I’ve noticed that for viewers, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t doing it for a lot of them , but the critics are reasonably in love with it. Meanwhile, it’s the reverse for The Tomorrow People , with critics far less in favour of it and regular viewers enjoying it far more.
Two shows featuring characters with extraordinary origins and abilities. One is based on a successful film franchise and comics universe, and the other is based on an old UK children’s television series. So why the mismatch between audiences? Probably to do with something about how critics rarely love what audiences love, etc, etc. And while I don’t see myself as some hard boiled, jaded TV critic… I really can’t understand why Tomorrow People is edging out past S.H.I.E.L.D. for audience preference.
We haven’t got it back since the break it went on before last Christmas. It’ll hopefully be back in March . So my latest memories of the show are about a month old, but I don’t think I’m recalling it through some time shrinking nostalgia goggles, I’m pretty sure I’m not, when I say that I was really enjoying the show that last time I watched it. Sure, things we’re going slowly (a complaint I’ve heard from quite a few people), but nowhere near as slowly as the first season of Heroes , which had Tim Kring apologising for the pacing .
Anyway, I’ve watched the first two episodes of The Tomorrow People so far and I cannot believe its pacing. Where a thoughtful degree of build-up and reasonably constructed characterisation was being allowed to organically grow in Whedon and co.’s series, here Greg Berlanti, Phil Klemmer, Julie Plec have gone for something where we’re spoon fed ten shovel’s worth of exposition per each of the first two episodes. All the while making the pacing incredibly fast. So while things aren’t taking an age to develop, you’re left wondering why, because so little time has been left to two other factors that are critical in fiction…
Clear motivations and believable characterisation. These two things are very thin on the ground in the two opening episodes, and so much time has been spent playing up the two factions involved… I’m wondering how after two episodes they’re going to find enough story to fill up another twenty. The way there’s been a splurge of plot in the first two episodes so far leaves you guessing what there’s left to do other than find the protagonist’s father. Stephen Jameson, the main protagonist has had the most characterisation in the show, but his motivations are very limited and don’t fully explain why the character thinks it’s a good idea to join evil incorporated to try and find his missing father. This he does in the first episode and by the end of the second he’s already screaming for out and the audience is feeling an immense, “I told you so.”
And the main antagonist, Jedikiah Price, head of Ultra – a group on a genocidal, government endorsed, mission to kill people like Stephen – we don’t know why he’s so keen to kill off the “next step in human evolution”. As of the end of the second episode, the Tomorrow People’s motivations as a group have so far been explained as trying to get themselves saved by “the chosen one” (Stephen is literally referred to under that term) and characterisation for them as a whole has perhaps been the most lacking and stands at not wanting to die.
Heading straight into the action
Obviously both shows headed straight into very actioney territory in their opening episode. The difference is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. slowly decelerated in the second episode and started examining the characters involved while Tomorrow People pushed the accelerator down and kept throwing us from peril to peril.
While an argument can be made for action-packed, turn your brain-off, entertainment, the shows and films that do this well do at least ensure that all important characters have their motivations explained. They also build-up a bit about them as characters. Here Stephen has been heavily fleshed out at the beginning at the expense of everyone else and currently I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch a third episode of the show this Wednesday on E4, but I am cursing Channel 4 for delaying the come back of S.H.I.E.L.D. to UK screens.