While Marvel Studios has done a mostly excellent job on the big screen, (with "The Incredible Hulk" standing out a bit for the wrong reasons), its efforts on broadcast television have been less than stellar. Whether you want to blame that on the reported infighting between the film and television departments, the lack of follow through on the promise that "everything is connected," or just plain bad writing and bland characters. There's a lot of blame to go around when it comes to Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
But is the tide about to turn this Fall? ABC has a new studio head managing their programming. "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has a new time slot at 10 p.m., and a rebooted feel to the show with Agent Coulson no longer calling the shots and Daisy back on the run in a similar fashion to how we first met her when the show opened. And now it's been confirmed that Ghost Rider, of all characters, is coming to the show to save the day. Why ABC and Marvel didn't back up a Brink's truck to Nicolas Cage's mansion is beyond us, but the exciting (and often overlooked) Robbie Reyes and his sweet muscle car will soon be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least on television). The question we've been asking ourselves is, is this too little too late? Or is Ghost Rider the exact thing Marvel's ABC series needs to survive its exiled existence from the larger Cinematic (and Netflix) Universe.
Any way you slice it, Ghost Rider is a bit of an oddball choice for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." He exists mostly on the mystical side of the Marvel Comics Universe, his two previous movies (yes, two) aren't exactly fondly remembered, and there's a better than good chance most Marvel fans have no idea who Robbie Reyes is or why Ghost Rider is no longer rocking a motorcycle. But because there's a chance this is actually a good thing for the ABC series, we break down the reasons why Ghost Rider is a perfect fit for the show -- as well as why he definitely isn't.
10 NO: The show is still treated like a bastard on "Game of Thrones"
Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb recently offered what was a seemingly half-hearted attempt at explaining why Marvel's television heroes, and their friends on Netflix, won't be making an appearance in the films anytime soon. This is despite all the shows taking place in the same shared universe and the entire sales pitch for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." being that it would interact and crossover with the films. This was only true for the first two years before the show veered off wildly into its own corner of the world and started playing around with the Inhumans full-time. Now what happens elsewhere gets only a passing reference at best before the show continues doing whatever it was doing.
At this point, the goodwill and the curious audience that would have tuned in to see Captain America pop up, even if it was in a limited capacity in the same way Samuel L. Jackson showed up, are long gone. All "S.H.I.E.L.D." is left with are devotees to the show itself, and seemingly there are fewer and fewer of them coming back each season. Now that it seems the door has even closed on the Netflix characters popping up on their broadcast network counterpart, it's never been clearer that "S.H.I.E.L.D." is a bastard like Ramsay Bolton, and not like John Snow, in the eyes of Marvel.
Listen, we totally get that contracts are complicated. And this sort of cross-pollination is still unusual for films and television in 2016, but if Bradley Cooper, who was hot on the heels of a Best Actor Oscar nomination in "American Sniper," can run around on CBS in a middling TV show that was canceled after one season, then there are zero excuses over at ABC for "S.H.I.E.L.D." not borrowing more of the MCU's umpteen stars for 30-second cameos several times a season.
At this point, it's clear it's not a question of technicalities on Marvel's part, but an unwillingness.
9 YES: The Gloves Are Off
The flipside to "S.H.I.E.L.D." being treated like a bastard is that the gloves are off. If it's going to sit in its own little corner, unwanted and unloved by the larger Marvel Universe, then the showrunners are free to do whatever they want. That's been somewhat evident, with things like the world's supply of fish oil capsules being tainted with the same stuff that can turn someone into an Inhuman if they have the Kree DNA buried inside them. This is something both the Netflix and MCU side have not mentioned or dealt with in the slightest. Adding a character like Ghost Rider opens the doors to more mystical and magic characters running around on the show. (Is it conceivable that we'll even see Marvel's Dracula? Considering his too cool for school take in "Blade: Trinity," we think that character can use a little love, and the only place he may get it is on "S.H.I.E.L.D.")
If "S.H.I.E.L.D." were to embrace the crazy. Then it might go a long way toward giving the characters more to do than make pouty faces at each other and talk about "the team." That is, when they're not fighting Brett Dalton and whatever evil variant of him "the team" has to fight again this season. We've seen both Grant Ward and Hive shuffle off this mortal coil, but something tells us Dalton will be back.
8 NO: Nobody cares about these characters because they're too busy squabbling and having 20-minute kung fu fights
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is not a great show. It's an OK show that occasionally has moments of brilliance with characters you want to like. But absolutely no time is spent on the show building and developing those characters. Instead, the majority of any given episode over the past three seasons has been giving the characters reasons to act like jerks toward each other. Then, after enough time has passed in the episode, leave the rest of the time for there to be a mostly pointless, 20-minute kung fu fight involving nameless bad guys that you're going to forget exist the moment the fight ends. We're not quite sure who out there enjoys this, but if the show's ratings are any indication, it's clear there's nowhere near as many fans of this particular aspect as the show's producers may think. People, chill on the kung fu fights. They can be awesome, but not when they're seen in every episode and have no stakes involved in them whatsoever. This ain't "The Walking Dead"; we know nobody on the team is in any real danger. (Unless it's the season finale, of course.)
With Ghost Rider rolling into town, it's clear he's not going to get into any kung fu fights. Unless we're talking Robbie Reyes getting into some kung fu fights, in which case that sure seems like it's wasting a lot of people's time who are tuning in to see Ghost Rider burn things. As a Ghost Rider is wont to do.
7 YES: Makes the show "edgier" for its new 10 p.m. time.
A change in tone could be just the thing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." needs. Maybe being on broadcast television at 9 p.m. kept them from doing certain things? We'll never know, but what we do know as longtime observers of the television industry is that what you can do at 9 p.m. is different from what you can do at 10 p.m. regarding sex and violence. Whether or not that's a good thing we'll get to in a second. Assuming it is a good thing.. Now that the show is on at a later time, just regarding what the characters and writers can and can't do, there are no more excuses when it comes to content restrictions.
Is upping the sex and violence quota on the show helpful? We're not so sure, but who really does? ABC's recent slate of hits can be described as boundary pushing, and the change in time slot and tone can put "S.H.I.E.L.D." more in line with its fellow programs on the alphabet network. It's possible that in doing so, people who may be wondering what's on their favorite channel could be surfing and stop on "S.H.I.E.L.D." And this time they might stay on the show because what they see isn't too different from what they see on "Scandal" or "How To Get Away With Murder."
6 NO: Edgy might be too edgy
The flipside to "S.H.I.E.L.D." going hard on that R-rating is that the change may cause current fans to abandon the show, something that's a non-starter given its struggles to maintain and hold an audience over the years. More importantly, going R-Rated (or as close as you can get while still being on broadcast television) is a weird move.
For one, doing so takes "S.H.I.E.L.D." completely away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe's tone and feel. Which, we guess is OK because clearly, the two will never interact with each other again. (That optimal moment would have been to have the "S.H.I.E.L.D." characters on the Helicarrier in "Age of Ultron" to help rescue people in Sokovia). Bt at the same time, if "S.H.I.E.L.D." can't or won't interact with the Marvel Netflix Universe, and the show starts to borrow their look and feel, that seems silly too. Because "S.H.I.E.L.D." would still be a show in search of a personality, and it'll again find itself borrowing the personality from a batch of programs that won't ever interact with it.
That means "S.H.I.E.L.D." finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Honestly, the best course of action for the series might be a complete reboot, but that reboot doesn't necessarily mean going R-rated like "Daredevil" or "Jessica Jones." If "S.H.I.E.L.D." is going to survive, and the odds are good that if Ghost Rider doesn't save them, it won't, then it needs to strike out on its own and not borrow from anyone else, tonally or otherwise.
5 YES: The Youth Movement
One of the things DC Comics has always had over Marvel, at least until recently, were Legacy characters. Sure Barry Allen is most widely known as the Flash to readers and non-readers alike, but Barry Allen isn't the only Flash. He's one of many. Ghost Rider, among many others like Nova, Ms. Marvel, Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Spider-Man, now have that same sort of thing going on, thus closing one of the last remaining gaps between the two companies that gave DC a competitive edge. (See also: Marvel's upcoming "Champions" series.) Having multiple Flashes and Green Lanterns meant more comics for fans of those characters to pick up. Robbie Reyes continues that tradition with Ghost Rider, and with his inclusion on the show (and we can only hope, more than a knowing nod toward the other Ghost Riders), may open the door for that youth movement to take place on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Perhaps that will be the thing that makes the show distinct and unique from its peers on Netflix and in the theaters?
"S.H.I.E.L.D." very well could market itself as the place to go to see the offshoot characters. Sure we'd love to see Miles Morales on the big screen, but unless he's the same age as Peter Parker (or somehow wedged in by other shenanigans, the odds are good we won't see him on the big screen anytime soon. So if we can get the young Ghost Rider on the show, why not Miles? Why not Sam Alexander as Nova? And sure, The Hulk is probably cost prohibitive for "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" budget (although we have to wonder if they're doing Ghost Rider..) there's no reason Amadeus Cho can't be on the program too. The presence of these characters may give the series a much-needed "superhero" shot in the arm it's badly needed since it launched.
We love Daisy and want to see her kick ass in the movies, but she's been forced to carry the show on her own, usually, and it hasn't been enough to keep viewers interested. She's also come a long way since her wide-eyed start, and it would be nice to see this corner of the MCU through young, excited eyes again.
4 NO: They Missed Their Moment
As mentioned, "S.H.I.E.L.D." has used up its goodwill and patience with a lot of the audience who tuned in when the show first launched on ABC. No superheroes? No real connection to the film besides constantly name-dropping characters? (That first season was excruciating to watch the characters have conversations like, "Yo, I know The Hulk." "I know! The Hulk is so Rad! Let's talk about The Hulk some more!") We're not going to lie, our ears sure perked up at the mention of Ghost Rider's presence on the show, but more than a few of us decided it would be best, as exciting as that news is, to not bother watching the show anyway. We're feeling burnt, and that's not exactly a place you want potential viewers to be mentally when you try to make a huge announcement like this.
So although we would love more comic book TV shows, it could very well be that there is no going back for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Fans just aren't going to care what the shows does, short of finally reconnecting the film universe with the show in a meaningful way and giving people a reason to tune in. Unless that happens, unless Marvel comes out and says, "Hey, you should care about these characters because what they do on the show matters," there may be no saving the show no matter how much promise it's showed at times.
3 YES: Classic Inhumans
For a while, we've heard that there's an "Inhumans" movie coming. That seems to now be completely off, and the reigns have been loosened regarding what characters can appear on "S.H.I.E.L.D." where the Inhumans are involved. The odds are still pretty good we won't see Black Bolt, but we're not going to front, Lockjaw's presence on "S.H.I.E.L.D." immediately makes the show 1000 percent better than it has been up until this point. Especially if he does Lockjaw things like slobber everywhere and bark at Daisy for no apparent reason. What we're saying here is we're a sucker for dogs, and having a giant slobbering Inhuman one gives the show so much more personality and fun than it has exhibited over its three years on television. You know you would tune in for an episode where Patton Oswalt had to follow Lockjaw around and shovel his poop. You know you would. Don't kid yourself. That episode would win an Emmy. There's no doubt in our minds.
Also: It would be cool if Medusa and Crystal showed up... we guess. It's weird. Saying "classic Inhumans" can show up on the show doesn't engender much excitement. That's because they've always sort of been "Not X-Men" and now Marvel is desperately trying so hard to make the Inhumans a thing over the past few years that it just reminds us of that line from "Mean Girls": "Stop trying to making fetch happen. It's not going to happen." That seems to be where most Marvel readers stand on the whole Inhumans thing.
2 NO: Ghost Rider is too powerful
The last thing we want to see with Ghost Rider is where he acts like a Deus Ex Machina each week. Magically solving the problems of the team because he's Ghost Rider and then riding off into the sunset until the show sets aside enough money in the budget for the VFX team to bring him back. That would be a terrible use of the character, and maybe one on par with that time Ghost Rider urinated flames. (Yes. That's a thing that happened, and yet somehow we still want Nicolas Cage to come back to the role. Does that make us weird? No? Not even a little?) Ghost Rider can't exist on this show only to solve the team's problems with magic, which presents a massive issue because so far on the show, there's been nothing like him. So what do you do with him? Does he show up in one episode and go, "Hey. I'm Ghost Rider. Yolo," and then rides off into the sunset, never to be seen again? What does he fight that would even make sense for the "S.H.I.E.L.D." team to help him with?
And that's the other problem. Much like Superman's presence on "Supergirl," there's excitement that he'll be around in some capacity; but there's real concern that Superman will overshadow Kara and her adventures. That would make Kara a hostage in her own show and create a question in the mind of the viewer as to when Superman will appear on screen again. You don't want that to be a thing that happens to the "S.H.I.E.L.D." characters that, while certainly woefully underdeveloped, don't deserve to have that happen to them on their own show going into its fourth season.
1 YES: A Fresh Start
We've alluded to this throughout this list, but if there is one thing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." needs to do, it's completely reboot the show. Not just regarding tone and introducing new characters, we're talking everything. The best possible thing that they can do is bring in new showrunners, new writers and directors who aren't trying to stick to whatever Marvel's house style is for its cinematic Universe. That's not a knock on anyone that's worked on the show to this point, but they've had three seasons and have yet to consistently deliver on the promise fans felt when they learned "The Avengers" writer/director Joss Whedon was working to created the first TV show from Marvel Studios. If the show isn't part of the MCU in a major when, then it doesn't have to follow it and the show doesn't have to look like it.
Putting Daisy back on the run and demoting Coulson from Director to Agent is a good first step. Bringing in an interesting new character is another. Now if they can cut down on the pointless kung fu fights, develop the characters, and give it a little bit more of an edge, you have yourselves a brand-new television show. Add in some young Marvel heroes who have no place (yet) in the films and you have a must-see comic book TV show.
Total reboots within a show have been done before. Just look over on "Suits" on the USA. The show is going into its seventh season next Fall, and they concluded the sixth season by blowing up the central concept behind the show. J.J. Abrams did this several times over the course of "Alias," which also aired on ABC. With expectations (and ratings) as low as they are, and with "S.H.I.E.L.D." entering what is very much a do or die season for them at ABC, this could be the moment to redefine the show and put it back toward being something worth watching.
And if not, we hope making radical changes allows the show to go down in a beautiful blaze of glory as they throw everything they can at the wall to see what sticks. Why not? Much of Marvel doesn't seem to be looking at what they're doing anyway.
What do you think? Will Ghost Rider save or damn "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."?