To those who belong to the Joss Whedon cult, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is enough to cause some major anxiety right now.
ABC's new comics-inspired spy caper got off to a fine start during premiere week, but on Tuesday night, despite a hinted-at cameo from Samuel L. Jackson, it lost more than a third of its audience of adults ages 18 to 49 compared with the debut, according to Nielsen.
That's enough to make fans wonder if writer-producer Whedon's TV curse will remain intact.
Whedon made his name with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," shows that established his ability to bend and mix genres in wry, pop-savvy ways (perhaps best exemplified by the musical numbers in "Buffy," a show that already subverted vampire and teen-angst tropes).
But since then, Whedon has struggled to find a winning formula on the small screen. (Not so at the box office, where "The Avengers" was a mammoth hit.) "Firefly" and "Dollhouse" both had brief runs on Fox, with bruised fans lamenting afterward that the shows were pulled too soon.
This time around, however, critics and some fans are voicing early reservations about "Agents," with one Reddit poster describing the show as "disappointing and unoriginal."
"[Whedon] feels like to me an amazing stage magician who leaves you astonished after his first performance," the poster wrote. "But then you go back again and again and you realize he's only got the four or five tricks. He doesn't show you anything new and it certainly isn't true magic. There are writers out there that do true magic. That they release story after story and each time it's like you're experiencing their work for the first time. Joss Whedon is not like that."