“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has come to television as an extension of Marvel’s cinematic universe, where the covert organization has played a supporting role in all of its films since the release of “Iron Man” in 2008. But the transition from large to small screen has not been an entirely smooth one. Three episodes in and the new ABC series is beginning to show promising signs after its first two disappointing episodes. But “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” still has a ways to go if it’s going to step up from satisfactory, at best, to good television programming.
First, the series needs to stop referencing the Marvel Studios films unless it’s integral to the show. It feels more like fan service than anything else the show drops quick references to gamma radiation, Hydra, or Professor Erksine. It’s as though the series creators are overly compelled to remind the audience that the series exists in the same world established in the Marvel Studios films. This a minor gripe compared to the show’s premise.
Agent Coulson, Clark Gregg reprising his role from most of the Marvel Studios films, is inexplicably back from the dead (one of the show’s mysteries) and has organized a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents to track down people with powers or the unexplained before they get into the hands of the wrong people. That’s fine, but why would Coulson choose a team made up of two inexperienced scientists, a pilot who isn’t interested in dangerous missions, a very capable field agent, and a hacker who’s fascinated with superheroes? And who would approve this sort of team to go on missions that could involve the most dangerous beings on the planet?
As much as I have enjoyed Chloe Bennet, who plays the superhero fangirl and hacker Skye, and I understand why S.H.I.E.L.D. would want her, I don’t see S.H.I.E.L.D. placing her character in the field. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. I do enjoy lines like “I thought I was joining S.H.I.E.L.D., not 24-Hour Fitness” after Agent Ward (Brent Dalton) forces her to exercise to increase her strength, but I’m not convinced that she would be dropped into the thick of danger after a week on the job. I am hopeful that the writers won’t rush the impending romance between Skye and Ward.
The two cast members, who can be borderline ingratiating, are scientists Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Both serve identical purposes: to nervously explain sciencey stuff (where someone invariably responds “in English!”), to play with doohickeys or holograms to explain more sciencey stuff, and to arrive at solutions when all hell is breaking loose using their knowledge of sciencey stuff. These characters could work, but they are going to need something more interesting to do on the series.
Gregg brings his welcome dry wit to the role of Agent Coulson, widening his gaze and raising his voice only when required. My biggest gripe about Coulson is in his constantly wearing a business suit, even when it would seem totally impractical (as when he is dropped into the field in the second and third episodes). As Agent Ward, Dalton is growing more comfortable with the role and less wooden than he was in the first two episodes. Ming-Na Wen is the most seasoned actor on the series. As pilot and all-around badass Melinda May, she still hasn’t been given much to do on the series other than knock a few people around.
I think I’m a bright person, but after two viewings of each episode, I still can’t say that I understand what the Rising Tide is all about. This is the underground organization that Skye is a part of and to which she may still be tied. Also, some of the writing in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” has been somewhat lumbering. In the pilot, the show started off strong after the introduction of a mysterious super powered man and a “Mission: Impossible” style sequence featuring Agent Ward, who recovers a Chitauri neural link from Paris. After that, the pilot is a by-the-numbers action story that never surpasses satisfactory. In the second episode, “0-8-4”, the story reaches the halfway mark before the antagonist makes a move. Up until that point, the episode featured a standard action sequence and too much aimless dialogue before the show really got moving.
“The Asset”, the third episode, was a sign that the show may be moving in the right direction. We’re introduced to villains who were charismatic, David Conrad as businessman Ian Quinn and Ian Hart as Dr. Franklin Hall, rather than cookie-cutter, such as Leonor Varela as soldier Camilla Reyes in “0-8-4”. The episode moved fast and it wasn’t tied to “The Avengers” or “Iron Man 3”, which the series needs to seriously do to establish its own identity. The Marvel Universe is an ever-expanding place with enough characters to fill multiple series and films. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” needs to take advantage of this.
Marvel Studio’s new series is also going to need more than appearances by Maria Hill and Nick Fury, Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson reprising their film roles respectively, to appeal to audiences. The writing should be more focused and compelling if ABC wants to retain its audience. The series would also benefit from a few more believable agents rotating on the novice team’s adventures.
All of these gripes aside, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has potential to be something better. Based on the third episode, the series proved that it may be headed in the right direction.