Agents of SHIELD, Two Months In
I promised to make periodic returns to ABC’s Agents of SHIELD a few weeks back, and the time has come to see how things have shaped up since we last checked in with Coulsen and the other passengers on the (short) bus. Peek below the fold for some thoughts on recent developments.
First, I’m gonna warn you that there are minor spoilers ahead, but I’ll put some white space around them so you can avoid them if thems your druthers… S’okay.
Let me start by saying that there have been some marked improvements since the first three episodes. On the whole, the last several episodes have been of increasing quality—everything from the writing to the performances is getting better—but the show is still struggling to find its legs and figure out what it’s trying to do. I think that SHIELD’s biggest problem is rooted in its identify crisis: is it a spy show? Is it a corny, dumbed down, Marvel flavored X-Files? Is it supposed to be covering new ground, or just mopping up after the blockbusters? At this point it’s hard to tell, as every episode schizophrenically sets a new tone, while simultaneously carrying forward the least appealing elements of the show—the grating characterizations and awkward relationships. While every week becomes a little less painful to watch, I wonder if that might be because I’m growing callouses and not because things are actually improving.
Okay, that’s not exactly fair. Recent episodes have actually been good. In fact, F.Z.Z.T. stands out as somewhat inspired: it neatly balanced the X-Files vibe with some human stakes, blended elements of the films, and sprinkled in some emotional moments and opportunities for heroism that frankly surprised me. Likewise, The Girl in the Flower Dress began to raise the stakes, albeit incrementally and in ways I vehemently disliked (see below), but I give it points for trying. It’s clear to me that AOS is more than a cash grab—they want to make a good show—with that, I offer my humble assessment of the show’s ongoing problems:
1) Are your characters badass experts chosen for their mad skills, or totally inept, wet-behind-the-ears kids? Please work this out and stick with it. MacGuyver worked because he was competent. Burn Notice worked because the team was competent. Ineptitude is not interesting. Half the time, it seems like your heroes literally bumble into the solution to their problems. This is drama better suited for Saturday morning, if you catch my drift. Make them agents of SHIELD, for chrissakes…
2) Your metaplot is weak. We watch this show for the Marvel connection, not because we care—at all—about the Scooby Gang (with the exception of Coulsen, though even that is dwindling in association with the rest of the show). So Marvel it up and give us some story arcs that actually show us a world gone mad with super humans. And don’t cop out, goddamnit! Spoiler incoming!
[Spoiler] I mean, in the first episode you introduce a Dr. Centipede lady only to kill her off six episodes later, having done LITERALLY NOTHING with her. Well, nothing besides showing her face for a split second before you off her, giving the viewers barely enough time to think, “hey, isn’t that the same chick from epi… and she’s dead.” And you do this only to replace her with another bland cypher/dragon lady who is ostensibly higher up the evil org chart than the last one, but only because we can infer as much for her having killed the other meaningless chick without consequence… Goddamn, did you guys go to writing school, or what? I mean, what the fuck? Develop some shit, yo! So far, the only significant plot threads we’ve got are Iron Man 3’s dangling dingleberry called Extremis, and the ‘is he/isn’t he’ plot about whether Coulsen is a robot/clone/LMD/having a midlife crisis. Get it. Together. You’re pissing on 60 years of comics. [/spoiler /rant]
And further to my point: The monster (or Chitauri/Extremis related problem) of the week format doesn’t work for this show very well. It just feels like a cornier X-Files season one with lower stakes and no suspense. Soooo….
3) Raise the stakes: Why are wunderkinds and super agents basically on mop up duty? That is crap for civil servants, not for Coulsen’s flying midlife crisis squad. Give us plots that matter. Leave the crap on the shelf.
Believe it or not, I have quite a lot of affection for Agents of SHIELD, and I have a feeling that my faith will be vindicated. Shows with a Whedon stamp always need time to ramp up, and we know AoS has at least one full season ahead of it. That said, title for best comic book tie in on TV goes to Arrow, which has been quietly bringing a lot of cool, street level DCU heroes to the small screen and carving out quite a niche (if only I cared about those guys as much as I do the Marvel U… c`est la vie). And if AoS fails, well, there is always Netflix…