I’m Not Sure SHIELD is Going to Work Out


Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD was far and away the most anticipated new show of the fall, but now entering its third week, my enthusiasm for it has waned with each passing installment.

The pilot was solid, and Joss Whedon’s heavy hand could be felt in the tone and the script. But as a I feared, as a mere “creator and producer” his influence has now faded, and Agents of SHIELD feels more and more generic as time goes on.

SHIELD’s main problem is that it’s based itself in the Marvel universe, but in such a restricted way, it’s barely allowed to use any of it. Marvel references peppered the pilot, and Nick Fury stopped by for a cameo in the second episode, but this week? There was literally one line. When Agent Coulson is questioned about going back into combat, he smirks and replies “I saw plenty of action with the Avengers!”


“I was stabbed a god, do what I say.”

And that’s it. Because SHIELD is trapped in the Marvel movie universe where all the “good” characters and plotlines are reserved for future films, they have almost nothing to work with. So far, all three episodes have been about a singular piece of advanced technology that the newly assembled SHIELD strike team must dispose of. In the pilot, it was a device that gave regular folks powers at the cost of making them evenutally explode. Next, it was a Red Skull era weapon that shot lasers. Last night, it was a device that used an element literally called “gravitonium” that played around with what else, gravity.

Do you see where this is going? I don’t, and that’s the problem. I guess I should have expected that Agents of SHIELD would be somewhat procedural, but “alien tech of the week” is a lot lamer than even “monster of the week,” and the problem is that there isn’t even so much of hint of a thread that has connected any of these episodes so far. There’s no big threat, no overarching plotline. Hacker Skye is part of the “Rising Tide,” which seems to be Wikileaks with even less cultural relevancy. Agent Coulson is probably a clone or a robot after his death in The Avengers, and we’re just waiting to find out which. And…that’s all.

The show now presents itself as a dumbed down version of Fringe, a show I didn’t much care for because I thought even it was too procedural by my taste, but SHIELD makes it look like The Sopranos in that department. I understand  the desire to make a family friendly superhero show, but…there aren’t any superheroes! This is like making a show about the Daily Planet, but Superman and all of his enemies are never allowed to show up. Hell, even Clark Kent isn’t in it.


But hey, plenty of pretty people.

DC has made this idea work by freeing their shows of their movie universes. It’s why Smallville lasted ten seasons and Arrow is a hit. They featured heroes, not the puny humans who maybe assisted them at some point or another. Even if SHIELD boasts a bunch of ass-kickers, it’s all very generic, and the scripts get more and more cheesy with each new episode, with an absurd soundtrack to match.

The pilot felt like a Joss Whedon show, but these new episodes don’t, even if it’s his family and friends running the show. The Avengers was great because it had blockbuster action, A-list actors playing beloved heroes, and the brilliant writing and direction of Whedon. Agents of SHIELD has literally only one carryover, Agent Coulson, and he’s the only good part of the show. Everything else that made audiences love The Avengers is missing, and I can’t see how this show is conceptually sustainable unless they get some creative freedom to use more of the Marvel universe.

Am I being too harsh? What do you think about Agents of SHIELD so far?

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  1. Seriously Paul? You’re writing this show off three episodes in?

    Your entire posts reads as if you will not be happy unless each episode has a movie cameo or strong plot thread related to the movies.

    This show is in large part setting up the larger movie universe and each episode has left a plot thread dangling for bringing back up later in the series.

    pilot : the good doctor and the external group
    ep 1 : skyler and her rising tide affiliation
    ep 2 : origin story of a super villain that might even play into avengers 2

  2. You aren’t being too harsh, but I say give it a little longer. You have to realize that the premise of this show is how normal people are adapting to this whole new world or superpowered beings that has been opened up. It’s supposed to be the human side of how to deal with these things.

  3. You and have always had similar taste, but here we couldn’t be any farther apart. Yes they are limited to mostly supporting cast, but they gave the origin of super villain Graviton, which doesn’t qualify as procedural in my book. Each episode lays more and more groundwork and soon that will pay off. This is one of the most fun TV shows on air and it reminds me a lot of The Avengers; a lot of fun but not going to win any Emmys.

  4. Paul, I couldn’t agree more. I thought the pilot was fairly well-done and entertaining, some clever dialogue, and inventive fight coreography. Plus it also had an “Avengers” cameo in the form of Cobie Smulders reprising her role as Maria Hill. And the “exploding guy” plot was a nice epilogue to Iron Man 3 (the use of extremis as the macguffin of the week). It all felt and looked like an installment of the big-screen Marvel universe.

    Episode 2 stunk…plain and simple. Predictable plot, bad dialogue, blatant sexism (really? the top-notch foriegn soldier just HAS to wear a skin tight tank top???), lame family-friendly wrap up…it all felt like a generic 80s-era action show. It could have been an episode of MacGyver or Simon and Simon. The best part? Sam Jackson’s minute-long cameo, which despite its entertainment value, also felt tacked on.

    Last night’s episode was only slightly better, although I’m getting REALLY tired of the way the references to the Marvel films are being crowbarred in. “I saw action with the Avengers” is not just horrible dialogue, it’s name-dropping of the worst sort.

    The biggest crime appears to be the lack of vison…as you noted, the show has a massive mythology to draw from. Essentially, Disney (which means ABC) own the rights to everything not linked to Spider-Man, Fantastic 4, or the X-Men franchises. That is a MASSIVE back catalogue. So what do we get? Generic “Rising Tide” hackers and (based on last night’s post-credits stinger) the eventual attack of “Gravitonium Blob Man”.

    I know Joss Whedon is busy with Avengers 2, but he needs a new writing staff immediately. With Firefly (and even with Buffy), characters were interesting and well established. We need more than just Generic Male and Female Scottish Scientist Geeks, Pensive Asian Pilot Who Doesn’t Want To See Combat, Male Model Tough Guy, and Unconvincing Hacker Girl. It’s not that the actors are unconvincing…they all seem to be doing the best they can with the limited material they’ve been given. But they need much much more.

    We also need to see what I suspect the majority of the audience is tuning in for…a wider exploration of the cinematic marvel universe that both draws on the comics mythology while enriching the sandbox the movies can play in. This doesn’t have to paint future movies (or franchises) into the corner. There are PLENTY of marvel characters that will never be movies or movies plots that can easily be used to make this show interesting.

    I’ll keep watching for the time being…but simply turning it off is becoming a possibility. In the age of shows like Hannibal and Breaking Bad, I suspect the tolerance level for generic procedurals is a bit lower among the intended audience than Disney may have anticipated.

    Hopefully they get the message. There’s a lot of potential for this series, but sadly, there doesn’t seem like a whole lot of evidence that the show runners are willing to dig for it.

    – Tim

  5. OK, before anyone takes me to task, I now see that “Gravitonium Blob Man” is actually the villain “Graviton”. My excuse is that I started typing before any of the other posts were up, and that I actually haven’t read a Marvel comic since 1989 😉

    – Tim

  6. The mediocrity of the show is directly tied to what I call the ‘Whedon factor’ Joss Whedon (and by extension his brother and sister-in-law) Is the most over-hyped creator in Hollywood history. Avengers was good (not great) in spite of Whedon not because of him.

    To breakdown this show failings we have to start with the cast. A ho-hum monochrome group of people, who are ‘quirky and quipy to a fault. Which is of course a Whedon modus operandi.

    The other problem is the shows presentation. The stories don’t have any weight to them, and the direction feels like it belongs on a soap-opera. Another glaring issue is the complete lack of ambition. The (canceled) SyFy show Alphas had three times the ambition of this show and probably a tenth of it’s budget.

    The bottom-line is, that this show needs to succeed for Disney, so they should take it away from Whedon and Co. and hand it to people who really understand how to write serial stories set in a comic-book world. Someone like I don’t know……………… a comic book writer maybe?

  7. You definitely have some good points, Paul. I like its fun, cheesy nature and the procedural element is fine for now as long as they bring in some kind of decent overall plot down the line which will definitely be one of the main factors influencing my decision to watch the rest of the season. Honestly I think it has several other more worrying flaws you didn’t mention or talk much about.

    Coulson is absolutely carrying the show at the minute. Skye needs to be developed more with time and they could definitely do with wrapping up her Rising Tied plot sooner rather than later. Ming Na has obvious badass potential but other than that though, everyone else is useless.

    Blandy McHero (you know who I am referring to) has the personality of a potato and the two nerds are absolutely insufferable. The show insists on delivering it’s techno babble (which normally I love) in the worst way possible.

    Usually a show with sci-fi elements deals with it in one of two ways. If the science is mostly accurate (or at least TV accurate) then the character explaining it can talk fast and brush over it and people will get the gist because they can relate to the basic aspects of it. If the science is made up then they will explain it slowly so people will know what they are getting at and what concepts they are trying to introduce.

    If you have two characters spouting pure babble about made up Marvel universe science that makes no sense at a thousand words a minute then no one is going to have a clue what the hell is going on and even worse, no one is going to care!

    Assuming most/any future coherent procedural or overarching story will likely hinge on the sci-fi/super hero elements the show draws from, they need to sort this dialogue delivery problem out pronto if they want any chance of a remotely consistent narrative that people might actually want to care about.

    1. @Rob J

      Yeah this is a problem I forgot to mention. Practically like 40% of the dialogue is the worst sort of technobabble, and its like 95% of both nerds’ lines. It’s getting unbearable.

  8. Yeah I can’t hack this this show. Not after I’ve been treated to awesome television from networks like FX, AMC and HBO over the last couple of years. Most of the regular network stuff just can’t hold my interest anymore (except for Hannibal because it’s pretty). Maybe as viewers we’re to spoiled? I don’t know. The last big network show to effectively hold my interest through it’s entire run was Lost and look how that ended.
    I’ve already pulled chute on Agents of Shield and Sleepy Hollow this season. Until Justified and Game of Thrones start up again I’ll stick to hate watching The Walking Dead. Who knows maybe this is the season?

  9. I agree in:

    -The two techno nerds are by far the worst of the show
    -The constant name dropping
    -The generic feelling of the show

    I would add:

    -The cast does not feel like agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; instead they look like a team of underwear models
    -There are well know characters they could used for the agents, there is G.W. Bridge for example…

    I disagree in:

    -They are building up to some villains, Gravitron is true to the comics, so we have to wait and see…
    -The show have to be focus on normal humans beings, since S.H.I.E.L.D. is run mostly by them (us)… and the main idea is to explore how people are reacting to super beings on the movie verse

  10. Relax, people. Go watch the first season of Buffy. Or the first half dozen or so episodes of Dollhouse. They are establishing characters and building a base for future plotlines. Every single episode isn’t going to be The Avengers epic and they shouldn’t have to rely on a bunch of *wink wink* obvious Marvel references for people’s enjoyment. Just watch the show on its own merits and stop looking for blockbuster cinema in a weekly television show. Wow, Coulson just randomly mentioned the Savage Land, Nick Fury, Mjolnir, and Hydra! This story is officially a complete success! I do wish Whedon was taking a more active role at least as a writer, but I can at least reserve judgement until the season’s over or the show actually stops being enjoyable.

  11. I agree with Nick, step back from the whole Marvel Universe thing and look at the show itself. The pilot was just an intro to the crew and their mission. The crew was a disparate mix of personalities and talents that had trouble relating to each other. Episode two showed them starting to come together as a team/ In Episode 3 I think we saw the first if several episodes that will focus on different characters and their development as part of the team. The gadget/villain of the week is just the backdrop to this. I expect by episode 8 or 10 we will see much more involved stories that are not quite so character driven.

  12. Things to remember, in this universe, there aren’t a lot of supers running around yet. Yeah, we got Captain America in the 40s as a secret military project… But after that not a whole lot has happened until Iron Man, and even with Avengers these events have fairly rare so far.

    oh… And Spartacus sucked the first few episodes…

  13. I can pinpoint the exact moment when I let out the exasperated sigh of “ugh” that usually precedes my waning interest in any show: “Gravitonium.” I understand that this is a show based on a comic book universe but really, Gravitionium? Could a cheesier, more 1940’sish name have been used? I think not. One of the things that makes the marvel movie universe work so well is that it’s not written like its in a comic book universe. I’m afraid that unless the TV show starts doing the same thing it’s not going to survive long enough to make it to season two. And while I agree that many spectacular shows started off slowly, in this day and age where shows are being given the ax sometimes after a single episode, I think this lesson needs to be taken to heart sooner rather than later.

  14. The moment I new this show would suck to me:

    a. Its on a network Channel (automatic suckage)
    b. Safe good looking characters who look like they jumped out of a CW show.
    c. Its on a network channel. Nuff said.

  15. I do have some reservations like: the cast chemistry isn’t coming together, there was no good reason to use no established SHIELD Agents from the comics and any writers who aren’t Whedon or used to writing in Whedon’s style should just use their own style. But only being a few episodes in I’m not going to give up yet. We just saw the addition of Graviton who will most likely become Graviton in the finale and probably reveal what Coulson is. Gravitonium is not a silly name if you know what is in the periodic table. There are examples such as Californium and Americium. Those are called place holder names like Gravitonium probably is. But to see the success of things like Smallville and Arrow they will need to make it feel like the Marvel Universe by the end of the season.

  16. Unbelievable how mediocre it is given all the assets it has at its disposal. The Marvel universe is so full of cool characters and locations that even using D-listers there should be more than enough room for exciting tv.

    I think the primary problem is that the show-runners are trying to capture the playful nature of Whedon’s other shows but they’re crippled by three major flaws:

    * The central characters are cliched and in no way endearing.
    * There is no darkness to balance the light. The show hasn’t set up any sense of danger or threat and three episodes in is getting a little late for that tone to suddnely arise.
    * The banter is a poor man’s version of Whedon’s earlier work. What’s more, even if Whedon was writing it himself I suspect it might come across as a little dated (what works in movies does not neccesarily carry over to tv series). In recent years there have been a number of shows that have done team banter really well (I particulalrly liked Breakout Kings and Graceland which, whether or not you liked them, had very natural sounding exchanges betwene their characters) and MAoS feels like its looking back rather than trying to offer something new.

  17. I was with you until I read “Fringe, a show I didn’t much care for”, which almost completely invalidates any other opinions you have forever in my eyes.

    (I’m kidding of course, but still kinda WTF!?)

  18. “This show is not doing things the way I want them done and so three episodes in I’m writing it off as terrible.” Hmm, this overly negative approach seems familiar. Did Paul Tassi write this? Oh, it seems he did. Why am I not surprised?
    I see people complaining that there are too many references and other people complaining that there are too few. ‘Technobabble’ (meaning words longer than three syllables) is a bad thing in a sci-fi show?
    Joss Whedon is known for his long development and character reveals. Give him a chance, he’s always made quality entertainment before.

  19. This show could have been great. the first episode was good, with all of those references, but it is going downhill fast!! It feels like i’m watching a drama about a bunch of college students, not government agents.

    The main problem is the lack of SHIELD uniforms. I’m sick and tired of directors trying to take the ‘realistic’ approach. Its a universe about superheroes. Wear the damn costumes. If they wore the signature blue jumpsuits with the white gloves/boots, and the white belt/gunholster and stylish loop. Hell, you could go ahead and make the jumpsuits darker, maybe even black to make the getup look more ‘realistic’.

    The second main problem of this show is that it feels like they are doing every thing by themselves. One team of six people. It just seems unbelievable. Instead, how about you add more people to the scenes, they don’t even have to be characters, they could just be in the background. For example, more lab coat lackeys/scientists in the lab under fitz/simmons.

    Third, there needs to be WAAAAAYYY more cameos. I’m assuming that all the characters under contract cant be utilized, but can other characters from their universe appear, as long as they arent in future movie plans? How bout luke cage or iron fist? they could be going after the same people or object. or Black Cat could be stealing the same artifact? They could have an adventure with The Warriors Three. Hell even some famous SHIELD agents popping up would be nice. DumDum Dugan? I understand that he was in Captain America, but hes SHIED property. is he still around?

    And finally, better acting/writing. The show is pretty corny right now. That’s due to both bad writing but also unconvincing acting. But again, it would look/sound better if they were wearing their proper uniforms.

    And that I think is the only way to save this show.

    P.S. They have been dropping a lot of hints that Coulson is not the same Coulson that was stabbed by Loki, “should we tell him?” “no muscle memory”. Pretty sure that they’re gonna say that he’s a LMD (Life Model Decoy). Marvel’s robot double, Nick Fury had a bunch of those to stand in for him all the time. (the white Fury)

  20. The only good character us Coulson, the rest of them are either too bland or caricatures. It feels a lot like “hire the first pretty person that auditions” mode of casting.

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