Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - Far From Super | Fanboys Anonymous

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - Far From Super

Posted by DAJB Saturday, September 28, 2013
Just a few days after it aired in the US, we here in dear ol' Blighty got to see the pilot episode of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD for ourselves last night. Anthony has already posted his initial thoughts, but what did we think of it on this side of the Pond?

Well, as far as this particular Brit is concerned, it was ... ordinary. For those of us of a geeky disposition, there was nothing so bad that you'd feel compelled to reach for the remote but, for anyone not already versed in the world of Marvel comics, there was nothing to make you want to continue watching the next episode either.
Marvel comics' TV show movie spin-off on ABC
Even Marvel realised an apostrophe-'s' would spoil their logo.
Great expectations

Fanboys and girls have a tendency to over-react to news of any forthcoming show with a SciFi or fantasy theme, especially if it's based on a comic, and that leaves a lot for the show either to overcome or live up to. Ben Affleck as Batman? The internet has already decided that simply has to be dreadful. How could it be otherwise? A TV show based on the work of the GCPD but without Batman? Pfft!  Why would anyone watch that? Constantine? Yay - sign us all up now! And so it was for Agents of Shield (it's no use - I can't keep pandering to the tawdry marketing gimmick that is the "Marvel's" prefix!) Even before the first frame had been shot, comic fans worldwide were working themselves up into a frenzy of anticipation.

Production still from Marvel's Agents of SHIELD tv show on ABC
Agent Coulson. Just the man you want in charge
when there's a clean-up in Aisle 3.
It would be superb! It will be written by Joss Whedon! It's a superhero show without superheroes! (Huh? Then why all the negative reaction to the GCPD show?) It would star Agent Phil Coulson from all those wonderful movies! Yay! Except ... wait a minute. Agent Phil Coulson is boring. I mean, don't get me wrong - he's supposed to be boring. The reason we love him is precisely because he remains down-to-Earth, bland and ordinary, even while surrounded by larger-than-life egocentric super-beings. He's a foil, not a leading character. Take away the Gods and monsters, and he's your average guy who could just as easily be managing your local supermarket or cashing your paycheck at the bank.

To work as an interesting character, Coulson needs to be surrounded by superheroes. And, frankly, so does the show. As if to underline this fact, the first advert break last night included a trailer for Thor: The Dark World, and my interest level in the show peaked immediately. Of course, it subsided again as soon as the show resumed but, for that brief moment, I had a glimpse of why the show wasn't working and just how good it could have been.

Non-entity crisis

Sadly, Coulson's team adds little to the mix. A group of uniformly pretty and largely interchangeable young men and women, they really bring nothing of any particular interest to the table. Oh wait ... one of the girls had a pristine English accent of the type you only hear in drama schools and middle class dinner parties, and one of the guys had a British accent too. I'm not sure which British accent he had, but I think it was supposed to be Scottish. If so, I'm sure we can look forward to him referring to single malts in the very near future. Yup. As far as characterisation is concerned, that was about as deep as it got.
Cast photo of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD tv show
The full team. Can you spot the difference?
For me, great characters can save a mediocre show. Without characters we can identify with and care about, however, the show is going to need a fantastic premise and/or absolutely jaw-dropping special effects of the type we've never seen before. That's why we all loved The Matrix in spite of Keanu Reeves, right? So how did Agents of SHIELD measure up in the story department?

Deja vu

So so, is the answer. Pedestrian, would probably be the kindest description. I don't think I'm giving away too much of the plot if I say it's about a secret organisation dedicated to "containing" super-powered beings. The trouble is, we've seen it all before and the show wears its influences on its sleeve for all to see. In fact, at times, there's possibly more entertainment value to be had from spotting the ingredients that Whedon has borrowed/stolen from elsewhere than there is in watching the show.
Former Joss Whedon alumni J August Richards in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD pilot
'The Hood' as seen in 'Smallville'. I mean 'Arrow'. I mean ... oh, you get the idea.
The pilot starts with a couple of seconds from the Avengers Assemble movie (yes, that's what it was called on this side of the Pond!) to remind us that we're in a New York which has become aware of the existence of aliens, superheroes and all manner of inexplicable tech. It ends on a car gag (yes, the car gag!) appropriated from Men in Black. In between, there are whole scenes which could have been taken direct from the likes of Mission Impossible, Heroes, Alphas, Arrow and even Marvel's own X-Men-in-all-but-name series, Mutant X. In short, the show feels ... tired. And if a show feels tired after only the pilot episode, it doesn't bode well for the future.

Future shocks

To be fair, there are hints of more interesting plot lines to come, foremost among them being the question of just how is it that Agent Coulson is alive. I mean, we all saw him killed by Loki, right?  He believes he was only technically dead for a mere eight seconds before being revived, but there are suggestions of something more at work here. Is he a clone? A Rimmer-style "hard-light" hologram? A cybernetic being? Someone resurrected with alien tech, gamma radiation or super soldier serum?

We don't know. And therein lies another problem: Whedon has a track record of hinting at bigger things at work behind the scenes and never fully resolving them. He did it with Firefly. He did it with Doll House. He seems to believe that because Buffy ran for seven seasons and its spin-off Angel ran for five, his shows will always run indefinitely and he can therefore afford to continue to tease us with the promise of better things to come, never considering the possibility that something stamped with the Whedon brand might actually be cancelled before he has a chance to deliver. Will that happen to Agents of SHIELD? Only time will tell, but based on the lacklustre pilot episode, I wouldn't bet against it.
Image from the movie Avengers Assemble
Agent Coulson dying in the 'Avengers' movie. His TV show may not be far behind.
For now, I'm prepared to give the show the benefit of the doubt and I'll be tuning in next week for the second episode. I'm by no means hooked, however. Unless it picks up quite dramatically, I'm probably not going to make it beyond the third. I just don't have that kind of super-stamina. Do you?

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