I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few episodes of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.". I will admit the show is slowly getting better with each episode. However, the show still faces an uphill battle - one that doesn't involve who is writing it, but rather, who is watching it. If "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." wants to stay on the air, it has to tread the line between not one, not two, but three different fan bases.
The largest fan base is the most obvious: fans of Marvel's "The Avengers", and by extension, it's cinematic universe. "Agents" has recently catered to this crowd two weeks ago with an episode tying very loosely into "Thor: The Dark Age" and delving into Asgardian lore. The team has contended with a virus contracted from artifacts left over from the Battle of New York seen in "Avengers" as well as superpower cocktail containing the Extremis virus seen in the pilot. While these shout-outs are cool, they are just that - shout-outs to the original movies - and they just don't further the story or enrich our view of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that much.
The second fan base is also fairly obvious: current fans of the comic books which inspired "The Avengers". We saw a nod to this fan base in the episode "The Hub", which features Saffron Burrows as Victoria Hand, a pivotal character in several "Avengers" titles. The inclusion of Hand was actually successful in the episode, as it shows a darker, more bureaucratic and protocol-driven side of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, while these characters make a interesting addition to the mix every once and while, you have to ask the question . . . just how many viewers are going to know who Victoria Hand is?
The final fan base is also the least obvious. Likely to be from an older demographics, these are the fans of the original Nick Fury comics which first launched S.H.I.E.L.D. into the Marvel vernacular. Almost fifty years ago, Nick Fury didn't look like Samuel L. Jackson (as cool as that is) and was instead the main character of James Steranko's stylized spy comic, which put James Bond, The Man From UNCLE and G.I. Joe into a blender and came out with something infinitely cooler than all of these. That said, both Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. have changed a lot in the forty-eight years since their debut, having taken a bigger role in superhero stories since then. We see the biggest nod to this era with "Lola", Coulson's flying car in the pilot. The problem is, it's one of the only nods we see to this era, and many fans are disappointed they haven't seen mainstay characters like Contessa and Quartermain yet.
When you get right down to it, you can't please everybody. But one of the reason "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is struggling to find its footing is the large range of expectations for the properties. I really want the show, with its current cast and writers, to succeed, but the show needs to find its voice and stick with it. It may cater to one or more of these fan bases, but I suspect ratings will only continue to drop if "Agents" tries to please everyone.
(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week.)