Earth's mightiest TV series? Not by a longshot. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slowly starting to flex its spandex-clad muscles.
Despite all the moaning from Marvel fans, this Avengers spin-off series, led by Clark Gregg as the not-quite-dead Agent Phil Coulson, has struck a chord with audiences. It's the most-watched new show in Canada, and the fourth most-watched scripted series overall, behind mainstays The Big Bang Theory, NCIS and Criminal Minds.
Clearly, somebody - or a lot of somebodies - is enjoying it.
And yet online reaction to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Tuesdays on CTV and ABC) is still full of simmering resentment. People say they hate the characters, they hate the stories, they hate the way elements of the Marvel universe feel shoehorned in.
So what gives? Two things: The fanboy/fangirl community is apparently a vocal minority. And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually is getting better.
A recent instalment of the popular web comic Penny Arcade perfectly summed up my feelings about S.H.I.E.L.D. When the character Tycho asks his friend Gabe if the show is any good, Gabe responds, "When it started, it was painful to watch. A couple of episodes in, it was just garbage. The episode after that was a waste of time. But then the last one I saw was just dumb bulls---."
"So it's steadily improving?" says Tycho.
I think the key to enjoying S.H.I.E.L.D. is forgetting that it's set in the Marvel universe. While it's not the Jossiest of Joss Whedon's joints - the Avengers director is very busy working on upcoming Marvel movies, and the TV show is largely the domain of brother Jed Whedon and Jed's wife, Maurissa Tancharoen - it does help to look at it as a Whedon show, rather than a Marvel show.
And while it's no Buffy or Angel or Firefly, it has its quirky charms. Last week's episode took a bit of a dip - a teleporting ghost, yeesh - but overall, the characters have gone from insufferable to tolerable to, dare I say it, almost likeable.
And you gotta hand it to the show for sticking with the slow burn formula, as aggravating as it may be to receive information in tiny dribs and drabs. From Coulson's mysterious resurrection to the events that haunt Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) to the identity of Skye's (Chloe Bennet) parents to Ward's (Brett Dalton) childhood trauma to the will-they-or-won't-they romantic tension between Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. clearly feels it's in this for the long haul, and has lots of time to fill in these characters backstories.
And that's probably a safe bet. Even if the ratings took a sharp dip, ABC would likely keep the show around at least until The Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts in 2015. This series exists as a weekly reminder that the Marvel universe is still chugging along.
There are many things that could be done to make Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. better - I'm still a bit bummed that Thor himself didn't show up the S.H.I.E.L.D./Thor: The Dark World tie-in episodes - but maybe those things will come in time.
Until then, there's nowhere to go but up.