of Twin Peaks. If you think that Lost was starting to get bogged down by inconsistent writing, befuddled acting, story arcs that go nowhere, and a steadfast refusal to advance the main plot, then do yourself a favor and reacquaint yourself with these classics to see how to really get your audience climbing the walls.

Not content to follow in the footsteps of the endlessly frustrating masters, Lost has started experimenting with a different method to its madness — actually going somewhere. Maybe it was an infusion of new blood in the writers’ room, or the announcement that the series is definitely ending in three seasons, but the show seems to have been infused with fresh energy, and the last few episodes were the most propulsive that we’ve seen since the first season, when the Hatch was interesting and Kate wasn’t a dewey, simpering waste. The writers may have even found a way to back themselves out of the corner that they wrote themselves into with the flashback structure, a device that’s vital to the pacing of the show, but has turned into an albatross since they ran out of compelling backstory for the main characters.

Maybe the producers shaped up because they finally felt some pressure from other shows. NBC wasn’t foolish enough to schedule Heroes directly opposite Lost, but it was clearly positioned from the start to be a pretender to whatever throne it is that Lost sits on. The producers and actors never mention their rival by name, but all those promises to answer viewers’ questions — and veiled references to shows that don’t — aren’t referring to NCIS.

Heroes, like its forebears, has oodles of weird characters, a twisted mess of subplots for those characters to get lost in, and an overarching mission for them to accomplish — all the ingredients of a good old fashioned cult hit. It even has a blonde teenaged girl with a heavy load to bear, just to be on the safe side. But even as it is the progeny of the complicated serial dramas that preceded it, Heroes is also very much a superhero comic in TV form, and comic fans are if anything even more finicky about continuity than TV watchers.

Although Heroes enjoys surprising its viewers with frequent plot twists, it goes to great lengths to avoid confusing them, keeping its plotting tight and its recaps plentiful. Its characters, as lovable as most of them are, are similarly easy to read: Bennett probably had the twistiest character arc over the course of the season, but even he turned out to be pretty consistent in his motivations — certainly more than the Lockes and Number Twos of other shows.

But if Heroes doesn’t baffle its viewers on a regular basis with a lack of narrative closure or comprehensible characterization, how does it make a profit? Volume. While other shows keep you jumping through mental hoops in order to cover up the fact that very little happens from week to week, Heroes presses its plot forward at a relentless pace, stuffing its world so full of major events and secondary characters that the show itself can’t contain them, the story spilling over into ancillary media like graphic novels (natch) and spinoff mini-series (coming next season).

(Also: practically every episode contains at least one grand, iconic shot that is the TV equivalent of a full-page, full-bleed panel in a comic book. Visually stunning your viewers into submission isn’t a bad way to keep them coming back for more.)

There’s so much happening and so much to look forward to at any given time that even though it may not be the most complex or convoluted show ever made, Heroes was probably the only true appointment viewing this season — and that’s including reality shows. In an age where TV is living on TiVo time, that’s quite an achievement. At the very least, it’s enough to keep Lost’s producers on their toes.