Is it just me – or is Brothers and Sisters somewhat of the boil this season?

ABC’s Sunday night melodrama is drawing to the end of it’s fourth season and the franchise is already feeling as drained as a show with many more years under its belt. Compared to its lead in, Desperate Housewives, which still bristles with energy after 6 years on the air, Brothers is like a puffing and wheezing family member on their last legs. And it’s clear viewers are feeling the same way – with the show down almost two million viewers from its season one peak (the show now regularly hits 7 or 8 million, but used to attract well over 10 million)

Which is a real shame as at its peak the series is terrific TV. Sure Brothers and Sisters can be cheesy, corny and dripping in sentimentality – but for me the show has always been the TV equivalent of comfort food. No matter what’s going on in the world, the Walker family always stood together, living their comfortable upper middle class lives, with Sally Field’s Nora constantly on hand to cook up a family dinner or spare a bed in her spotless, impeccably designed home.

But this year Brothers has just felt really hard work to watch, mired in dull storylines, unsatisfying denouements and a victim of its own conventions. The show is in urgent need of a shake up if it’s to survive for more than one year… so here’s five things I’d instantly change…

1) Stop Taking The Easy Route: Kitty’s cancer story was one of the few plotlines to really work this year – bringing out the best motherly instincts in Nora and giving the show some much needed jeopardy. But after several episodes of dire prognosis and high stakes drama, suddenly Kitty’s cancer was cured in the space of a single episode. Sorry guys – that’s cheating!

In the same way Kevin’s recent teenage tragedy (he unknowingly paralyzed a friend) and Sarah and Luc’s visa storylines – were both quickly resolved before they’d really had a chance to dramatically play out (Luc’s Green Card arriving the day his visa expired just felt so contrived). Sure Brothers and Sisters is cotton candy TV – but I’d love to see a bit more sour along with the sweet.

2) Surrogate Storylines Are A Snooze. Poor Kevin and Scotty. They’re TV’s most well developed, sexual and realistic gay couple – but this year they’ve been saddled with the dullest storyline in homosexual history. Really – who gives a damn about their surrogate Michelle’s egg count and blood work, week after week – this is one storyline that’s been dragged on to death and in the process it’s made the couple the snooziest characters in the show. And when did gay parenting become such a cliché (following years of outing, gay bashing and HIV). Brothers and Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family – it seems every gay on TV just wants to aspire to a nursery, feedings and cuddly toys. You know guys – it’s not envelope pushing when everyone else is doing the same thing.

3) Cut The Conventions. I’m not the first one to say it – and I’m sure I won’t be the last – but the Brothers and Sisters writers sure don’t seem to be listening! Really – why does the show have to be so formulaic? Each week two or three of the family get into an argument during the third act (normally at a Walker family dinner), only to tearfully make up in Act 5, to the soapiest and most syrupy music the producers can find. How about not wrapping everything us so easily each week – and letting the feuds linger – as they do with real families?

4) Stop Recycling Stories. Okay we get it – Nora and her mother don’t get along. Justin used to be in the army and it’s left him traumatized. Holly was William Walker’s mistress for years. But come on – how many times do we have to go back to the same plotlines time and again. When Justin gazed longingly at his army uniform last week (obviously thinking of re-enlisting) I really did have to fight the urge to grab a big old bottle of Ojai wine. Come on guys – surely there are more interesting stories to explore…

5) Brother, Can You Spare A Plot. Sure I understand that Sally Field, Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths are the three main stars of Brothers and Sisters (four if you count the soon to depart Rob Lowe) – but really, do they have to grab the lion’s share of the screen time, all the time? I’d love to see Holly, Rebecca, Scotty and Saul be given something meaty to sink their teeth into, rather than simply providing background dressing for the latest Walker family drama.

To be fair Holly’s had a few good moments this season but her recent credit crisis could have been developed in a far more interesting manner than just a few stressed out scenes of her typing frantically into the Ojai computers. Rebecca has just become a simpering accessory to whatever drama over-indulged Justin is going through. Scotty has born the brunt of the dreaded egg count storyline. And as for poor Saul – well frankly there was really no reason for him to come out of the closet last season as the storyline has fizzled into a few pitiful punch lines over family dinners. And who knows where black sheep Ryan went to – or why Tommy keeps dropping in and promptly disappearing! These are all good actors, who properly developed could be interesting characters in their own right – but at the moment they’re all being sidestepped for yet more Sarah single mom drama or Kitty political plays.

So that’s my take on Brothers and Sisters – but what do you think? Can the show be saved – and how would you turn it around? Start weighing in…