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December 18 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. battles expectations. "While it's impossible to pinpoint the primary reason for the ratings pattern, I believe the show's biggest obstacle can be summarized with one word: overhype."

I'm coming round to the theory that the massive hype, Comic-Con panel, EW covers, the actual show itself was just an excuse for ABC to sell t-shirts.
Simon, this is one of the times I categorically agree with you. :-)

I am not sure I buy the overhype argument, though I do think elements of it are in play. I do think that for people who wanted the grandiosity of Avengers, this will disappoint, if that is what they were looking for. Its focus is different, on the little hero, but that puts the show between a rock (a comic) and a hard place (a procedural). It is neither fish nor fowl.

PS. Elicit, not illict. "...illicit groans of disappointment."

Most groans really are not illegal. :-)
I do think the show lacks the snap, crackle and pop of the dialogue of other Whedon shows, but I still find it interesting storywise. I'm just as glad that it's focusing on developing its own characters rather than bringing in a whole bunch of existing Marvel superheroes given that I haven't been reading Marvel comics in decades, I would be completely lost trying to keep up with what was going on.

I figured there would be payoff in rewatching episodes, and just watching the F.I.T.Z. rerun last night proved it. The scene between Coulson and May when he admits that he doesn't feel normal and she makes him to take off his shirt to remind him of the scar. She tells him that that is there to remind him that there is no going back, there is only going forward. And you realize that this is the same thing she told the "ghost" in the barn, and then, that that is the same thing that Coulson had told her after the "Cavalry" incident that left her so traumatized. Seeing it for the second time, knowing that background, it's a powerful, powerful moment, you really get the sense of how emotional intimacy there is between these two people, how much trust they share. And it's interesting in the context of May's relationship with Ward, that as she has gotten physically intimate with him, she seems to have gotten LESS trustful of him, less at ease with him and more ready to explode. I'm still there waiting to see what happens.
Totally the overhype and misleading promos.
I guess it would be easy to say that it should have been expected that Joss and those he's entrusted with day-to-day operations of Agents of SHIELD would counter expectations of tons of Marvel characters and Easter eggs or the same kinds of quippy dialogue, just as expectations were countered with the 4 previous Mutant Enemy shows throwing "how things work" in front of a train. Joss wanted to explore what it's like for unpowered people to have to live in a world where cyborgs and aliens and sciences experiments run amok, to build stories that intersect big events, but are not solely reliant on them.

However, it's not easy because there's a lot more expectation for what a comic book movie or show should be about vs. what a horror or a Western or a sci-fi parable should feature. Jeff Bell mentioned recently that things will get more Marvel-like in the latter half of the season, which most hope will "cure" what "ails" the show...but perosnally, I hope the focus remains more on our intrepid band of socially awkward misfits with skills to spare and not "what character can we stick in an episode this time?"
I am beginning to believe that what is really affecting this show is simply the fact that Marvel is clearly trying to take over the universe. Now, I see an Ant Man movie just announced, several sequels in development, etc. I think it is perhaps a saturation problem. Plus, as Simon noted, I also think that the marketing tie-ins (i.e. t-shirts, and a hell of a lot more) are a large part of the story behind the scenes which we do not think about.
"Not all heroes are super. Unfortunately, the audiences wanted to see the ones who are."

But that's only part of the problem, I think... and a smaller problem than the fact that the show doesn't try to be anything other than a conventional spy/procedural show. Even a competently done spy/procedural show, like this one, seems to lie flat in comparison to everything Joss has done on TV before.

Sometimes with this show, I feel like Peppermint Patty in the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special: "Where's the turkey? Where's the cranberry sauce? What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this?" But for me it's "Where are the sig-worthy quips? Where are the tropes turned on their heads? What kind of Joss Whedon show is this?"

But, of course, in the cartoon Peppermint Patty's anger was caused by unfair self-imposed expectations. Agents of SHIELD is turning out to be pretty much exactly the show we were told it was going to be.

I'm committed to sticking with this show through at least the entire first season, and seeing what it looks like as a whole at that point. By then, any unfair expectations should have dissipated and I can judge the show based on what it is, rather than what I would have done.
I think we can chalk the dip in ratings to the holiday season. Up until that point, ratings were on the rise again.
The most recent dip in ratings was no different to the dip NCIS took the same week, both shows were coming off a break and then the holidays and all... I don't know why anyone would expect anything different for that week, it's a typical seasonal thing as chrissobrien said.
"Spoiled by mega-budget television events (HBO's "Game of Thrones" comes to mind) fans are growing accustomed to having the big-screen experience at home, and were possibly underwhelmed by ABC's production values."

But Arrow is on the CW and it looks spectacular. This is no excuse. I can't understand why the show looks so bland, except possibly a lack of care being put into it.

It's not fair to blame overhype and "fanboys" when the show has legitimate problems, especially in the writing. You don't need a big budget to write good dialogue. You don't even need a big budget to tell compelling stories.

Sure the show had a lot of hype. I was incredibly excited, as a huge Joss Whedon fan and as a big comic book dork. The show has not managed to capture any of the magic either of those things have brought me in the past. You can't blame hype for a bad show, you can only blame the show itself. I mean I was relieved this week to NOT have to watch it.

Look, I'd like to even say the show is "a good program that continues to improve" as the article puts it, but I thought the midseason finale was one of the worst episodes so far. It is killing me that I dislike the show so much, but that's just how it is.

[ edited by Jordo on 2013-12-19 17:30 ]
Don't know if this concept of 'overhype' exists.

I seem to remember it being stated that it is the job of the network marketing to get as many people as possible to sample a show, work well done I'd say.
IMO once sampled the show gets measured not against the marketing but against alternative ways of spending the hour and for most viewers that bar is indeed getting higher and higher, while every show can't be The Wire, Game of Thrones or Buffy a re-run of top shows is always an option and time shifting makes every timeslot equally competitive at least for shows with a younger audience.
Another thought: There is push-back against the idea that we are supposed to watch this show.
But Arrow is on the CW and it looks spectacular. This is no excuse. I can't understand why the show looks so bland, except possibly a lack of care being put into it.
This is one of my biggest concerns about the show, to the point were the last episode sent me off on a mini-rant about it. Shows don't need multi-million dollar budgets to look cared for and worked on. Sticking with the CW, put Arrow (a network priority there) aside and just took at Nikita (not so much of one). There's a care to the craft of it on display on "cheap" CW shows that one of Disney/ABC's flagship event series is very much lacking, and it baffles me.
Even shows like Hannibal or Breaking Bad are not big budget, but look absolutely spectacular. Hannibal in particular does wonders with a small budget.
But Arrow is on the CW and it looks spectacular.

I tried watching Arrow but it looked Canadian. Well cheap Canadian sci-fi anyhow. And I've done that to death. So I gave up after five minutes. AoS has a glossy feel to it I quite like.
I love both shows but they are shot very very differently. Also, keep in mind that all Canada filmed shows for US networks get something like a 30% tax break on production cost. It is the most expensive to film in Los Angeles. Starting to cause serious problems. Everywhere else is so much cheaper.
Though I will say if you are going to do massive viral marketing, carry it through after the first week. Whether the Rising Tide blog and all that?
I tried watching Arrow but it looked Canadian.

Heh. That reminds me of the time I decided to start watching the modern incarnation of Doctor Who and I stopped after five minutes because it looked too much like cheap British sci-fi...

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2013-12-20 00:25 ]
I wonder how much of a "Joss Whedon" show it really is? He's not writing the episodes, and I'm sure his Avengers responsibilities are ramping up. That could explain the flat dialogue and lack of Whedon-type language.
bleefb, someone says that in every thread. Joss is very very involved. It is his show.
@Simon - sometimes the actual writing and plotting of those 'Canadian' shows is excellent. I think that is what I am missing from SHIELD. But - full disclosure as a Canadian/American - I don't think of 'Canadian' as a slur (except where Rob Ford is concerned).
Brinderwalt, you might try jumping in on series 5. My sister drug me along for the first four series (I half ignored it while she watched), but the look takes a dramatic turn for the better in series 5.

As for the discussion, I really do suspect that there's too many cooks on SHIELD. When I consider how many interests there are involved in the show, I have to imagine that the executive meddling that's going on must be on legendary scales. I've thought there's been a lot of promise, and some great moments, but I can't say I'm in love yet, and I do think multiple directions caused by multiple parties may be putting a strain on the show. I feel if the three showrunners had complete creative control, the show would currently be near Buffy/Angel level in terms of my interest.

One other side note---my sixteen year old sister loves the show unabashedly.
"I tried watching Arrow but it looked Canadian. Well cheap Canadian sci-fi anyhow. And I've done that to death. So I gave up after five minutes. AoS has a glossy feel to it I quite like."

Well you are missing out on a show that is more like a Joss Whedon show than Agents Of SHIELD.

It is shot beautifully, and I've never seen better action sequences in a television show before (mostly because the actors are trained and do their own stunts.)

The story is exciting (the show does the Buffy formula well of stand alone stories mixed with serialized overarching "big bad" season storytelling), the characters are really likable and continue to get more complex each week, and the sense of humor and fun is probably unparalleled on any other drama/action show on today.

Even comparing both shows midseason finales is unbelievable. One (SHIELD) is how to do everything wrong, and the other (Arrow) is how to do everything right.

[ edited by Jordo on 2013-12-20 19:31 ]
In this house, Arrow on our DVR gets top priority over all else. It's do not miss TV. It's a shame more people aren't watching it. It's excellent.

Nikita has incredible action sequences too. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think Arrow comes out on top.

That said, I am enjoying SHIELD a lot now. I thought after episode 2 I was going to give it up. I'm glad I stuck with it.

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