Agents of SHIELDMarvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Looking Ahead to Season 2Agents of SHIELD - RSS 2.0
After a so-so season 1, here's what season 2 needs to succeed.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was picked up for a second season several weeks ago, surprising absolutely nobody save a surprisingly large population of The Internet that evidently thought ABC and Disney were likely to not renew a decently-performing weekly advertisement for several of their largest theatrical franchises because it took a while for it to figure out what to do with Chloe Bennett.
But renewed it has been, and with renewal must now come speculation about what is to come and pontification as to what should come. Because that's how it works. This is how your television-journalism sausage gets made, people. So, then: What does Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. need to do to get stronger and stay there, in the opinion of some guy on The Internet who got paid to watch the whole of season 1?
JUSTIFY ITS OWN EXISTENCE
A problem with the first stretch of season 1 was that there wasn't an immediately available answer to the question of why we were following these specific agents around week to week while always being aware that they were only a minor part of a much bigger and frankly much more interesting agency. Eventually they settled into a specialty (fighting CENTIPEDE and Cybertek, not yet known to be HYDRA offshoots) and were revealed to have had a secret purpose (prefab support-structure in case Coulson's resurrection went south,) but having a basic setup is important.
Fortunately, it seems like that's what they'll now have heading into season 2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier blew up S.H.I.E.L.D.-proper, and now Our Heroes have been charged by Nick Fury to rebuild things from scratch under the radar with Coulson as the new director.
PICK A TONE
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is all about mixing genres and styles. Thor stars in fantasy films, Captain America just did a political thriller, Iron Man mostly makes action-comedies, The Hulk does monster movies. But when they all got together for The Avengers they found a unifying teamwork/buddy tone that brought them all together.
Agents occasionally had trouble creating its own version of that all-important unity: its serious moments were serious, funny bits were funny, weirdness was appropriately weird... but it didn't always "gel" right. Audiences have accepted that the MCU is a hodgepodge of genres, but everybody needs to get on the same wavelength or "feel" for an individual story to flow properly.
Surprises are great. Mysteries are fun. Pulling the rug out from under an audience can be a great way to keep things fresh and interesting. But if you're going to trick people, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that whatever they're actually getting is at least theoretically as good or better as what they thought they were getting.
The first stretch of Agents' first season illustrates a handy set of "don'ts" for this problem: Marvel, ABC and Disney all openly encouraged fans to speculate on whether or not some arcane bit of Marvel Comics obscura would be used to explain how Agent Coulson had come back from the dead... only to have the answer be not exactly as exciting as anything folks were dreaming up. It wasn't a bad answer, and it led into bigger more interesting mythos-building for the series, but expectations had been mismanaged.
See also: Advertising "tie-ins" to the bigger Marvel movies that turn out to be only passing mentions. "The Well" is actually one of season 1's best episodes, but all anybody remembers is that the over-promoted tie-in to Thor: The Dark World turned out to be the agents showing up for a couple of minutes to pick at debris left over from the film's finale. Here's a thought: If the "Marvel stuff" in a given episode is going to be more "Huh. I recognize that reference. than "Holy crap!!!," make it a surprise - trust me, Marvel: You're not going to get a major ratings boost for "Tune in tonight for QUASAR!" Everyone who'd be excited about Quasar is already watching your show.