Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a huge experiment for Marvel - a TV series tie-in to their blockbuster movie universe - and the results of that experiment have been mixed, at best. A sharp ratings decline after the season premiere, mysteries dragged out for too long, weak tie-ins to the movies and some all-around lackluster storytelling have left even the hardcore Marvel fanbase split over whether or not this show is a failure. And please believe, the studio has taken notice.
While at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, ABC entertainment president Paul Lee confronted the issue of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s struggles, pledging that solutions are on the way, while reasserting that the network is in support of the show - which has already been slated for a full 22-episode season.
Here's what Lee said about the show's struggles:
“It was obviously disappointing that we started with a very high number and it came down. It took a little bit of time to find our sea legs, but now the show is really doing well.... I think the key to us was really starting to work closely with the studios, and really figure out with our showrunners and all the creative brains, how we could have a show that didn’t have Iron Man in it, but did have an incredible amount of the Marvel universe and an incredible amount of the mythology that went through there. We also took a little bit of time to get the balance between a procedural and an arc. I’m so proud of how they’ve now arced out the last nine episodes. But, that’s something that many shows do, as they go through that.”
There is a fair amount of truth to that quote: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most ardent supporters are fond of pointing out that rival DC TV series Arrow also stumbled through a fair portion of its first season before finding sturdy legs as a dark superhero character drama. While one could debate how the first twelve episodes of Arrow compare to the twelve episodes of AoS we've seen so far, there is little debate that Arrow did grow more exciting, focused and confident in its approach after the halfway mark of season 1. Now the show is better than ever.
So there IS room for AoS to pull a similar trick and come to a strong finish by the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier is into its theatrical run - and Lee says the network is confident that upward trend will happen as season 1 closes out:
"...Creatively, we are loving what we’re seeing for the back nine. We’re doing a lot of work, and I’m really enjoying doing this with Marvel. We can announce that Lady Sif is coming in, in Episode 15. We’re shooting it now, and that’s going to be absolutely integral to that hour of television. And then, there’s going to be this really cool arc to the end of the season. You’re going to find out who the Clairvoyant is, and it’s going to be very, very cool.”
With 12 episodes aired and one about to air in two weeks (from the day of writing this), that "back nine" Lee refers to are the last 9 episodes to come (eps 14 - 22). It's a big deal to hear Lee praise the back nine as a focused arc; unless its hyped-up "astonishing, series-changing, final act" lives up to the hype, episode 13 "Tracks" looks like a pretty standalone episode (watch the promo down below) - which now puts pressure on every other episode in the season to deliver an exciting piece of a fantastic end story arc. At this point, who's willing to make a 9 out of 9 success rate bet on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Also curious is Lee's notation that the Lady Sif appearance (ep. 15) will be "absolutely integral" to that episode. We've heard promise that the show would soon have stronger ties to the Marvel Movie Universe, but a lot of that focus has been on how AoS will tie to Captain America 2 (a Thor tie-in was thought to be a done deal after the missed opportunity of episode 8, "The Well"). How Sif will be "integral" in an episode that Lee alleges is itself integral to the "back nine" story arc remains to be seen; however, after the quasi-revelations of the mid-season premiere, "The Magical Place," I've personally been of the belief that Agent Coulson's resurrection has some yet-unrevealed Asgardian connections. Maybe (hopefully) Sif's appearance will be the catalyst to pushing fans' favorite Agent into the heroic limelight he belongs in.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns February 4th @ 8pm on ABC with episode 13, "Tracks". You can watch the promo below: