Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: The H.I.G.H.S. and L.O.W.S. of the ABC Series’ Freshman Season

     May 31, 2014


And so ends the initial chapter of Marvel Studios’ first foray into the world of network television.  Whether you liked the so-called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or they weren’t your cup of tea, you have to admire Marvel for attempting to create a running television show that reflected the events of the movie universe that they currently have running.  Since I’ve been with you true believers since the beginning of this season, who better to diagnose the best, and worst, parts of the first season?  Go ahead and grab your level 7 clearance, rock your finest suit, and hop on the “Bus” as we walk you through what aspects the show can focus on for season two and which can be avoided. 

The H.I.G.H.S.: “The Twist” 

agents-of-shield-turn-turn-turn-clark-greggNever was it more apparent that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was deeply entwined in the epic events taking place in the movies than with the arrival of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  In the film, Marvel’s long standing organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., found itself infiltrated by the evil ranks of Hydra and was effectively shut down completely in order to put an end to their nefarious plans.  This presented the agents with a challenge that led them down an unpredictable road where their resources were laid to waste and nothing was as it seemed.  Characters were killed, others changed sides, and there was a general sense that the change was so deep and catastrophic that the name of the show would be changed to “Agents of Nothing”.  It was certainly an apt title as the protagonists struggled to find their place in the world and fight against agents Ward and Garrett, who had turned out to be agents of Hydra the entire time in a devilishly good twist. The creators had clearly known this moment was coming from Cap 2 and did a great job of capitalizing it, as the show sprinted toward it’s finale once the bomb dropped.

The L.O.W.S.: Everything Before “The Twist” 

agents-of-shield-fzztThe show originally started with a solid premiere episode, laying down the groundwork for what could have been a fast paced season, but then it apparently became the show that had to stall its developments and character building to make way for the twist.  The second episode had them tackle the nefarious plans of the Peruvian army, while each subsequent installment seemed to stall on any number of levels.  Storylines seemed to be playing it on the safe side, and were ultimately made the worse for it.  While the subplots of Coulson’s resurrection and Skye’s origins were interesting at first, they were dragged out to the point of infuriating as more and more questions were presented with each revelation.  Characters like Ward, Fitz, and Simmons in the earlier episodes didn’t have much to do and without many conflicts, were relegated to being on the sidelines for many of the episodes.  You could see from episode to episode that there was a good show trying to get out, and of course it did nearing the end, but there just wasn’t enough compelling elements in these early episodes to keep audiences raving.

The H.I.G.H.S.: Clark Gregg 

marvels-agents-of-shield-tahiti-clark-greggIf you go back and read each of my recaps, one positive I consistently point out in each and every episode is Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.  What made us fall in love with the character from the first Iron Man to his death in The Avengers is still alive and kicking.  Coulson was able to throw out quips like none other, while also turning on a dime, and expressing serious rage in moments such as dealing with his resurrection and the backstabbing from Bill Paxton’s Agent Garrett.  Gregg raises the S.H.I.E.L.D. banner high and his character was definitely what the show had needed in order to connect the show to audiences and be that bridge to the movies that you’d be hard pressed to find.  It’s doubtful that we’ll ever see Coulson come back to the Marvel movie-verse proper, (rumors were originally swirling around that he would portray the classic character, the Vision, in the upcoming Avengers sequel, now confirmed to be played by Paul Bettany) so it was a treat to see him in top form here.

The L.O.W.S.: Not Clark Gregg

marvels-agents-of-shield-season-1-episode-8Now to be fair, the supporting players to the agents were great unto themselves. Bill Paxton as Garrett, Saffron Burrows as Victoria Hand, Patton Oswalt as Agent Koenig, and Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders reprising their roles as Fury and Hill respectively, all bring their A games to the table.  I just wish that the rest of the main cast had done the same from the get go.  Certainly, when the twist happened, the main cast manages to shine in ways they hadn’t previously, but man was it slow going from the offset.  Skye, Fitz, Simmons, Ward, and May all fell into their typical cliches as the newbie, science twins, and seasoned muscle, making the proceedings seem much more drab and joyless than they needed to be.  Their backstories weren’t explored, their motivations were average, and their banter between one another wasn’t bringing the humor that we saw coming from Coulson.  The show started with a level of predictability and “playing it safe” that shook off a lot of audience members who had tuned in to see the continuing adventures of the Marvel universe at large on the small screen.  Again, these were problems rectified by the twist later on in the season, but these players should have been strong from the start for viewers to rally behind.

The H.I.G.H.S.: Marvel Movie Tie-Ins  

marvels-agents-of-shield-yes-men-lady-sifIt’s like beating a dead horse but considering how intrinsic it was to the plot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Cap 2 tie-in proved that the show knew everything that was happening in the Marvel Studios flicks and wasn’t afraid to pattern its entire show around it, in a few instances to its detriment.  There was also the tie-in to Thor: The Dark World as the agents had to play clean up to the events of that film, battling lost Asgardian tech and even an Asgardian temptress named Lorelei in a later episode.  With the mysterious “blue man” revealed in a later episode, as part of the origin of Coulson’s resurrection, it’s been heavily rumored that he is a member of the Kree, an alien race in the Marvel universe who may feature heavily in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  Also, the show’s ability to bring on past and present S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who had made appearances in the films so far was a breath of fresh air at times.  It was great to look into the lives of a lot of agents and characters we had known, such as Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) from the Thor series, between the events of the films and hopefully we’ll see more of this in season two.

The L.O.W.S.: Marvel Universe Tie-Ins

marvels-agents-of-shield-deathlokThe problem with an in-continuity universe is that you have to step lightly in fear that you don’t ruffle the feathers of whatever may be happening in the movies, therefore it seemed that Agents couldn’t show off a lot of the Marvel properties that folks were clamoring for, as they themselves may be given movies at some point in the future.  Villains of the week were amazingly “Z-grade” in the forms of Blizzard, Blackout, Graviton, and many others.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing as they could have been injected with new life, but alas, that was not meant to be.  Aside from these villains, the big character that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went with from the comics was Deathlok.  Mike Peterson was a great character for the show, but Good Lord was the costume design horrid for Deathlok.  At no point did I ever feel fear or anxiety for our heroes as they were attacked by “Cyborg guy with somewhat of a burned face”.  Now don’t get me wrong, Deathlok isn’t exactly an A-List character, but he can be scary in his own right and maybe the show runners should have went with the idea of a walking dead man in a tin suit, rather than what they ultimately decided to go with, notwithstanding that horrid blue and red costume.

Ultimately, the first season had its fair share of ups and downs, and I’m hoping that the creators learned a lot to be used for season two.  We need more engrossing characters, storylines, ties to the Marvel Universe outside of the main Avengers franchise, and innovative reasons to stick around moving forward.  However, considering the final batch of episodes, along with the risks they were willing to take, I’m looking forward to see what happens with the agents next season.  Who knows?  Maybe it will tie in with the Netflix outings in some regard? See you in the fall, true believers!

  • Lance

    Thanks for all the great analysis and commentary, Evan. And for sticking with the show despite the Dark Times of the early and mid-season. Looking forward to reading your reviews in the fall!

  • Doot

    Completely agree with your take on Deathlock… especially on the costume issue. That looks really cheap.

    Another thing I don’t get on this show: Melinda May. Absolutely flat character.

    • Doot

      I read the whole thing carefully once more… I have to say it’s weird how much I agree with pretty much everything.
      Spot on review, no kidding.
      I hope the fine folks from this show will read this too.

      • Geo

        Not really weird when everyone watching this show felt the same way. I/we just hope they pick up the pace season 2.

    • milo

      I agree with this review but I did like May, she was the only one besides Coulson I liked early on.

  • Manuel Orozco

    I have to admit the show has it’s ups and downs but maybe the stakes will be higher this fall

  • Ruprect

    Graviton has taken on The Avengers BY HIMSELF on a number of occasions. Hardly a “z grade” villian.

    • Hey…HEY!

      In the early issues of West Coast Avengers Graviton was to the WCA as Magneto was to the X-Men. Z-grade my azz!

      • Ruprect

        Right! I remember those.

      • milo

        And Gravitron proper hasn’t appeared yet, they did an origin but so far all we have seen is a blob with a guy trapped inside. I assume he’ll be a villain for next season and hopefully they’ll make him a good one.

  • Redjester

    The L.O.W.S.: Everything about the show.

    The H.I.G.H.S.: The fact that I no longer watch it.

  • eternalozzie

    I do like a few of the characters … the show needs a SINGLE tight knit group of just a few writers with a team leader having a single vision. The writing was so all over the place all season long. The show really needs an actual super hero as part of the team.

  • Daz

    The writing and characters have definitely been a letdown for most of S1. Coulson is without a doubt the standout, but the painful archetypes of Skye and Fitz/Simmons are just not fun to watch. Ward in the pilot (As a bit of a grey-area character) and after his Hydra turn had/has promise, but everything in between seemed a plot-contrivance for his change. May? I’m not sure why they even bothered, apart from providing a ‘strong’ female character. And the lazy, straight-line romantic links within the team (Coulson/May, Ward/Skye, Fitz/Simmons)… jeez. This is borderline insulting to the audience.

    Season two needs to continue the spy-vs-spy theme and work the shadowy spook angle, rather than appease the comic-book need that some are calling for with more superhero stuff. The show can be its own entity in this respect rather than just feeding the fanboys with a little glitzy flash and bang. Kill the multiple romantic arcs within the team, maybe kill-off a lead for the season-opener to charge things (I’d write out the majority, but many would have a problem with it, and it’s probably too late to do that anyway), then, hopefully you’ll have a leaner/meaner show with more focus on storytelling and organic character development.

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  • Guy Smiley

    “Whether you liked the so-called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or they weren’t your cup of tea, you have to admire Marvel for attempting to create a running television show that reflected the events of the movie universe that they currently have running. ”

    No I don’t… The show was terrible. I quit 5 or 6 episodes in when I couldn’t take the terrible writing, and equally terrible casting, any more. The team was barely competent, Skye was possibly the single most annoying character in television history (at least the worst since Neelix on Star Trek – Voyager), and the show’s unwillingness (at the time) to make any meaningful connections to the Marvel movie universe (apart from mention “Avengers” or “battle of New York” every five minutes) made the show pretty much unwatchable.

    That’s not even mentioning Agent Beefy McBland (Ward), or all the technobabbly nonsense out of Putz and Simmons. At least Simmons is cute, but aside from that they were terrible.

    I went back and watched a new episode after the events in Captain America 2, since I’d heard the show was finally doing something worthwhile. It was a little better, I guess, but not enough for me to care. So Ward is Hydra. Good… Maybe they’ll kill him off at some point. Can Skye finally die too?

    I think the only chance this show has to make it past a second season is to kill off the entire cast (apart from Coulson, who is a lot less interesting when he’s the lead character I might add, and maybe May and Simmons) and give us the “real” SHIELD agents. Something closer to what I remember from the comics.

    Also, unless Joss Whedon is going to be the showrunner (which isn’t going to happen at this point) ABC needs to replace the current regime. My hopes aren’t terribly high for Agent Carter, or for the forthcoming Netflix shows, but I hope to hell they’re better than SHIELD has been.

    Meanwhile, I’ll stick with Arrow (and hope The Flash is as good) for comic-book-on-TV viewing. Arrow still gets a bit too soap-opera for my tastes, but that show just got better as the second season wore on. Looking forward to season three! It’s just a shame more people aren’t watching that show instead.

  • Guy Smiley

    “Never was it more apparent that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was deeply entwined in the epic events taking place in the movies than with the arrival of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

    “Deeply entwined” my ass.

    So the show spun its wheels until Cap 2 came out, and then it had no choice but to follow the events of that movie. Before then, the show had no relevance whatsoever to what was happening. Apart from random mentions of “Extremis,” etc. They tried hyping a big tie-in to Thor 2, and that was a joke (from what I’m told). It’s like the show had no real reason to exist, prior to reacting what happened in Cap 2. If that’s all it’s good for, then what’s the point of the show at all (apart from making money, I mean)?

    Maybe the turn of events late in the season will deepen the ties to the Marvel movie universe, but from what I saw it still doesn’t feel like anything I need to watch. The movies will stand on their own, regardless of what happens on the TV show.

    I just hope they don’t start putting these bland, annoying TV characters into the movies. Most of the Marvel (Studios) movie offerings have been pretty good. No need water that product down by shoehorning them into the films.

  • monkeypaws
  • Jesse!

    “doubtful that Coulson shows back up in the Marvel movie-verse again”… Really, you think? Honestly, I hadn’t taken this at all for granted, and this is the first major entertainment site that I’ve seen apparently think it’s such a foregone conclusion.
    Granted, by now I figured it was very unlikely he wouldn’t be appearing at all in Avengers 2, when more and more time went by without us hearing anything about his casting, but I figured he might very well find his way into another one of the solo movies, then especially in Avengers 3. I mean it does seem like there’s a good amount of drama to be mined there, the team members discovering he was alive, etc. Not that I’d expect pretty much anyone else from the show to cross back over, just likely him.

    • milo

      They did make a reference not to tell the Avengers, he wanted to tell them personally. Seems like they wouldn’t bring that up if they weren’t intending to have it happen at some point, and I doubt we’ll see Thor show up on the TV show. If they do have Fury appear in the movies again (and maybe they won’t) it would be weird if they didn’t address Coulson as part of that story.

  • matt murdock

    A high, Ming Na.

  • Muhammad Alif B As’shaari

    Great review… I went in for the show with a reserved expectations and it had been an enjoyable watch. Can’t wait to see where it will go next…

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