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.?
The (Final) Verdict
I initially rated the pilot 3 stars, which earns a six episode trial. After six episodes, I extended the trial, because the show had not yet found its footing, and I kept hoping for and/or sensing the possibility of potential improvement, even as the show has been, at times, flat – uneven at best. After the mid-season break, my final verdict is:
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while still searching for its purpose and core, is finally starting to find its footing. It isn’t the best TV program on the air, but perseverance allows both the characters and the story time to grow on the viewer. Also, connections, both between characters and to the larger meta-universe of this show, are becoming clearer, which helps tremendously.
How – as in How’s It Going?
S.H.I.E.L.D. is still searching for its handle, not unlike the character of Skye. Her purpose, at least, has become more focused: she’s searching for her parents, orphan rebel that she is, and she believes that SHIELD and Agent Coulson can help her – this, as it seems, was ultimately her purpose for agreeing to join and to stick with the organization. The trouble is, both Agent Coulson and Agent May can help Skye but are choosing not to do so, for mysterious reasons unbeknownst to the viewer.
What has helped the show’s forward momentum are a few grand touches, such as a handful of guest stars of caliber. For example, Peter MacNicol, in the episode “The Well,” played a member of Thor’s race, a hidden deity on Earth. J. August Richards also returned in the mid-season finale, bringing the story of the Centipede back to the forefront, and providing the foundation and a possible launch pad for the season’s second half. More connections have also been fostered to the larger universe; for example, the self-same “Well” episode provided story related to the end and sequence of events immediately following the Thor film sequel, giving the show a larger purpose and connection to its fictional family. The viewer has also been granted snippets about the core characters: Agent Ward has finally been given a back story, and the viewer has also been permitted some glimpse into his pockmarked past as well as to the pasts of Agents May and Coulson and to FitzSimmons – the duo of geeky science analysts aboard the agents’ stealthy plane.
Truthfully, though, the show still suffers from plodding moments and occasional ennui. This viewer also detects an ongoing sense of the creators beings wrapped up in their own cleverness without actually producing a truly clever final product. Ultimately, this is not the Whedons’ best vehicle, and this viewer believes even die hard Marvel fans would agree. The fact is, like all comic book vehicles, our strident heroes need a larger enemy, villain, or set of same to drive the action, or more focus should be devoted to the characters the viewer sees each week, whether these characters or the overarching plot arc connect to the Marvel movies or not. This viewer believes that the show has suffered from too much display of nifty gadgets and tricky action alone – such elements are fun, and all, but TV is long-form storytelling, even when it’s not a mythology heavy vehicle like an X-Files or a Lost, and can’t rely on shallow action over the long term without a better backdrop for it to hold the viewer’s interest. One show that has learned this lesson well while still maintaining a “situation of the week” format is Almost Human (a review to come).
The Whedons, again, need to remember the lessons of their past series, such as shows that blended action and story like Buffy; why some were more successful than others; and what powered and fueled those successes in the end. The brothers can dare to be different and attempt to disassociate the current show from previous efforts, but a comic book-based television series still has only so much appeal. There are good and bad “comic” movies too, and, as I’ve said repeatedly in my previous blogs about this show, there is so much about S.H.I.E.L.D. that is mirroring the bad, it’s concerning at times.
The show’s getting better, and this viewer will stick with it for the season. February sweeps will tell all – including, likely, whether or not the show gets renewal for future seasons. There are, allegedly, film crossovers that are going to start or have started to happen since the winter half of this season began. One can only hope that such crossovers provide further jolts to propel this show and its story or stories toward must-see status.
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 on the horizon will bolster both the viewers’ and network’s confidence. They are promising in theory: but what will happen in practice?-