Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios has struggled with its "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." series on ABC. While fans have held out due to the show's potential, viewership has dropped significantly since the show's pilot premiered last year. Now, ABC is advertising an "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." event called "Uprising" in the weeks leading up to the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
If "Uprising" proves popular, it could turn around the show that has managed to hold on to a faithful audience but has had trouble finding genuine success. Of course, it remains to be seen whether even a strong multi-episode event will be enough to win back viewers who had already given up on the show.
Before the uprising
Part of the problem that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has had so far is one of pacing. Much of the first half of the season was spent setting up a few major events, and the plot segments that didn't build to those events seemed largely tacked on. It was clear that the show was trying to establish a larger overall plot while letting the individual episodes stand alone, but for the most part the main plot seemed to crawl and the individual episodes were largely hit or miss.
It seemed like things would picked up around the release of Thor: The Dark World, as the episode following the film's release was said to tie directly in to the aftermath of that movie. Unfortunately, the tie-in was in the form of references in the first few minutes of the episode followed by a story about an unrelated Asgardian character. While "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." takes place within the same universe as Marvel's cinematic releases, the show seemed largely segregated from both the films and Marvel's major characters.
A turning point?
After the mid-season finale's cliffhanger ending, the pace seemed to be picking up. Not only was the mystery surrounding Agent Coulson's death and return revealed, but J. August Richards' Mike Peterson was revealed to be the cinematic universe's version of the cybernetic assassin Deathlok. It seemed like the show might really have reached a turning point and that a lot of the questions that fans had would soon be answered.
Unfortunately, that's when the Winter Olympics occurred and the show took a few weeks off to avoid competing with the Games. This was a bit risky, since it not only had the potential to kill the momentum that the show was finally making, but it also ran the risk of fans becoming frustrated with on-again-off-again scheduling. After a slow first half of the season and a hiatus just a couple of episodes into the second half, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." would need to have a strong return to keep the momentum it was carrying.
The uprising begins
The first episode back after the hiatus was titled "T.A.H.I.T.I." and served up just what the show needed. It managed to recap just enough to remind viewers the situation that they'd been left, expanded on the mythology that had been established in recent episodes, and featured guest star Bill Paxton in a role that fit well within the episode. While there were a few points in the episode that might seem a bit questionable, the pacing established a sense of urgency and the ending of the episode left viewers with questions that are much more intriguing than the previous "make a vague statement that hints at something more" method used to set up future plot points.
The epilogue was well done, too, introducing a new villain that will be a major part of the next episode. Not only does the villain bring Jamie Alexander's Lady Sif to the show in one of the biggest tie-ins to the cinematic universe yet, but it also hints at other characters that could play a major role in a third "Thor" movie.
Will 'Uprising' work?
The next few episodes should be similar to "T.A.H.I.T.I.", giving the show a much closer feel to the cinematic universe than what the first half of the season offered. Given the timing and the name of the event, it will also likely tie in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in some way (and the aftermath of that film will likely be felt in the series moving forward as well). Recent episodes have already dropped a few names related to Winter Soldier, so it seems that the next tie-in to a movie release will be much more fulfilling than the last one.
That said, it still might take a while for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." to regain its audience. Provided that future episodes maintain the quality of the most recent ones, word of mouth and marketing will likely bring about a bump in ratings. If the show goes back to the slower pacing and scattered plotting from the first half of the season, though, then fans who decided to give it a second chance might disappear for good.