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Badger & Vole Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Truth be told, I’ve already written off this series. I watched the premiere with great anticipation; watched the next few shows with rapidly declining interest; and ultimately came to the conclusion that this show is this year’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s a substanceless appetizer designed to keep the fans salivating until the next movie hits the theaters, but destined to be forgotten once that happens, perhaps as soon as Thor: The Dark World opens next week but definitely no later than Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens next Spring. While this series premiered to great audience numbers, I think it will see an astonishingly rapid drop-off in viewership, and ultimately be lucky to last the traditional 13 episodes considered the minimum necessary for a re-run syndication deal or a DVD boxed set. (And is it just me, or does Chloe Bennet bear an uncanny resemblance to Summer Glau?)
So if it was up to me, we’d be reviewing ParaNorman this week.
Vole, however, has his own opinions, so without further ado: take it away, Vole.
Geeks of the world, rejoice! Joss Whedon is back on network television, this time with what has got to be the highest-rated debut episode of his career. Yeah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were popular shows which ran for seven and five seasons respectively, but they were on the USA Network when it was really just getting going. Fox was well-established by the time Firefly debuted—and the less said about how Fox bungled that show, the better it will be for my blood pressure. Whedon apparently swore off network television as a result, but he was back a few years later—and on Fox, no less—for two seasons with The Dollhouse. And I believe after that he swore off network television again.
Without TV networks dragging him down, Whedon went off and directed The Avengers movie, which made something like a bazillion dollars and drew a lot of attention to him and the characters. It drew so much attention that Whedon is back on network TV again; on ABC, this time. The show, of course, is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it was probably the most anticipated new show of the season. It was among my friends and family, anyway.
But is the show any good? Is it worth the space it will take up on your DVR and the time out of your life to watch it? To a small extent, yes, it’s worth the space and time. But for the most part, no, it’s not.
Let me explain the “yes” part first.
Whedon has gathered another interesting ensemble cast featuring a kick-ass female agent, a hot-shot female hacker, and a brilliant female scientist. From a male viewer perspective, the women are all easy on the eyes. Then there are the three men: a kick-ass male agent, a brilliant male scientist, and Agent Coulson, late (quite literally) of The Avengers movie.
So far, so good. Everyone has played their parts well thus far, showcasing the strengths of their characters and providing a good introduction to each of them. There is chemistry between the characters, which makes me interested in watching the show just to see how it develops. The show has definitely succeeded in that respect. I would like to get to know these characters better, assuming the writers can keep me interested in the stories.
And that’s why the show is not worth watching. Whedon and the writers are seriously letting us down when it comes to stories.
So far, each of the episodes has centered around two things. The first is the Weird Item Of The Week™. In the first episode it was a piece of tech left over from the alien invasion in The Avengers (the one which apparently leveled half of New York and must have caused tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of casualties, and yet had no lasting effects on this world). In the second show the WIOTW appeared to be tech associated with the MacGuffin the Red Skull was after in Captain America. In the third, it was some sort of new gravity-affecting element [“Upsydaisium?” – Badger]; and in the fourth episode, we got several pieces of miniaturized and highly advanced scanning and imaging technology.
Having the odd episode feature a WIOTW is fine. But when every episode revolves around the idea, it gets old fast. Inanimate objects don’t make for good adversaries. A thing can’t cackle or crack jokes or take the heroes hostage. A thing has no personality. A thing requires another set of characters to compete against the heroes for control of the thing. That setup usually leads to needlessly complicated and convoluted plots. You have to introduce the thing and the antagonistic characters, and still find room to squeeze in a story. It’s hard to do in an hour.
But the main reason the show isn’t worth space on your DVR or time out of your life is the secondary center of the episode: the subplot. There just hasn’t been that much tension in the subplots. Each episode features the team striving either to get their hands on the WIOTW or to keep it once they’ve got it—
[Spoiler warning: if you haven’t seen the first four episodes, the bad guys striving against our heroes range all the way from the evil scientist whose immoral experiments on humans have gone disastrously wrong, to the ex-lover of the leader of the heroes who has turned treacherous, to the amoral rich guy who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, to the good agent forced against her will to do evil. In short, nothing new here.]
—while simultaneously dealing with a horribly clichéd subplot. The pilot gave us the double-whammy of the “good guy being driven mad by his newfound power” subplot mixed with “recruit the rebellious outsider to join the team.” The second episode gave us the old standby “the team is splintering until they’re forced to learn to trust each other and work as a team.” The third episode used the highly original “uptight agent who doesn’t trust the rebellious outsider is put in charge of training the outsider, causing worse friction until deeply personal revelations and shared danger forge a bond of trust.” The fourth episode introduced the “mysterious adversary manipulating events from afar.” What’s next? I’d vote for the good old-fashioned “heroes fight each other before teaming up to solve the problem” subplot, but then I’m not a highly paid television writer. [Actually, it was a mash-up of “heroes fight each other” and “ex-lover of the rebellious outsider turns out to be treacherous because he longs to become an amoral rich guy.” Wow. Didn’t see that one coming. – Badger]
So in the end, we have a bunch of potentially interesting characters being put through a bunch of terribly clichéd cop-show plots, and that, in a nutshell, is why the show is not worth watching. Whedon and his crew are treating Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as if they’re too good for it. It looks to me as if the producers, directors, and writers had a meeting and decided “it’s just comic books,” and then opened up The Big Book of Clichéd Comic Book Plots to page one and started cranking out scripts.
If Whedon had done this with Buffy, USA would have staked the show by the end of the first season and there never would have been Angel. If he’d done this with Firefly, we would be wondering why it took Fox eleven whole episodes to cancel the series. If he’d done if with Dollhouse, it would have been packed off to the attic without a second season. And if he’d done this with The Avengers, we’d be comparing it to Daredevil or The Green Lantern instead of waiting anxiously for the next movie.
With his previous shows, Whedon had to work hard to draw his audience, and unfortunately, he didn’t always succeed. After The Avengers, he had an audience ready and waiting to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. All he had to do was provide the same quality he’d given us in the past, and we’d be happy.
Instead, those working behind the camera have shown no respect for the subject, or more importantly, for their audience. If those who stand to benefit most from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t be bothered to put much effort into making the show, I don’t see why we in the audience should put any effort into watching it, either.This was far and way Joss Whedon’s best shot at having a big hit on big-time network television. And he blew it.
Badger was once an award-winning SF novelist, until his involvement with a legendary multimillion-dollar Hollywood bomb destroyed his writing career. Vole was once a million-copy-selling comic-book writer, and he still thinks the “lion” version of Voltron is pretty darn cool.
Today, they’re just two old guys who like to watch movies, eat popcorn, and kvetch. Oh boy, do they kvetch. And despite his mild-mannered appearance, Vole will always be known around here as the man who wrote the brilliantly funny but hopelessly unpublishable comic-book script, "Bruce Wayne's and Lex Luthor's Ex-Girlfriends Meet and Compare Notes," which introduced the now legendary "Crotchless Batgirl Costume."