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“Agents of SHIELD,” Sleepy Hollow” and the Supernatural Police Procedural

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The talk with television these days has been with cable shows. From the Emmy red carpet to the trending topics on Twitter, the buzz follows “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Walking Dead” among others. It makes sense. These shows are able to push boundaries in ways that those on network TV cannot. But beyond the buzz, there are ratings. Understandably some network shows do better in the ratings than the most popular cable shows because more people have access to these channels. And even though you want to see a zombie bloodbath or a Westeros brothel, network television has noticeable themes with their programming. First and foremost, they love police procedurals. Looking at the 2012-2013 season, 15 of the 40 most watched network shows were police procedurals. With the new season just beginning, we have been given two such shows that meet that classification while also being of the sci-fi/fantasy genre in nature. The fish out of water version of “Sleepy Hollow” and “The Avengers” spin-off “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” have both premiered. Can they succeed on our already police crazed televisions? Yes and here’s why.

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Avengers References Assemble!

Bringing Marvel to ABC was a no-brainer for Disney executives. We see drama every year as the networks jostle over a limited number of viewers willing to commit to a new show. The result is always a number of cancellations and disappointment from the few who were watching. It’s a tiresome process trying to guess what will succeed. But after the success of “The Avengers,” “Iron Man” and the others, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” is the biggest sure thing to premiere since NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Marvel brought in writer/director/ legend Joss Whedon and resurrected Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg for the project. So there are your connections to the movie universe.

The pilot, which aired last night, also featured Cobie Smulders, who played a supporting role in “The Avengers.” From there the audience was given the team’s origin story. Coulson and co. made some references to our favorite heroes (Thor’s muscles, Black Widow’s high performance scores) and established what we can expect week to week. This week’s villain was a “hooded hero,” who acquired his powers in a lab as part of the mysterious Centipede, which combines the different ways characters have received their powers in the comics/movies. Gamma radiation, (The Hulk) gene-altering formulas (Captain America) and Extremis (“Iron Man 3”) are mentioned. Cool tie in, Mr. Whedon! While most of the episode was spent building the team, dealing with the evil doctor in charge of the Centipede project and tracking down people with powers has been presented as the show’s first main plot objective. SHIELD solving mysteries, the circumstances surrounding Coulson’s staged death, and actors from past Whedon projects popping up are more than enough reasons to keep me watching. That’s for sure.

Over at Fox, “Sleepy Hollow” has Revolutionary War turncoat Ichabod Crane waking up in the current United States. But so does the Headless Horseman. Teaming up with a local lady cop, who witnessed a supernatural event in her youth, Crane attempts to stop the Horseman. The show is full of talk of demons, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Death (the entity) and British accents. While the pilot was different in order to set the scene, the weekly show will be the Crane-cop duo dealing with mysteries and monsters. So far, “Sleepy Hollow” is very mythology heavy. We will have to wait to see if mainstream audiences will buy in. It lacks the comedy of other odd couple cop shows and instead emphasises creepy situations and moderately scary encounters. The pilot was quite over-the-top if we are being honest. It definitely isn’t the sure-fire success that “Agents of SHIELD” is.

We are still in September so we have to wait a bit longer to find out how the TV season in ratings will unfold. Can these supernatural police procedurals compete with the wit of “Elementary” or “Castle”? Can they get people to turn off “The Voice” and watch shows based on comic book concepts and a story told every Halloween? Will Coulson dethrone Agent Gibbs from NCIS as the most watched law enforcement agent on television? We may need one of those Bruce Banner heart monitors to make sure we don’t Hulk out with anticipation!

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