The return of “Heroes” from its mid-season vacation is coming up fast…the show returns with its latest saga, “Fugitives,” on Monday, February 2…and the folks working behind the scenes are excited about it, even if some of the fans are less than thrilled with the way the show has been progressing in its third season.

“Part of the fun of being a fan is the grousing,” acknowledged Allan Arkush, who not only serves as one of the show’s directors but also as an executive producer. “That’s certainly one of the biggest functions of the internet: to be a place where you can get pissed off and show it. But I thought Tina Fey was pretty funny about it on the Golden Globes. I mean, I didn’t disagree with her point of view on it! It’s fine, but I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of the Season 2 DVDs, and people have been saying, ‘Well, when you look at them in a row, it’s a completely different experience, and now I see how the whole thing is threaded together!’”

Arkush doesn’t tend to read the negative press in that much detail, but he did take particular issue with Entertainment Weekly’s recent smackdown of the “Villains” episode.

“I thought it was way off mark,” he said. “They said something about how it was one of the worst episodes of the year of any show, and I thought, ‘That’s not true at all! This is actually a really good episode!’ It was the one where we went back and showed how Sylar met Elle and showed what Arthur Petrelli had done, and I thought it was fun to kind of go back and see how all of that happened and see parts of their lives that we hadn’t seen, but they said, ‘Oh, it’s a very contrived concept.’ I liked it. It was one of my favorite episodes of the year!”

It’s fair to say, however, that just about everyone – not just fans, but, indeed, Arkush as well – is excited about the return of Bryan Fuller to the “Heroes” family. (Granted, they’re probably not that thrilled that it took the cancellation of “Pushing Daisies” to get him back, but you take the good with the bad.)

“I love working with Bryan Fuller,” said Arkush, who directed “Company Man,” Fuller’s classic contribution to the first season of “Heroes.” “He’s a wonderful writer, and he just dived right back in. He’s there every day.”

Fuller’s first new episode for “Heroes” – tentatively titled “Cold Snap” – is being helmed by Greg Yaitanes, who has already been behind the camera once this season for Episode 3.9, “It’s Coming,” as well as last season’s “Cautionary Tales” (Episode 2.9). You may also know Yaitanes, however, for his work throughout the Fox network, where he has directed for “House,” “Bones,” and “Prison Break,” as well as serving as one of the executive producers on the late, great Nathan Fillion vehicle, “Drive.”

When I talked to Yaitanes at the TCA’s annual Director’s Guild of America function earlier this month, he was just getting ready to start directing the episode, but this is far from his first experience working with Fuller.

“I went to film school with Bryan,” Yaitanes explained. “He and I were in the same class, and we’ve tried to work together for all these years now, but this is the first time we’re actually connecting. I’ve been down the road with him doing the ‘Dead Like Me’ pilot and then doing episodes of ‘Dead Like Me’ and ‘Pushing Daises,’ and we’ve tried to work together, but our schedules have never connected. But Brian and I have worked together for almost twenty years, and now, finally, we get to work together. We’re very excited.”

So what is Yaitanes able to offer us about this first-ever collaboration with Fuller? His enthusiasm, at the very least.

“It’s very cool,” he says. “I’ve been really fortunate that the last two episodes I’ve directed are Tim Kring scripts, and now I’m able to get one of Bryan’s. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve literally gotten one enviable script after another one this show. But I think there’s a sense of intimacy to this episode. That’s probably the best way to describe it. Bryan has such a unique world view, with such hope, that I feel like there’s elements of whimsy and intimacy. The things that I was a fan of when I saw the show in the first season, I feel like this reminded me of those things that I loved while still keeping all of the growth that the show has gone through.”

“Cold Snap” won’t actually be airing ‘til March 16th, but you’ll be seeing Yaitanes’ name pop up on “Heroes” far sooner than that…like, on Monday.

“I did the volume opener of ‘Fugitives’ as well,” he revealed. “That was also great, because these guys – Allan, Tim, and everyone – really trusted me to be able to pitch them a new paradigm and a new look to the show for that new volume that reflected the tone of the story. I went in and I’m, like, ‘This show is like a graphic novel, and that’s a nice place for the contribution of the director to come in. Different artists come in to draw comic books from time to time, right? So with this new volume, what if there’s a new style, a new tone, that suits the overall tone and themes that you guys are trying to go for?’ So I think there’s much more of a feeling that you’re with the characters, and that it’s a little less polished than the show normally is, but without sacrificing any of the scope that the show normally has.”

When asked about who we expect to see come Monday (besides Zeljko Ivanek, whose upcoming multi-episode arc on the show has already been reported by pretty much every publication everywhere), Yaitanes offered a one-word answer: “Everybody.”

“In the episode I did earlier in the season had everybody’s stories kind of fragmented, where everyone was doing their individual thing,” said Yaitanes. “But in ‘Fugitives,’ everybody’s story is somehow connected, so I tried to find a visual way to keep all of those stories cohesive, so they all felt part of the piece and that everybody was in the same kind of jeopardy, and you felt that coming in.”

Yaitanes also believes, at least based on what he’s seen of the upcoming scripts, that we’ll be seeing more instances of the show’s original characters interacting with each other again. (I don’t know about ya’ll, but I still think that scene in Episode 3.7, where Nathan and Tracy met up with HRG and Meredith, was one of the best moments of this season.)

“I think there’s more of that coming up,” he said. “Bryan Fuller’s script has some characters but not others in it, but I think they’re sort of streamlined the focus, because when there’s more real estate, you’re not servicing everybody, and it’s more realistic to zoom in on particular characters. And that’s nice. When I did ‘Cautionary Tales,’ that only had half the cast in it, because they were doing simultaneous episodes; Greg Beeman was doing an episode at the same time I was, so we literally cut the cast in half. That’s sort of what Bryan Fuller’s doing in his episode, and that allows for more intimate time with the characters, more time to not feeling like you’re pushing plot but, rather zeroing in so you’re, like, ‘Okay, we’re staying with this person and their story, and we’re going to follow them in their life a little bit.’”

To bring this piece full circle, I closed by asking Yaitanes for his thoughts on all of the abuse the series has been suffering through recently.

With a grin, he replied, “You know, sometimes you just want to see everybody just be able to chill out and watch TV a little bit.”