We take a look at the series premiere of ‘Agents of SHIELD’ and tell you why it really needs to improve, if it is to survive.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, a spinoff from last year’s The Avengers, the third-highest-grossing movie of all time, and due to the movie’s success and the involvement of Joss Whedon, who directed and wrote the film and the first episode of SHIELD, the show has already amassed more than a million fans on Facebook before airing even once. But all those who watched it would have quickly realized, that the show is dull, generic, and cliched to the point of exhaustion.
What audiences get is a look at S.H.I.E.L.D. in the wake of the Battle of New York, working to track down unidentified superhumans, and cleaning up the fallout from the feature films. The team members, all highly trained but not superhuman themselves. A still very-much-alive Agent Coulson joins forces with Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) to welcome the chip-on-his-shoulder Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) onto the agency’s upper echelon. Rounding out the team is Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) along with tech experts Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jenna Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) known collectively as ‘Fitzsimmons.’
Whedon wrote the pilot, but the whole project feels more Whedon-ish than Whedon-esque. “With great power comes a ton of weird crap you are not prepared to deal with,” Skye tells Mike Peterson (J. August Richards), a laid-off factory worker and single dad who is struggling with his new powers. The joke has all the classic Whedon insouciance, but is diminished as variations on it keep getting repeated. The pilot continually tells the audience that the agents will be contending with the strange, while showing us banal sights—heroes running into burning buildings, flying cars—we’ve seen many times over. The robotization of Whedon’s verbiage doesn’t stop there: “It means someone really wanted to spell out SHIELD,” Ward jokes about the provenance of SHIELD’s acronym, which stands for “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” But in his mouth these words, not very many by Whedon’s standards, sound like they’re being emitted by a weakly charged Roomba.
The core issue that diehard fans of Marvel’s Avengers universe will be unable to overlook is the fact that, to this point, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been depicted as the most secretive, most elite (and potentially morally ambiguous) government organization around. As Coulson explains in the first episode, even the Avengers aren’t granted access to ‘Level 7′ information; a clever means of removing them from the show, but implying that the no-nonsense team will be dealing with threats too explosive for outside assistance.
Yet in the first episode, that isn’t what audiences get. Instead of stone-faced, elite secret agents whom viewers would trust to do the Avengers’ legwork, the cast is filled with quirky, quippy, and shockingly youthful agents. With only Ming Na character promising seriousness in future proceedings – but the overall tone (and the show’s closing moments in particular) oscillates as much as any Marvel film so far.
Agents of SHIELD feels like it has taken its new “small” screen surroundings too literally. The show has an opportunity to get into the details, politics, and character development that necessarily get excised from a two-hour movie, but forgoes it to be a slightly cheeky procedural instead.
The light tone of The Avengers made it a great antidote to absurdly dark superhero films like The Dark Knight, but Agents of SHIELD is just Bones without the romance, CSI with alien artifacts, not blood spatter. The shame is that a series about a band of heroes trying to hunt down more potential heroes could be the perfect antidote to TV’s own overly dark cliché: the anti-hero. But instead it resists the call, too self-serious to be really goofy, and yet too fan-boyish to rescue even one hour of television from mediocrity.
Now with Fox picking up a show based around the character of Commissioner Gordon in Gotham. Which would will no doubt be of much more serious mood, and alot more grounded, and also with Arrow returning for a second season with new characters and superheroes. The Agents of SHIELD has a hard task of taking on these shows, one of which has already proven itself.