For how long should you give a bad TV show a chance?
So, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has got a lot better hasn’t it? Remember a few years ago when everyone on the Internet seemed hyped to received a weekly Marvel adventure? And then remember the reaction after the first few episodes? Viewers hated the show and abandoned it en masse. Apparently the overly light tone, too-quippy characters and lack of narrative focus/non-existent mission statement were too much for many people. These would-be-fans possibly were expecting the artistic level of Breaking Bad from a family friendly superhero show right off the bat.
Later in the run the show had its crossover episode with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is widely considered that the twists that occurred during this crossover reinvigorated the show and it has been at a much higher level of quality since. Many Internet journalists will have you believe that Captain America: The Winter Soldier saved AoS with this new lease of life and essentially ‘saved’ the show. Personally I believe Captain America: The Winter Soldier was actually what was holding AoS back, if you know the plot affecting twist I mean you should understand why this held AoS back. The programme had to wait for The Winter Soldier to air to become the show the writers intended. The writers genuinely had to delay the primary conflict for over fifteen episodes due to the demands of not flagging up spoilers for a film.
Luckily AoS managed to gain enough viewers to keep it ticking over and those loyal to the show were rewarded greatly with good TV. However, how long must an audience be asked to suspend impatience before a TV show improves, whether the fault is with the writers or not?
Gotham is a bit rubbish. Or that’s what I remember from watching the first nine episodes. I gave up with the show fairly swiftly, though not as swiftly as some with AoS. I didn’t take to its tone, acting, writing and frankly its aim. Surely the best way to start this show is for Bruce Wayne to die alongside his parents? Thus a universe would be created where Gotham city is without Batman rather than just the focus being before Batman arrives. This would be a more interesting narrative about Jim Gordon being overwhelmed by the police corruption, supernatural forces and super-villainy you usually need a Bat-family to survive. Instead the show’s narrative just delays the main conflicts until Bruce Wayne is Batman, which will (if it even happens on the show) require a massive time-jump for Bruce to be old enough.
However I must admit I should have stuck with the show. The reviews I’ve read seem to indicate an increase in quality for the programme and it’s even been renewed for a second season. This reminds me of the widely held view that Star Trek: The Next Generation is considered one of the greatest television shows ever made, however a highly forgotten view is how terrible its first season is. It is borderline unwatchable. The character work is non-existent, the plots are hokey even by the third season of the original show’s standards. It would take too long to break down its various mistakes, but it is safe to say the first season of Next Gen doesn’t remotely resemble the programme at the end of its second season.
In fact it is widely believed that all of the Star Trek shows started off poorly and found their footing around two seasons in, with the exception of Deep Space Nine and the original series. Both found their footing before the end of their respect first seasons. It is doubtful that this ability to pull off a slow fix is limited to Star Trek and its writers. It is more than likely that other shows could pull off this righting-the-ship if given the time. Star Trek series in the 1990s likely got this chance because it was a wonderful time to do anything as long as you had the words Star Trek in your title.
Obviously then there must be many shows that weren’t part of bankable franchises that were cancelled before they became fully formed. Therefore how much time should the audience and the networks give a show? I’d argue a whole first season and the first half of the second season is the answer. A show may pull itself together by the end of the first season enough to prepare a fundamentally better show by the second season. If so this would demonstrate that the writers have learnt from mistakes that may have bogged down or outright ruined the first seasons. Series that this patience worked for include but are not limited to: Arrow, Farscape, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dollhouse. There also many series that were always good, but got even better in their second seasons, for example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends and Justified.
Imagine the strength of a second season of Firefly if it were made back in the 2003/2004 TV season.
I admit I should have stuck with Gotham much longer than I did. Perhaps I will return to the programme with the renewed resolve it deserves however…
Audiences are made of people. Most of these people have very little spare time. These people have jobs and often children. Many of these people will want to spend their valued spare time watching good TV, rather than bad TV that may or may not improve. So really it depends how into TV you are. If you consider yourself a big TV buff and are willing to take the time with a TV show, wait a season and a half!
If you want TV to be immediately amazing like all the people who immediately abandoned AoS, I guess you should just listen to the buzz around certain shows and watch what you know has already turned out well, like you probably always do.
Given that more and more networks are now opting to have pilot seasons rather than pilot episodes, there is at least a growing sense of trust in a property that isn’t immediately Breaking Bad. However, akin to my relationship with Gotham, even if you make the time or you’re a full time critic, there sometimes still isn’t enough of it.
Make no mistake. Death is coming…