So for our first real episode that will give us a look at what to expect as the show rolls on, there’s a little more hit or miss going on. Having swapped out Joss Whedon for former Angel showrunner Jeffrey Bell in this week’s scripting team (Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are back for more), it’s not surprising that there’s a touch less zip and a little more zzz in the banter. It also should come as no surprise that what we’re going to be getting week in and out is a fairly familiar story structure, building, sometimes ham-fistedly, relationships and introducing elements of the Marvel Studios film universe to a more Family-Friendly TV universe.
Not that the films aren’t family-friendly, but they are clearly aiming at a broader audience than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to be.
In fact, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to be adopting more of the Marvel One-Shots style of storytelling, using broad strokes to establish narratives and simple plots to accentuate character. This is already a divisive move in a post-Breaking Bad television landscape. There’s an audience that wants something darker and more mature set in the Marvel Universe. I’m one of them.
However, that’s not the goal here.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a throwback to the action/adventure shows that I grew up with. Shows like Buck Rogers, the A-Team, The Six Million Dollar Man, or Knight Rider even. These are all shows that were geared mainly for kids and family viewing. Shows that I watched religiously and my parents kind of just sat through. Watching them now can be a bit painful, seeing how they really didn’t care about pleasing adult viewers, but when I was 10 they were amazing!
Hell, I loved Tales of the Gold Monkey too, and that was a total piece of crap.
Luckily Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a higher quality level than any of those old shows combined, although they all managed to pull classic episodes out of their collective butts now and again. The quality mainly shows in the performances of Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen, which is to be expected. They’re the veterans. They could do this show in their sleep.
The supporting cast, Brett Dalton as Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye and Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Fitz and Simmons are all finding their feet, but after a second episode, they’re starting to get a real feel for the material and their parts. I’m especially interested to see what De Caestecker gets up to, having loved his work in the BBC’s The Fades. Outside of Gregg and Wen, he’s the most experienced actor in the cast.
As for the plot this week, it’s something I imagine we’ll be getting more of as the season rolls on. A mysterious device is discovered, SHIELD is dispatched to retrieve it, someone else wants it, fisticuffs ensue. And in the end, our ragtag gang of youngsters learns to work together as a team. Since it’s the first real episode of the series (pilots don’t really count sometimes, as they’re oftentimes scrapped or altered before filming of the actual series even begins), we got the expected refamiliarizing of the audience with what went on in The Avengers with Coulson’s death and “magical” time in Tahiti.
If that’s not a clue about how he survived, I’ll eat my hat. Especially given Fitz’s nervous dismissal of magic in the pilot and the throwaway line in Iron Man 2 about Coulson’s girlfriend playing the cello (laying the seeds for the introduction of the Scarlet Witch, are we?).
The broad-stroke use of “Rebels” as bait-and-switch antagonists was a bit disappointing and clichéd. It wasn’t saved by the revelation that Reyes (Leonor Varela) was trying to abscond with the 0-8-4 for her country. I’m pretty sure everyone over the age of 15 saw that coming.
And while it was nice to see the gang team up to take down the bad guys, especially the revelation that Wen’s character Melinda May was nicknamed “The Cavalry,” it was all a little too easy — and the life raft blocking the gaping hole in the side of the plane was the clincher to what I’ve been saying all along.
The audience for this show is just old enough to enjoy action and adventure with a sci-fi tinge, without having gotten old enough to get cynical about it. That’s a very specific demographic, but if they can hit it, while providing enough nods to the older fans and connections to the films, then this could be one of those shows that in thirty years is enthusiastically remembered by fans who have grown up and want to share it with their kids.
Of course it helps to be a Marvel fan, too.
If you’re one of that vocal internet contingent who bitch about anything Marvel-related, and thought Nolan’s Batman movies or Man of Steel were the epitome of what Superhero movies should be (or that Arrow is brilliant television), then this isn’t for you. It’s not even aimed at your inner child, mainly because I’m not sure fans of that material have inner children.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is for Marvel fans who want innocent escapist fun that can be shared with the whole family. That means some things are going to be simplified, unfortunately, until we’ve bonded with these characters and they can start playing around with their world in more inventive, and possibly darker, ways.
And if they can keep doing things like having Samuel L. Jackson pop in as Fury to give Coulson a tongue lashing now and again, more power to them. That’s what this show is designed for and it was extremely satisfying to see him this week.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.