Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I will still give it a few episodes before pulling the eject lever, don't get me wrong. I think it's weak sauce out of the gate, however.

My friend Linus Lee made a few comments that crystallized a lot of my feelings about what I think just doesn't work. They don't explain exactly why this special team is being created very well, or set it up very well as a "mystery," if that's the idea, in contrast to this HUGE S.H.I.E.L.D. organization we've seen an understand from the films (not to mention that that context makes the show feel REALLY rinky-dinky - which I absolutely acknowledge as unfair, TV budgets, etc, but the impression is there). The Coulson thing? They basically dropped a "Life Model Decoy" road sign right in the middle of the first act, so...I'm simply waiting for that shoe to drop.

I don't understand why this show exists, why this story needs to be told, in the context of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe." Outside of that context, on a corporate level, to exploit the brand? I get it.

"Next Wave," you say? Fine, but the context of that is horribly muddled "psudeo-Kitty Pryde" is connected to them, but not? They're trying to make superheroes? Wasn't that a subplot of about half of the movies so far? "Everybody wants a super-soldier!" Got it, check, can we move on? They're not defined, and not immediately interesting enough to pose much of a mystery aspect.

I also dislike most of the characters. Let's be honest, that's where a show like this will live or die. I find they fall into REALLY obvious "Joss Whedon" tropes, and the cast seems unable (talent regardless - they're at sea) to breathe real life into those tropes. There are exceptions, the great Clark Gregg manages to at least spit out some truly awful "jokes" (the "dark corner" gag is truly one of the most clunky things I've ever had to watch an actor struggle with, and fail). Ming Na was also great, but the character's arc was blindingly obvious and telegraphed, not to mention that what we do learn about her personality is about as generic as it comes. (I've heard her character called "bad ass" in a couple of conversations....Really? She beat up one guy. That's "bad ass" now?) The rest of the cast become pretty much forgettable, even Whedon's beloved "Kitty Pryde stand-in" character. "Agent Handsomeface" (kudos to Linus on that one) would actually be more memorable if his name was actually Handsomeface.

I honestly don't think I had very high expectations. I should point out that the only Whedon show I actually can stand to watch is Firefly (half of you have now discredited my entire opinion, fine), and that's because the cast absolutely crushes the dialogue. The AOS cast simply doesn't seem to have the facility with it. To that, I found it all pretty contrived and stilted, and groaned at pretty much every "easter egg" joke.

"Join us on our JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY." Really? GROAAAANN....

Also, Joss? What happened on the directing front? It made me INSANE that the direction was just flat as a pancake. Here's Joss, makes a couple of really well-done, exciting features, comes back to TV, and it's just muddled. Run over here, do something, talk fast, witty comment, run over there, rinse, repeat. There were no clearly defined stakes, unless you've seen Iron Man 3. I felt no narrative connective tissue, just a series of events. The social commentary was just lame. In that, I got it when I saw the guy was out of work, there was no need to spell it out, and, literally, beat somebody over the head with it.

I this even really a "Joss Whedon" show, or is it a corporate synergy move? It's certainly about as "work for hire" as the man's ever gotten. Joss is not the showrunner, or apparently even going to be very hands-on, at all (he's got Age of Ultron to make, and apparently doing script fixes on everything else Marvel does, I don't see how he can be). The show feels cobbled together out of Marvel's desire to move into TV, having Clark Gregg be available, and Joss gave them a framework for someone else to try to flesh out.

Could it get better? Of course. It's just a pilot, and all pilots are usually very different from the series proper. (Look at Encounter at Farpoint - a solid pick for the WORST Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, ever). That's why I'm sticking around for at least a few more episodes. That said, I think we, as a fanbase, have a duty to be critical and honestly say that something feels amiss (without going overboard into ultra-hateful "Prequel territory"). Hopefully the team has already figured all of this out, and is making adjustments.

The stinger for upcoming episodes didn't give me much hope, however. I quote, "you won't want to miss the end OF EVERY EPISODE!!!"

So, what? There's a big twist at the end of every episode? Major game-changers? No? (Really, how could there be?) So, you're just spouting ultra-generic marketing doublespeak, instead of selling what the show is, and why I might want to tune in.

That doesn't make me all that confident. In act, it makes me feel like somebody in a suit thinks slapping "Marvel's" on almost anything will make fanboys tune in, no matter the quality.

Sad thing is, they're probably right.

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