Who: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM.
What: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” a serial television drama based on the comic/graphic novel and film universe of Marvel Comics.
When: The series premiered on ABC, Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 8:00 PM.
Where: The show is set in the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe and closely follows the events of “The Avengers” film, directed by series creator Joss Whedon.
Why: Two reasons: Joss Whedon and Disney’s first television production of the Marvel property it recently acquired. Even if I am more of a DC girl, I love Whedon, and I love comic book adaptations, though I have not seen The Avengers. It seemed like a no-brainer, really.
The mission of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, i.e. S.H.I.E.L.D., is to monitor and collect rogue supernatural subjects, forces, and people and to control them. The Division is kind of like the so-called Men in Black but is focused on any fringe element looking to create the next Tony Stark (Iron Man) or Captain America or Thor without the natural-born endowments (or the cool suit invented by a rich guy). There is a movement, however, known as the “Rising Tide,” of which Skye (Chloe Bennett) is a member, which believes that government agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. interfere too heavily with the natural evolution of humans and science geared toward super status, particularly when such elements may produce heroes and people aiming to do good and to better society/the world. Skye infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and becomes a (quasi) reliable member of the team, though it is unclear to the viewing audience what her motives and agenda truly are: is she still working for Rising Tide, or is she becoming swayed by the close-knit team dynamics and mission of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
I initially rated the pilot 3 stars, which earns a six episode trial. After six episodes, my verdict is:
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is off to a much slower start than other Whedon creations and is truly a mixed bag, with some entertaining features and some elements that induce groans and boredom. In the end, I have been convinced to extend the trial until the mid-season break. Like so many other viewers, I want this program to be awesome because I know Joss has it in him…and yet, if things don’t get better soon, the ratings decline will spell certain doom for our intrepid (anti)heroes.
How – as in How’s It Going? (Final Thoughts)
What works for Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
1) Skye is, by far, the most interesting character because of her outsider status, clear hidden agenda, and relationship with the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Skye looks, feels, and acts like any other Whedonverse heroine, and she is the reason to watch the show, because her ultimate goals, ambitions, and purpose, as either a Rising Tide mole or a fish-out-of-water field agent, are what add layers and mystery to an otherwise shallow plot.
2) Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the connection to The Avengers and general tie to the Marvel cinematic universe, is also somewhat ambiguous. He places an inordinate amount of faith in Skye, though his faith may be misplaced. The layers of his character would probably best be filled in by having viewed the movie preceding the creation of this program, but because he is better developed than the other characters, those layers can be surmised from context, if not explicit description.
3) The fight choreography, particularly attributed to Agent May (Ming-Na Wen). The hand-to-hand combat, particularly from the Agent May character, is the most exciting action element of this show.
What doesn’t work:
1) Agent Ward (Brett Dalton). He’s the standard beefcake/jock/prodigy agent who is developing into the opposites-attract/odd couple love interest trope for Skye, as he is also her lead/training agent. The acting from this performer is horrible, however.
2) The story-lines. So far, Joss (and brother Jed) is using his typical strategy of a series of one-off episodes (see also: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) to build viewership, avoiding a larger story arc construct until ratings stabilize. The problem is that the “monster of the week” stories are not interesting enough by themselves to attract new viewers and may, in the process, result in a decline in overall viewers.
In addition, each episode of the six I have seen have been largely uneven tonally. What’s present and welcome: snappy, Whedonesque dialogue. What is not present and needs to be: cohesion and more of a cogent process of understanding what Coulson sees in Skye and the back-stories of the other agents we don’t know about, since they haven’t appeared in The Avengers and other Marvel movies. Sometimes, the episodic writing seems downright lazy, even for a comic book adaptation, or perhaps in spite of it. Of course, how many live action comic book-inspired adaptations have there been out of the Marvel universe? Still, none of these characters are a Superman or a Batman (yes, I know those heroes are DC) or even a Spider Man or a Captain America. What S.H.I.E.L.D. does as an entity has been well established – but the reasons why it exists and why these agents (other than Skye) have found their places in this unit need to be explored, or the monster-of-the-week format will become hollower and shallower as time progresses until cancellation looms.
3) The special effects. They are a mixed bag. Sometimes, they are breathtakingly convincing. Sometimes, the CGI takes a turn for the worse. I blame it on a TV budget and timeline.
Thoughts Following the Pilot
It is still evident that Whedon and the show’s other producers presumed the following:
1) That all viewers have seen The Avengers film.
2) That all viewers are Marvel comics aficionados.
3) That all viewers would jump on board with the quick line deliveries and series of action sequences without demanding needed back story to allow those elements to gel.
In addition, I revisit this paragraph from my review of the pilot: “as much as this viewer loves Joss, he has developed a pattern of writing and/or directing somewhat shaky pilots of series that may or may not survive to longer lives without infusing or kick-starting the story in a major way early in the process. Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse all suffered from slow-to-rise first season stories that depended primarily on how quickly the ensemble casts adjusted to the gimmick of the show. Angel required the introduction of other prior Buffy characters (like Wesley Wyndham-Price); Firefly needed the arc of the search for River Tam and the constant run from the authorities; and Dollhouse utilized the larger arc of former dolls infiltrating the Dollhouse with the plan to expose it before that program really became enticing to watch on a weekly basis. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels a bit like the X-Files crossed with Fringe crossed with Men in Black crossed with any other comic book movie, and the seeming lack of originality may lead to its downfall in the end.”
Again, history encourages this viewer to have faith in Joss, having stuck with of all his previous efforts, for better or for worse. Still, as previously stated, Joss frequently has to get warmed up during a new series before it starts firing on all cylinders. After all, though comic book adaptations can often be shallow affairs, the best comic book adaptations are those that meld story and action. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. must shift gears soon in order to manage and combine those elements effectively in the near future, or palpable potential for this series to deliver a solid hour of action-packed entertainment each week will falter and fail.
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has enough going for it to permit many viewers, this one included, hope that it will get better. Time, and this viewer’s patience, however, are running out.
A full season of this program was ordered, but there is no word yet on renewal for any further seasons. I would surmise that ABC and its respective executives are probably waiting for the same things the core viewership of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are waiting for – and are hoping that changes will come that will bolster both the viewers’ and network’s confidence.
Dearest Joss – Please hear our plea!