Anthony Stokes on what Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got wrong….
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced last summer I thought it was the dumbest idea ever, then I remembered… it’s Joss Whedon. Surely there had to be something of value here. As the premiere date drew closer I looked at the ads and promotions and thought “Wow, this looks horrible”. Not to say that I expected it to be horrible, but let’s be honest – without Marvel and Whedon’s involvement nobody would have had faith in this show. It featured bland and boring-looking protagonists, cheap-looking scenes, some corny lines, and nothing to build my excitement. But I knew what to expect from a combination of reviews and Whedon’s previous shows. The pilot would have some great moments and some good dialogue and character interaction, but the rest of it would feel like if The CW made it and come across like somebody trying to write like Whedon. And, big shocker, I was right on the money. I found half of the episode to be outstanding and the other half to be dull and even hard to finish. I was at a constant war with myself about whether to change the channel. Here’s what they did that had me scratching my head…
Let’s get the bad out of the way. A lot of people aren’t fans of Joss Whedon, and after The Avengers I couldn’t understand. Then I watched a few of his shows and it became clear to me. From what I can tell Whedon lets other people come in and write dialogue for his shows and the results can sometimes be disastrous. Some of the dialogue in here is brilliant and a lot of fun, and at other points there’s dialogue that wants to be, but instead fails miserably. “This isn’t a tragedy, it’s an origin story” for example. Something that you expect from a lesser director and if you think it sounds cool on paper, it’s delivered horribly and is incredibly over dramatic. Even worse some of the bad dialogue resulted in incredibly awkward moments. Clark Gregg shows up back from the dead and says something pretty cool, then his follow up is an incredibly unfunny line and his delivery lacked any conviction. Probably because it was a pretty bad line along the lines of “It was really dark in that corner so I had to reveal myself”. If anybody hated the banter in The Avengers then stay away from this show – not only is there more of it but its of a significantly lower quality.
In every Whedon show there’s that actor who is too quirky. Always smiling and cracking jokes – a walking punchline I like to say. In Dollhouse it was Fran Kranz’s character as the comic relief scientist and here it’s Skye – a conspiracy theorist who’s found by S.H.I.E.L.D. after she hacks their systems. She gets all the best and worst lines and once again is quirky to the point of disgust. She can’t be seen on screen without smirking or rambling on and even had a take on the famous “With great power…” line from Spider-Man and wow, it felt like a 10 year old writing fan fiction. A not particulary talented 10-year old. The problem with these characters is they feel 20 years too late. Which brings me to my next point…
I missed a large amount of the reign of Whedon due to my age, but every time I try to re-visit his shows they all feel really old. Buffy, Firefly, and even Dollhouse all feel like 90s movies. This feels no different, and add in the fact that this is one of those “freak of the week” shows, where every episode reveals a new character who has to be dealt with – a format that hasn’t been really used in years. Smallville is the only recent(ish) show that used this formula that I can think of and that came out in 2001. And I don’t necessarily mind because I was told beforehand and was prepared for it, but that and the cheesy dialogue made me feel like this show is out of a time capsule, and not in a good way. In this golden age of television viewers expect a lot more and some people might consider this a major stepback from the great programming we’re getting right now.
Feels Like a CW Show
This isn’t as harsh as it sounds coming from somebody who had a love/hate relationship with Smallville during the first few seasons. The first half of the pilot was great, with cool little character moments, and a nice cameo from Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. But as the episode goes on it focuses more on the freak of the week who is simply not interesting. His whole arc is incredibly predictable and overly dramatic and that’s where it feels like Smallville. He has a son who they use to get bad reaction shots and except for a pretty cool tie-in to the movie universe his whole character is forgettable. It was overly dramatic and I couldn’t wait for it to end. And during the wrap-up there’s that music in the background telling you how to feel along with a moment that I saw coming from a mile away. I have a feeling some of this has to do with the fact that it’s on ABC, and maybe if it was on Fox or FX they’d make it a lot better, but that doesn’t excuse some of the weak points of the show.
Clark Gregg is always good as Coulson. I didn’t appreciate his character until The Avengers, but now he’s a fully fleshed out living, breathing character. My initial reaction to the cast was “These all look like two people” who happen to look like boring, in-distinctive Abercrombie and Fitch models. However, I can say that each of them are very distinctive on the show, but half the characters are given enough personality and the other half are just as flat as they seemed in the trailers. You have the pilot, the hacker, two quirky scientists, and the superspy. Generic is the word here and while I’m sure by the end of the season I’ll be in love with them, right now this show could just become all about Agent Coulson and I’d be just fine with with that.
Despite my complaints, I’d still say this is a show to keep an eye on. Dollhouse and Firefly both had pilots I didn’t care for, and they ended up being two shows I hold in very high regard. More than likely my complaints will be fixed as the show goes on. Sometimes it takes time to get into a groove, and even if this is the height of quality in the show I’ll still continue to watch. I also can’t wait to see if and how it will tie in with Thor: The Dark World. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a smash hit ratings-wise, a second season is pretty much all but guaranteed, and – including myself – I don’t think there’s anybody not anticipating what’s to comes in future episodes.
What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Let us know in the comments below…
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.