So in the last month or so, Dawn and I started binge-watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We held off for awhile, even after the first season became available on Netflix, due to all the bad buzz I kept hearing about the early episodes. I was assured by those of my friends who had kept watching that “it gets better”, but I still had to ask the question: if there were only six or so episodes of Season 1 in the “gets better” category, should I just watch those and skip the rest?
Surprisingly, the consensus seemed then to be that, while much of Season 1 had its issues, it was worth watching. It laid all the foundations for what was to come after, and the payoff would be that much sweeter even if the first episodes themselves weren’t particularly compelling.
So we took the plunge and started from episode 1. While I won’t argue the idea that the series certainly does get better, we didn’t find it as much of a chore as we were led to believe. Maybe we were approaching it from hindsight, and that helped? I’ve also heard that watching big chunks at once allows the threads of the story to hang together far better than for those who were watching week to week (or sometimes not even week to week, since I’ve heard there were some breaks and hiatuses along the way).
Have we as a society gotten too demanding of our TV shows, like they have to knock our socks off out of the starting gate (or within a few episodes thereof) or we give up on them? I think of Babylon 5 which was one of my favorite shows ever, but how to this day I never watched what I was assured was a comparatively mediocre first season. Star Trek: The Next Generation was another show so (in)famous for having a rocky start that it named an entire TV Trope, “Growing the Beard“, since fans mostly agree it started getting good around the same time Commander William Riker decided to sprout facial hair. For quite awhile following its debut, Parks and Recreation was derided as a limp, pointless clone of The Office. There have been quite a few other examples over the years of series that took some time and development before they hit their stride.
Mind you, again, it’s probably much easier to deal with an uneven first impression in hindsight, with assurance that the time you’re dedicating will be rewarded. Going back to check out a TV show, particularly one with multiple seasons, can be a daunting prospect. Hitting an episode, or worse, several episodes where it felt like you could have skipped them and been none the worse for your experience, can be downright demoralizing.
But maybe I’m a bit more sympathetic these days, especially in terms of the early going. After all, I still remember the criticism of this very webcomic about our first “episode” being a span of pages where nothing interesting happened. I still contend with that assertion, but it’s not quite on the level of some of the nailbiters we put forth by the end of episode 7. Foundation building is a necessary but potentially boring aspect of fiction, as you get your first introductions to the characters and the setting. I figure that’s why in a lot of action movies these days you’ll get those introductions in the midst of an already occurring action scene, except I feel more often than not you’ll get out the other side of said action scene and still have only the barest sketch of who the people involved are and why you should care about them.
Did the early parts of a series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D compare to its post-beardy existence? Nah. But they were enjoyable enough, and at least some part of every episode seemed to be working to lay the groundwork for the future. From the beginning the showrunners were supposedly promising “Everything is connected”, but after disappointments like Lost (at least in terms of answering questions) I can see how it would be rough to keep faith based on that alone. I had the benefit of being, basically, a man from the future, so I could look at it all and enjoy from that standpoint.
And once I do look back like that, in addition to my enjoyment of the entertainment, my writer side gets to wondering just how much of everything was actually planned from the beginning. But that’s a topic for another time.