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January 07 2014

Agents of SHIELD showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen answer the fans. Comic Book Resources asked for questions from fans last week.

More frustrating lack of admitting the show has problems. Just admit the show needs work. I really have no confidence in the upcoming episodes. I can not believe I am considering dropping a Joss Whedon produced show but I can't force myself to sit through many more episodes. If interviews like these just spoke directly about the shows issues I would be more than willing to give them a chance. Stop telling me about all of the people who love the show and address the issues that like 95% of the viewers have!
Did you not read this bit?

When you're in a band and you play a song and the crowd goes to the bar to get a drink during that number, you don't play it again. So we won't keep doing things if people don't respond to them, and we take fan reaction into consideration, of course. However, we've always had a plan in place that all involved parties feel is both rewarding to those who already love the show, and to those who feel they are not getting everything they want out of it yet.

Funny and insightful interview. Glad they're willing to listen to at least some of the criticism/suggestions.
@Jordo : I feel the same way. I'll finish the season but I'm not very hopeful when I read these kinds of interviews. Can we have Avengers 2 yet ?
Maurissa nailed it when she said: "It's amazing how much people hate the word slowly these days." I think as far as genre shows are concerned, we're seeing the beginning of the end of the 22-episode format.

It's both hilarious and frustrating that the show can be about S.H.I.E.L.D. but can't even mention S.W.O.R.D., despite the fact that Joss himself created it. It's part of the X-Men property and therefore belongs to Fox.

I still choose to believe as my head-canon that when the team supposedly shoots artifacts into the sun with Slingshot, they're really secretly sending them up to S.W.O.R.D.'s space station.
Simon, I did read that, but honestly that just doesn't satisfy me as an answer or a defense of the problems. I don't get any sense from this interview that they are going to change anything or are even aware of how much is wrong with this show. For example they don't seem to understand the question about it not looking or feeling like a Marvel show. And then there's the stubborn insistence of "having a plan." Well, change the plan, because it isn't working.
Sad to say, this was a disappointing response to criticism. They're still talking about getting me to gradually know and care about the characters. IMO better writing and directing would have gotten me invested in the characters and their world in the first episodes. That this is still some future goal makes me worry that they don't know how to do it.

My disappointment with the show isn't that it isn't Marvel enough, but it isn't Jossian enough. As it stands now, I don't go through the week eagerly anticipating what'll happen next because not one of those characters fascinates me, not one of them makes me care. That's a first for a show that has the Whedon name attached to it. But am I an average viewer? Is this what other viewers want? I don't know.
The problem with listening to problems and trying to address them is this:

Fan board 1) We hate Skye! Less of her!
Fan board 2) We love Skye! Less of Ward!
Fan board 3) Ward is funny! More Superheroes!
Fan board 4) Less superheroes, more emotion!
Fan board 5) Why are they talking about their feelings?!

That's common across most shows. When anybody says, 'the fans want this..', you've instantly got other people going 'Oh my god, why did you think people wanted THAT'.

[ edited by gossi on 2014-01-07 16:55 ]
It's not even just that the characters are boring, it's that some of them are actively unlikable, like Sky. I understand some shows need time to grow and some characters grow on you over time, but this show seems to be trying to actually keep that from happening.

Even Ward placing HIMSELF behind the view of a truck and thus botching the mission in the latest episode. That's not only outrageously bad writing, it actually makes me hate Ward for being so incompetent.

I can think of many shows (some with sprawling casts) that made me care about the characters within 1 or 2 episodes. LOST, Firefly, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Supernatural, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Fringe, etc. It's not a given that a show needs 22 episodes for you JUST CARE about the people in it.

I mean, I cared about the people in the SHIELD related Marvel One-Shot more than the characters in Agents of SHIELD. And that was like a 10 minute short.

And all of this is greatly exasperated by the fact that this is a Whedon show, run by people who we know to be excellent writers. And also by the fact that this show is in the Marvel Universe which should be exciting and fun, not tough to get through every week.

[ edited by Jordo on 2014-01-07 16:58 ]

[ edited by Jordo on 2014-01-07 17:14 ]
Well, I agree that the show has problems, but I'm not sure I agree with complaints about their response in this interview. They said they are trying to address fan criticisms, but there are a number of constraints about what they can say and do. First, I assume they need to stay somewhat positive about the show lest they create problems with marketing and the morale of people involved in creating the show. Second, they are constrained in their storytelling by the need to avoid topics that may be explored in the movies, which could explain the difficulty in making it feel like a "Marvel" show. Third, while I agree that the show can and should do a lot of things differently, I imagine that scrapping their "plan" entirely and starting all over from scratch would almost certainly hurt rather than help the overall quality of the show.

To be sure, I think there are a lot of things I think they could do within their current constraints that would vastly improve the quality of the show -- e.g., dialogue and character work and stronger action sequences. Longer term, I would like to see them try to adjust their "plan," particularly with the pace of character and plot development. I don't think their "slowly but surely" approach is sustainable here.

But I do think they are trying. And as easy as it is for me and others to point out all the things we think they're doing wrong, I think very few if any of us really have any idea the kinds of challenges they face. I think they get mad props for trying to stay positive while doing their best to improve the show.
I think they're trying as well, which is why I asked the question I did, since that is a lot of the complaining I've seen here. Ultimately, they have to follow their vision for the show, adjusting as they feel will work. I have no need for creative people to prostrate themselves at my feet, apologizing for not getting something right.
Based on the answer to my question on the effects of being a show designed for other, non English speaking countries in mind they were not horribly forthcoming.

[ edited by JDL on 2014-01-07 18:06 ]
Simon, I did read that, but honestly that just doesn't satisfy me as an answer or a defense of the problems. I don't get any sense from this interview that they are going to change anything or are even aware of how much is wrong with this show.

Well I would disagree. They've acknowledged that some things don't work with people. I'm not sure what else they can do without going into the dubious area of fan entitlement.

Alternatively, I would imagine they are well aware what people do like about the show. There's now a fanbase that ships (and feels protective towards) the characters, who love the plots and geek out over certain scenes. And it seems to be a classic case of new fans vs old fans in a lot of places. There's a paper there somewhere.
It's was kind of interesting that they did acknowledge the Internet Gnashing of Teeth that exists out there -

That said, as Gossi mentioned, what's a fix for some might be a downgrade for others. Jordo mentions above he actively dislikes Skye. I, on the other hand, find her to be my favorite character by far and would be happy for more Sykcentric episodes. What's a writer to do?

I have come to believe though that the series buzz may prove its death knell. Once tainted, fairly or not, it's hard to shake the "disappointment" label. The degree of snark about the show is reaching mainstream levels (I believe HitFix mentioned the show was resuming tonight "if anyone was still watching it")and audiences seem to perceive buzz once it builds and flock to the good and avoid the bad.

I like the show just fine with a quibble or two about pacing and it being as Marvel centric as it could be. The fan boy wailing doesn't prevent me or my son from enjoying the hour, and the forum afterwards has its own interesting entertainment value
I think, as showrunners on a big hit fall t.v. show with lots of fanboy critics, they did a good job of taking some high-level passes at the fact that they need to listen to their audience. I also think the book won't be written on S1 until it's all been said and done, and any major re-tooling would happen during the summer. There's only so much they can or should do in the middle of what they've planned out. I am more than willing to wait for them to do that.
TallMichaelJ, the negative buzz about the show worries me too, not only because I believe the show deserves better (it got hate for being initially overrated, and has gone full-circle to being underrated imo) but because it's so easy to get the impression that no one likes it at all. The bad buzz is so loud, I was surprised to notice it made the second round of the people's choice best new tv drama category.

It would have been nice to see more specific responses to some questions, but I'm satisfied with how they acknowledged the criticism. I can't imagine any detailed response that doesn't go into spoilers. And since there actually are some people who like the show, it can be dangerous to play towards the people who don't.
There's a definite echo chamber effect on fan sites. Meanwhile I saw a number of people panicking on Tumblr because Fitz was listed for fewer episodes than the other characters. The show clearly isn't what many Whedon fans were hoping for. Which doesn't necessarily mean it isn't good or isn't doing well.

There's also an echo chamber effect on Tumblr but it's mostly to do with gleeful shipping and kittens as far as I can tell.
Quietly over here loving the show and the showrunner response to a loud negative minority. Carry on.
Yeah I'm loving the show too. And I especially like Skye and Ward. (So I guess this must be what it feels like to be Bizarro! ;))I don't get the hate. And I'm kind of glad I don't. As I'd imagine that much indignation over a tv show must be bad for the old blood pressure!
I can accept that some people like the show as is, but those that have problems with it are in no way the "minority." I honestly don't know anybody either in real life or on the internet (i.e. all of my facebook friends, everybody at places like AV Club, etc) who don't have huge problems with this show. I have never seen anybody outside of Whedonesque say anything good about it. I have not seen the show praised critically either, the only articles I have seen are about "how to fix the problems", etc, etc. I mean, just look at the article in question here. Half the questions are about problems with the show.

This is not a minority. People who don't like Breaking Bad? Yeah boy, THAT'S a minority. But the general consensus is that this show has problems. If it didn't have problems, these things wouldn't keep coming up constantly. The show would be getting As on AV Club, it would have been in Entertainment Weekly's "Top 10 of 2013!" lists (and the like), and the ratings would not be sinking way down. Much more, the showrunners would not have to be so defensive in every interview.

[ edited by Jordo on 2014-01-07 22:08 ]
Don't know anybody who doesn't have problems with the show? I see several right here on this page who like it. Add me to the list.

It is what it is. It is not what it is not. Either you like it as it is, or you don't. What else is there to say?
I guess all my friends and family are wrong then. We will try to mend our ways. Thanks for letting me know. Ha!

[ edited by IrrationaliTV on 2014-01-07 22:24 ]
"Don't know anybody who doesn't have problems with the show? I see several right here on this page who like it. "

I literally said I don't know anybody outside of Whedonesque who doesn't have problems with the show. This is Whedonesque.

[ edited by Jordo on 2014-01-07 22:31 ]
To admit upfront, I really like Agents of SHIELD and do wonder about the hows and whys of not hating any of the characters or pacing or the plot while others do have issues with any one or combination of those elements.

I do also, honestly and unmaliciously, wonder if those who have expressed dissatisfaction with the show are an overall minority, but one who make use of social media to air their grievances as vociferously as possible to be "the face" of commentary, while fans who are pretty much happy with the current product either become isolated or quiet from frustration or fear. Of course, that concept does come with a big issue of its own, as some of those "vocal minority" are professional critics and commentators whose viewpoints others see and take as being the whole gospel when it comes to judging quality. Personally, I have to take critics' views with some sodium chloride, as I've liked or loved stuff that has been universally defecated all over by critics and not been entranced by stuff they've loved.

Honestly, I think "minority" is misconstrued sometimes...if you asked a group of people for their honest viewpoint on liking or hating something and the split ended up 51% like vs. 49% hate? Hate's the minority but it's not a small one by anyone's stretch of the imagination. And I think Joss, Jed, Mo and Jeff Bell all understand that and the interview is about them recognizing they're walking a tightrope between fans wanting different kinds of stuff they can't do because of budget or a lack of permission from Marvel - remember, Marvel has a big ole finger in the pie and they own the IP to all the characters that were created for the show or came from the comics or MCU, but they could wanna save the stuff fans are requesting for a project where they can recoup a large chunk of theatre ticket $$$ - or they know from experience would only appease the masses for a limited amount of time or not work at all.
Weekly round-up of A - B graded reviews here too. But sure.
BlueEyed- you have some really good points. All I know is I have never heard a positive word about this show, aside from some buzz about the pilot before it aired. By the time episode 2 aired, everybody was in "well let's see if the show gets better" mode, and after the (in my opinion) very disappointing and bafflingly bad midseason finale, most people have jumped ship entirely. When I say most people, I can only refer to everyone I know, and the general consensus at many popular internet forums and sites, as well as in print magazine articles I come across.

And to be fair to the critics, it's not only wanting more Marvel or movie-quality looks or anything. Just better writing. "He's behind me...isn't he?" is not a joke that should have passed the 1st draft of a script. There is a weird laziness to the jokes and cliche lines of this show, it's like every script is rough. I just want competent and enjoyable stories.

And as far as the look, we are at an age of TV where most shows look really nice. Most shows with smaller budgets than SHIELD (Marve/Disney/ABC) look fantastic. This is why the interview irked me - they are saying strange things like "we can't be as big as the movies"...but what about as nice looking as any other television show? Even the sound mixing in this show is odd.
Agents of SHIELD fandom (featuring a lot of people outside Whedonesque who like it)

I have not seen the show praised critically either,

Read the reviews that I link to each week. Critics actually do praise the show.
Generally speaking, it is sort of meaningless to say that someone does not like a show. In reality, it would normally mean they simply do not watch it. So, with regard to those not liking Breaking Bad, what does that mean? They just don't watch. We stay on here because it is a Whedon show. Were it not, many of us might have bailed some time ago.

I found this article, which I think speaks to this thread (and mentions Buffy as well):
Thanks for the article, Dana. It gives a lot to think about. What I would give for an idea of which demographics like and hate the show. I'm sure there must be some pattern based on people's tastes, but it's so intriguing that even Whedonesque is divided.
@Bluelark It seems that the cast, timeslot, writing and network aims for a younger demo, a family spy show ?
A quick glance around the internet shows many comments in the direction of 'I watch with my kids, they love it', seems to me like the younger (and the young at heart :)) find the show delivering what they are looking for, good for them.

I wonder if it would make any difference for the internet commentariat if the showrunners stated bluntly 'this is the audience we are aiming for, the rest of you should just go rewatch Breaking Bad', maybe some complaints would disappear ?

While I agree with many of Jordos points I have made a new years resolution to always look on the bright side of life :)
And give the writers a season to pull something worthwhile together, though the talk of a plan gives me not so positive flashbacks to BSG.
I found yet another article relating to AoS and to this thread:

This is the lady who wrote about canon relative to Buffy back in 2009...
If they would clean up some of the lazy/cliched writing and dumb inconsistencies in the execution of their 'crack' super-spies, I would be so much more on board. I might not fall in love, but I wouldn't find something in every episode that makes me cringe and re-check the list of exec producers.
For anyone who says nobody likes the show, you're simply walking around blindfolded and only seeing what you want to see. Try watching the #AgentsofSHIELD tag on twitter during an episode, at LEAST 95% of tweets are extremely positive!
A couple weeks ago I checked out a Chinese message board for the show. It was refreshing. People were arguing about which characters should be together, where the plot threads were leading, and whatnot.

So they were still arguing, but instead of arguing about what the show *should* be, they were arguing about what the show *is*. Just like on every show other than SHIELD.
Writing? Directing? Those are incredibly competent at the very least parts of the show. Say what you want about the slow nature of the character development, but there are PLENTY of great one-liners and visual effects that stretch the confines of what would be affordable on network TV. The show's approach is “We'll get to the REALLY good stuff in two seasons, but for now, how about you just enjoy the show for what it is at THIS point?” What the show ISN'T at this point is detailed in its characterizations. What it IS is a rip-roaring, edge-of-your-seat thriller, with high-scope action scenes, authentic scenes of emotion that build on the goodwill we have for the characters now, and just enough intrigue to keep you watching. If you look at it that way, what's not to like? You don't agree? Fine. But don't try and project your opinions on “95% of the viewers.” Remember, there's a lot of show to go in two years.
Anybody who thinks there's no people who like Agents of SHIELD are being caught by sample bias of the sites they're reading and people they speak to. Negativity breeds negativity online.

In terms of raw numbers, it sits on 7.2/10 from 32,438 votes on IMDB, its Facebook page has a ratings app visible from mobile which shows 5/5 from 50k followers, and Metacritic wise it's the 2nd highest critically rated show from Joss, after Buffy.

[ edited by gossi on 2014-01-08 12:24 ]
I honestly think I would prefer if the people who keep hating on the show and threatening not to watch it would just move on already. I completely empathize with the disappointment in something so anticipated, but I'm quite tired of the frequent implications that those of us that genuinely like it are a bunch of idiots, lazy viewers, or Whedon apologists.

[ edited by QingTing on 2014-01-08 21:45 ]
I guess that's one of those nebulous questions, QingTing...why do some viewers sit down and enjoy Agents of SHIELD without feeling like the product they just watched was inferior or lacking in comparison to other shows in the same genre, while others feel that the show is much less than it should be?

I personally don't want to see things come to a point where some are actually encouraged not to view the show because of apparent hostility over whether or not the show needs work...but is there a point where everyone should go, metaphorically, their separate ways because consensus won't be reached? I mean, I've certainly seen it mentioned by forum members here that they got sucked into the Whedonverse by one of Joss' earlier works but didn't really feel the same way about some or all of the other three because of some element or elements of the particular show(s) that didn't ring their bell....plotting or characters or setting or "message." Also, taking Joss' past comments about making things that 100 people need to see instead of something 1000 people want to see into Agents of SHEILD now that "need to see" program?

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