When it was revealed that Joss Whedon had not only signed on to write and direct The Avengers sequel (Age of Ultron) and help guide Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but would develop a live-action TV series set in same universe, it was the safest of all bets that the show’s pilot would be picked up. And it did with the help of Marvel branding and the return of fan-favorite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) from the dead to lead its cast.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered strong on the ratings front but has remained on a mostly downwards slope with a few upswings for key episodes ever since. The midseason finale however, despite being marketed strongly, was the season’s lowest viewed episode yet. So what will ABC and Marvel do to turn things around when Agent Coulson and co. return in January?

When Whedon and writers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon discussed the show at the outset it was described as a series about the “ordinary” people behind-the-scenes helping keep safe a world now host to super-powered beings and aliens. It would “weave in and out of the films” as Joss told us at Comic-Con but wouldn’t rely on characters from the movies or comics. But are the unknown S.H.I.E.L.D. agents created just for the series enough to sustain a Marvel show – against major hype and expectations – that’s meant to share the same space as the films? Not anymore.

They tried but despite their best efforts, the viewers are dropping off and the reaction to most episodes has been mixed at best – read some reader reactions in the comments here and follow along on Twitter after each episode for examples. TV Guide and The Huffington Post even labeled the series as the season’s “biggest disappointment” – and that’s the type of publicity the Marvel brand cannot accept going forward into Phase Two of the film franchise, and against steep upcoming competition.

Whether it’s the characters, storytelling, lack of superheroes and characters from Marvel Comics, or the tone of the show, we can expect some changes as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. heads into its most crucial period early next year. The midseason finale ended with a cliffhanger that left many of its key characters in awkward spots (read: an opportunity to change the team chemistry). With two new regulars joining the cast, the creatives have a chance to start fresh in January, should they choose. There’s also a lot riding on the show to help setup some of the background for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Page 2: More “Marvel” Tone, More Characters & Cameos Coming

Captain America: The Winter Soldier releases on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Sources: CBRHuffington Post (2), TV Guide

Header art by Dammit-Clint.

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