Now that I've viewed the entirety of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 (which ended last week on US Television), I am in a position to talk about it as a whole. And in one word, I can say with confidence that this show was B.O.R.I.N.G.
When I first reviewed the pilot, I was hyped. Given that THE Joss Whedon and his brother were involved as producers and writers, I had high hopes that this show was going to be the Marvel reincarnation of Firefly, I mean there were at least a dozen parallel just from the pilot alone:
But it turns out Joss Whedon was only involved with the pilot episode. And after sitting through a few more episodes, I began to realize that this was no Firefly. This was Cliffhangers: the Boring Series. Basically the show had too much reliance on cliffhangers at the end of each episode to force you to watch the next; it is suspense through super slow character reveals. The other 40 minutes of each episode were generally formulaic, predictable, heavy-handed, and filled with pointless cameos and characters making references to things that happened in the other Marvel films. Ultimately this makes the show, for me at least, a mixed bag of BORING. But surely a charismatic bandwagon of characters can save the day? Well...
To me, Agent Coulsen is the fun side character who kind of hosts each of the superheroes in The Avengers team before they sign up. He was the glue that connected the disparate parts of the MCU, fun to watch in moderation. But to make an entire show centered on his character in the movies was going to require some contrived plot, which is exactly what they came up with.
Clark Gregg is a fine actor, but his performance doesn't really suit well as being a series lead. He always looks like a person who is used to a desk job, then suddenly thrust into combat operations but never adjusted. His dialogue is unnaturally forced. His action scenes are forced, and it just feels forced trying to bring his character back to life doing things the original never did.
And that's the other thing. The plot machinations of how he came back to life after dying in The Avengers is such subpar writing, I wonder if it's the studio's fault for handcuffing the production team. After all, they are obligated to keep the story in line with the rest of the Marvel universe of which Coulsen has been in and out of, so there are severe limitations on the story tangents possible. This brings me back to my original point that he should not have been the lead character for this show.
Again, I don't think it's as much the actress (Ming-Na Wen)'s fault as it is the script that I found her character boring. For the pilot review, I praised the decision to cast an Asian as one of the series leads, and that they didn't make a big deal about it in the show itself. The angle they were trying to go with is that she is actually quite a softie, but because of something tragic in the past, she puts up a hardened front to protect both herself and those around her. That's perfectly fine but the problem is that it's overdone, which makes it boring to me.
Aside from that, her not-so-boring character developments are just strange. Firstly, she starts off not wanting to see combat, but then a few episodes later she gets upset because she was denied participation. There was no clear explanation of what caused her to change her position on getting her hands dirty. It kind of just happens.
Secondly, it is revealed later in the series that she has been reporting on Coulson to Directory Fury. If the reason for Coulson's resurrection is such a big secret wouldn't it be easier to just bug the plane or even implant some of that 'alien' technology to monitor his state of mind? Granted this revelation finally frees her to emote a bit more showing her love and care for Coulson, but if that's the type of 'mission' Fury sends his top men/women on, no wonder the organization got taken down.
But the worst development with Melinda May has to be that she and Agent Ward are no-strings-attached bed buddies. Knowing that in real life she is old enough to be his mum, it's unnaturally disturbing. Granted, she is still a beauty and has kept her youth really well, but still eww. >.<
There is nothing original or politically correct with these two characters. They stereotype scientists as unathletic, lacking in social skills, and generally oblivious to anything other than their research. And the fact that it's a guy and girl working together in close quarters isolated from any semblance of intellectual peers, you know that they are going to end up together. And surely, they milked the audience's patience for an entire season before they, as predicted, seal the deal with a real kiss in the finale.
Moving on swiftly.
Grant Ward started as a boring character for the first half of the show. Then suddenly, he had the most dramatic reveal towards the end of the series, and his back story is suddenly fleshed out much more than the other main characters. We actually got to see him as the 'weak' teenager and how he ended up in his current position, which I think easily made it the best episode in the series, as it revealed important plot points visually rather verbally, which was not the case with Melinda May, Skye and Coulson. Because of this I find that story arc a bit more juicy, especially its interplay with unfolding events.
Unfortunately after those flashback sequences, they do go a bit over-the-top with playing up Ward's 'bad boy' side and it makes him quite a despicable character, especially with his "we can be bad guys together" talk with Skye. The final episode undid all that 'complex' and 'tragic' character in "Ragtag" I think they were angling for, and at the end of the season finale, he just becomes a comic book side-villain who gets caught. How lame.
Skye is the best character, perhaps the only well-written character, in this series. I may be a tad partial towards Chloe Bennet, who I think has the looks that could cause a thousand car and bike accidents wherever she walked. And the fact that her character is a computer hacker; totally my thing. If I ever met her in real life I would offer to buy her coffee at minute one!
My fanboy instincts pushed aside, Skye is by far the character with the least contrivances. This is despite it being hinted that her parents are monsters, that she lived in a van, and is part of some Anonymous-like hacker group, of which the latter two vanished into thin air because of the other sub-plots fighting for screen time. And I like that she doesn't like to hide, and is all for exposing the truth at all costs. Her naivete, optimism and passion serves as caffeine to keep me awake in bearing with the other one-dimensional characters in the show.
Skye's personality feels real, her emotions genuine, her ideals and ambitions relate-able, and, if anything, she should have been the main focus of this series. Instead I think her plot thread was like position 6 out of 9 separate threads. It might have also been the studio's diabolical strategy to save her plot thread for a future season, which means only those who persevere through the mediocre filler season(s) and continue to subscribe 'might' finally be rewarded with a satisfactory closure with her story. Seriously though. Firefly got cancelled after less than 12 episodes despite rising viewership, but this half-rated series gets renewed!?!? But if there was one word that could persuade me into greenlighting Season 2, it would be Skye!
I didn't care for any of the other recurring/guest-starring characters and their sub-plots. They are either poorly executed or didn't mesh well with the rest of the story. Enough said.
After 22 episodes, countless cameos from side characters from the movies, and a bunch of plot threads that were not properly wrapped up (such as the gravitonium guy, Maria Hill's inconsistent appearances and disappearances, that TAHITI project doctor etc), they still didn't bring in any of the actual superheroes to do superhero things. This was a big minus for me.
I know this series is titled "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", so the focus is really on the agents. But the concept of SHIELD alone is boring. The things they have to deal with, despite being high tech and potentially world-destroying, are boring. The agents other than Skye are fairly boring characters, largely explored and developed in boring ways, and even Skye only became a SHIELD agent very late into the season. Maybe she'll become boring next season, though I won't be finding out.
Like Agent Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a side-character organization in the Marvel universe, and should have remained that way. There wasn't any substantial themes addressed, and definitely no consistency in terms of what point they were trying to make in each episode. It's just action-y, Marvel-y things happening with a bit of eye-candy and pointless winks to Marvel loyalists. I think when it comes to comic book stuff I'll just stick to movies and the Batman animated series. Those were the days.
You know, if they really wanted to do a story focusing on SHIELD they could have done it as a movie. Oh wait, THEY DID, and in that film they also left things unresolved, meaning you'll have to watch the next film. One door closes, another one forcefully opened.
Seriously, ending every single episode/movie on a cliffhanger of sorts was ingenious when it led up to a game-changer like The Avengers, but now it just feels greedy and evil, especially when the payoff is not worth the time and emotional investment. Perhaps Iron Man 3 will end up being the peak of Marvel's run on the big screen, and it's all down hill from here.
Anyway better wrap things up before I start repeating myself. To those who have yet to check out Agents of SHIELD season one, my advice is don't bother. Go read/watch Game of Thrones. Wait for Avengers 2 to come out. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen. Don't give these big studios incentive to continue taking their projects in the direction of endless profit-making possibilities.