Cancellation/renewal season is always rough. It’s basically Glengarry Glen Ross Christmas for hundreds of TB professionals as they find out if they still have a job next year. My heart bleeds for the countless hard working, talented people who don’t luck out and land on a show that grabs an audience. Good luck, folks. You got this.
The last 24 hours have seen two much beloved geek shows suffer very different fates; Supergirl and Agent Carter. Two of the consistently best-written, different hours of genre fiction series drama facing two very different fates.
Let’s take a look at Supergirl first. There’s always an awful sense of inevitability when a show starts struggling to keep its place and that’s certainly been present in National City recently. Les Moonves’ initial assurance that the show would be renewed was then stepped down to a Maybe, further stepped down to a No, and put the show in the middle of what I like to call the Hail Mary Corridor.
It’s actually quite difficult to kill a TV show these days. Or at least, much harder than it used to be. Ripper Street, the excellent BBC Victorian police procedural and stab-a-thon was saved by Amazon, Longmire was picked up by Netflix as was The Killing, Arrested Development and others. The simple existence of streaming services has been credited by other shows in helping them find and grow their audiences, with the most famous example being Breaking Bad, whose international audience is largely the result of streaming services.
So, when a TV show seems to be going down, a petition usually goes up in the Hail Mary Corridor. Netflix is rapidly becoming viewed as the go-to venue for good shows that didn’t get the audience they deserved and it’s easy to see why. Netflix have committed to spending an astonishing 5 billion dollars on non-sport-related original content in 2016. That means they’re both hungry for new content, and that content that has an audience already built-in is even more of a plus. Hence bringing the likes of Longmire aboard, and the willingness of fan groups to petition the service to pick up their favorite orphaned or struggling shows. Witness, in particular, the ongoing attempts to get a Dredd sequel or show launched through the service: the chances of it happening are not high, but they’re not zero, and that’s enough.
Thankfully, Supergirl had an ace up it’s thumb-hooked sleeve: the fact it’s the fourth show of a string of successful shows on another network. I’ve talked elsewhere about how Greg Berlanti’s TV approach to the DC Universe is frequently excellent and the ongoing success of Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow speaks to that. Even at launch, it seemed more than a little odd to have those three shows all on The CW, and Supergirl all by itself over on CBS. To be fair, they made this into a feature, not a bug, and I loved the postmodern conceit of the different networks mapping onto different parallel universes, but nonetheless Supergirl felt like an outlier. Worse still, it felt like a show trapped on a network that didn’t quite know what to do with it.
That outlier status is what’s ultimately saved the show. The CW, who are quite happy with their Berlanti shows and have renewed all of them (and everything else on their slate), have bought the show and it’ll be part of the Berlantiverse as of Season 2. Whether or not everyone makes the move remains to be seen, as the show will be relocating to Vancouver, apparently, but it will get a second year in the best possible place for it. Which, in turn, means we get another crossover, and given how joyous the last one was, that’s nothing but good news.
Whereas, for Agent Peggy Carter, there’s just nothing. Or at least that’s how it seems at first.
Hayley Atwell’s magnificently polite, two-fisted action heroine has thrown her last immaculately-tailored punch. After two seasons, two cities, and a distinct sense of not really knowing what to do with the show, ABC have pulled the plug on Agent Carter as well as stopped development on their Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff show, Marvel’s Most Wanted, for the second time. There’s a wider element to those two decisions that speaks to the network having no idea what do with their Marvel shows, but that’s one of those places where supposition and fact collide and do so many shots that they forget which one is which.
The simple truth is this: Agent Carter has been cancelled. Consistently one of the smartest, oddest, kindest members of the Marvel TV show flotilla, it’s also the first one to end, which is going to generate a whole bunch of think pieces and some frantic headlines involving the words “superhero fatigue.” That’s not necessary or accurate, and should be looked at with the same arch, mildly annoyed patience with which Peggy would look upon it. Because while the show is cancelled, Agent Carter herself is quite well—or, at least, could be for several reasons.
Firstly, the Hail Mary Corridor is open for business. Like I said above, that’s not a lock or even a good chance, but it’s not nothing and that’s enough for a lot of fans to put their shoulders to the wheel. Also, Agent Carter would be a much better fit for Netflix than anywhere else. The 8 to 10-episode runs the series employs are much closer to the 13-episode Netflix model than ABC’s 20-plus approach. Likewise, the defiantly serialised nature of Agent Carter rewards the hell out of a weekend in front of Netflix with unlimited tea and toasted British bread products.
Like Jarvis doesn’t sling a mean English muffin? COME ON.
Then there’s the possibility of appearances elsewhere. The logical option is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’d like us to stop for a moment and consider two words:
And then two more:
I’m honestly amazed there’s not been a crossover yet, and this is the perfect time to do it. If nothing else, the simple fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. operate out of an old SSR headquarters that Peggy has clearly used opens the door. Here’s hoping we get to see her stride right on through it and refer to Coulson as “Phillip” soon.
Certain…events in Civil War apparently preclude Peggy from being in future Marvel movies but even that isn’t an absolute guarantee. Ant-Man proved flashbacks can work, and I get the sneaking suspicion that it really will be all hands on deck in a few years when the Infinity War movies hit. Those big crossovers are defined by the “we fill the stage with goldfish” approach to the cast and I’d say the chances of World War 2-era Peggy, in particular, being part of the final battle are pretty damn high. Maybe she’ll bring the Howling Commandos with her, once Dum Dum is finished being Villain of the Year over on Arrow…
Finally, there’s the hallowed, metafictional halls of fan fiction. Fans got Peggy that second season. Fans may well secure her a third. They can, and should, get her any and everything else they want to, as well. For myself, I want a Thrilling Adventure Hour-style Agent Carter podcast, I want to see Agent Carter mods for tabletop RPGs. I want to read fan fiction that reveals Peggy has been quietly pulling the strings for the good guys in the modern MCU for years. I want a Season 3, but if instead of that we get a Peggy Carter unbound from the terrors of ratings and free to be wherever she damn well pleases? I’ll take it.
Because the weird thing about cancellation season is the only people not really touched by it are the characters. The creators and show staff have to scramble for their next job, the fans celebrate or mourn, but the characters, pushed out into that postmodern space between creators and viewers, are, in the end, immortal. Ideas, after all, are bulletproof. They’re cancellation-proof too. Kara Danvers will fly again later this year. Whether on TV or the page, via staff or fandom, Peggy Carter is going to be back, too. We’ll be there when she returns.
Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.