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Why Marvel’s ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Isn’t Totally Super

The benefit of slapping Marvel's name on the ABC show has its limits

Just to get the fine print out of the way, plenty of people will doubtless catch up on the second episode of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” via delayed viewing, which shouldn’t make ABC any happier about the show’s fairly steep decline from its premiere.

The second hour, moreover, highlights a structural deficiency in the show that was vaguely apparent back when ABC screened it over the summer — namely, the connection to “The Avengers” universe, particularly for the casually acquainted, is extremely slim, which will force this team of crack government agents (let’s hope they’re getting paid during the shutdown, by the way) to sink or swim on their own.

Yes, Clark Gregg is oodles of fun as Agent Coulson, even if it’s still a little irritating not knowing why Loki didn’t actually kill him in “The Avengers.” Without him, “SHIELD” would offer virtually no bond with the Marvel universe other than the name.

Beyond that, though, the show is like any number of other programs of the past, with some gee-whiz gadgetry, to be sure, but mostly a lot of fight scenes and weapons fire. (Spoiler Alert if you didn’t watch yet: Throwing in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury for 30 seconds sure felt like a wasted opportunity.)

Obviously, if the numbers hold anywhere near Tuesday’s level “SHIELD” is still a winner for ABC, and based on some of its other development, probably the least of the network’s problems. (“Lucky 7,” for starters, looks like it will indeed be lucky to survive that many episodes.)

Thus far, though, “SHIELD” appears to underscore some of the limits of marketing, and the fact simply slapping the name “Marvel” on something isn’t necessarily going to be enough to bring audiences flocking in your direction, despite the Disney unit’s conspicuous success in theaters.

ABC is also affixing promos to “SHIELD” that urge viewers to “Watch it live!,” which seems somewhat misguided. Unlike “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones” — where audiences get hooked on serialized storylines — this is essentially a quest-of-the-week procedural, with modest mythological elements tossed in. By that measure, it’s less a show that demands to be watched live to avoid Twitter spoilsports than watched whenever you happen to get around to it.

No doubt, millions will get around to it over the next few days. But no matter how ABC spins the numbers, Tuesday’s drop-off suggests “Agents of SHIELD” might be a bit less super than the network hoped.

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