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Return of S.H.I.E.L.D.: What the Marvel show needs to be a success

646056 KS_New_shieldIt’s somewhat ironic: Marvel seems to have had more success, overall, bringing its superheroes to the big screen than rival DC Comics, but DC Comics is king of the small screen. Its latest TV show “Arrow,” about vigilante archer Oliver Queen, just keeps getting better and better, while Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has struggled a bit to find its voice.

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” premiered last fall, an exciting experiment designed to bring the Marvel cinematic universe to the small screen. Rather than focusing on big-name superheroes like Iron Man or Captain America, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” promised to take viewers behind the scenes and show them what life is like for everyday agents without special powers. It was a great premise, and with Marvel’s golden touch, the show seemed to be an all-but-guaranteed success.

However, fan reactions to the first half of season 1 were decidedly mixed, and the show dropped from 17 million viewers (including DVR) for the pilot to 9 million for the most recent episode. It isn’t as clear cut a success as Marvel’s “Avengers” tie-in films.

The show returns tonight (Jan. 7) after a holiday hiatus, and it will be interesting to see how many viewers will stick around for part 2. I’ve had fun watching the show so far, and I have seen improvements from week to week, but I do have to confess the show has yet to transcend to that “oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-wait-to-see-the-next-episode” level of greatness — a level I think “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” rival “Arrow” has achieved. Although I plan to continue watching “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” here are several changes I’d like to see in part 2.

1. Character chemistry

Although fans seem to have given Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) a thumb’s up, overall the main cast members haven’t quite managed to click yet as a team. There isn’t always a lot of chemistry between the characters (with the exception, perhaps, of Agents Fitz and Simmons, but more on that later). They don’t function as cohesively, for example, as the ensemble casts for Joss Whedon’s cult hit “Firefly,” or PBS’ lavish period drama “Downton Abbey.”

I’d like to see “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” devote more time to really deep character development, delving into who these characters are and what they struggle with. The show has made some improvements in this area. Technology expert Agent Fitz and science expert Simmons started out as more one-dimensional, comic relief characters, but the show has added more layers to their friendship, and they’re now my favorite characters on the show.

The show also could shake things up by shuffling the make-up of Coulson’s team, trying out different guest actors as new team members until the show finds the right mix of personalities.

2. Overarching plot

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the show’s current “monster of the week” format. However, I think the show also needs a compelling overarching plot line that ties all the adventures together — i.e. the concept of “Bad Wolf” in “Doctor Who” or “The Undertaking” in “Arrow.” Although we’ve gotten some hints of possible plot lines in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” that could start tying everything together, I’d like to see the show up the ante.

Agent Coulson’s supposed resurrection is an intriguing mystery, but I think the show still needs a really gripping, large-scale conspiracy or a continuing high-stakes mission to keep viewers tuning in. A really cool super villain would be fun too.

3. Play on the show’s strengths

As the show runners continue to develop and explore the show’s voice, I hope they do make changes — but I also hope they don’t make TOO many changes. I like the grittier nature of DC Comics’ “Arrow,” but I don’t think “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” needs to be gritty too in order to be successful. Marvel movies are fun, funny, and action-packed, and I’d love to see “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” develop into a lighthearted, exciting spy/superhero show.

It is challenging to meet “Avengers”-sized expectations on a TV budget, and I think “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has perhaps suffered a bit from its smaller scope. Still, shows like “Arrow” and “Doctor Who” have proven you can have cinema-like quality on the small screen.

I’m not sure how involved “Avengers” director Joss Whedon currently is in the series (from what I understand, he’s more of a consultant). Perhaps more direct involvement from Whedon could give the show a boost; with the exception of the pilot, the show doesn’t quite seem to have that “Whedon” touch that made “The Avengers” so much fun.

In short, I still think “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has plenty of potential, and the quality of the second half of season 1 will be key to the show’s future. I hope viewers will tune in and give it a second chance.

So, what do you think? Do you enjoy “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”? Do you plan to keep watching? Do you think the show needs to be improved, and if so, how?

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20 responses

  1. I’m still letting my DVR record them. We’ll see if I ever make a point of watching them.

    In general, I agree with your points. Especially number 1. They need to shift focus away from the newbie technology wizard (I can’t remember her character’s name) looking for her parents while also potentially being a spy, and develop the other people more.

    I would also add they need better performances. Thus far, none of the actors are making the audience feel much of anything.

    January 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    • Agreed — they need to work on drawing more nuanced performances out of the actors, or maybe try some new characters. I think they did make a bit of a mistake focusing too much on hacker Skye at the expense of some of the other characters.

      January 7, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      • Skye. That’s it. Thank you.

        Her character had promise, and initially seemed the most interesting, but when they opted not to settle the mystery of infiltration and instead bring in another motivation, this time a melodramatic backstory, I think the killed any remaining intrigue.

        January 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      • Agreed, I think her character would have been more interesting if they’d kept her as more of a wild card.

        January 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm

  2. Mel

    I agree with you on everything. Arrow is so much better. (even season one) But I also think Arrow (and Smallville) benefit from the potential cameo. The introduction of a costumed hero that we already know. (Black Canary, Flash, Aquaman, etc etc) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t mention enough names of heroes we already know. I would like for this little group to occasionally (Or more often) deal with (even off screen) heroes that we know. Name Drop. Even minor names or alter-egos or something recognizable.

    What they have now is a cross between Alias and Heroes. I need more Marvel Universe even if it’s just in the dialogue. Nice post.

    January 7, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    • I agree, I’d like to see “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” mention more heroes or villains fans know; even if it’s not an actual cameo, I’d like to see them remind us more often this is a Marvel show in the Marvel universe. Right now I like the show, but it hasn’t made me as excited as “Arrow” and it doesn’t have the same feel as the Marvel movies.

      January 7, 2014 at 10:57 pm

  3. Great points all around. Arrow’s Undertaking worked because the season is building towards something big and dangerous which is what SHIELD can benefit from. I like the idea of shuffling the characters, I hope the new agents that will be introduced will improve the team chemistry. The show doesn’t need to be dark and gritty like you mentioned, I would like it to be more thrilling, clever and gives those wow moments.

    January 8, 2014 at 8:03 am

    • I liked the format for “Arrow,” how Oliver dealt with a different bad guy each week, but the “Undertaking” was always building in the background. I really want to see S.H.I.E.L.D. succeed, and I’m hoping the show will really find its footing in the second half of season 1.

      January 8, 2014 at 3:24 pm

  4. Great points, tell me if they fix the show :D

    January 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    • I’m hoping they’ll work on some of the issues in the second half of the first season. If they aren’t able to grow the audience or hold on to viewers, I’m not sure if we’ll see a season 2.

      January 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      • If this series gets a second season whilst other far better shows got cancelled I will be furious! If it improves fine but I don’t see it happening :(

        January 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm

  5. Reblogged this on THE EXTREMIS REVIEW and commented:
    This is a very good article about what S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to do to beat out Arrow. I agree. Arrow is a far superior show at the moment. But this is because Oliver Queen’s city is populated by human heroes. Vigilantes. There still has not yet come a character that has superpowers. Sure, there’s been hints at them, but no outright story about them. AOS on the other hand has been attempting to tackle that to some degree and on a budget. They haven’t quite managed this yet, but they have created both Mike and the Supervillain, who if you are a comic book nerd, you know just by the name and the origin story, that was covered in this show. I think their needs to be more references to both the films and the larger Marvel world. The writers seem to be relying on a very small world. Or at least thats what the show has felt like thus far. Anyway, have a read.

    January 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    • Thanks for the reblog! :) I would also like to see more references to the films and the larger Marvel world, and I completely agree with your statement that the writers seem to be relying on a very small world. Blockbuster quality may not be possible on a TV budget, but I think they can still manage to give the show a larger scope.

      January 10, 2014 at 7:33 pm

  6. AOS needs a lot of tweaks to get there. Take for instance the episode of Arrow where Flash was introduced and Oliver was hanging in the balance, i could not wait to see the next episode. The directors need to create a hunger/need for viewers to come wanting more. Suffice to say the last episode which i saw yesterday was cool but they can do more. Will be a big shame if this show is cancelled in its first season.

    January 9, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    • I agree, after every episode of Arrow, I can’t wait to watch the next one. Agents of Shield could reach that level, and I really hope the show isn’t canceled before it reaches its full potential. Thanks for reading! :)

      January 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      • Your welcome.

        January 11, 2014 at 4:30 pm

  7. Tom Levier

    The show does need longer story arcs. The bad guy/creature of the week gets repetitious.

    January 14, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    • Yeah, I’d also like to see them come up with a better long-term story arc.

      January 14, 2014 at 7:34 pm

  8. I watched all of season one, and I have to say Fitz and Simmons are my favorite characters, followed closely by Coulson and May. Skye and Ward, who I feel like were supposed to be a big focus, just don’t cut it yet; it still feels like they’re…trying too hard? That said, the last couple of episodes in season one showed a lot of promise to me. Still haven’t checked out the stuff from season two yet, though.

    I totally agree that it needs an overarching plot; even something that only comes up as often as the main plot elements of The X-Files would do the trick. No need to hit me over the head with it every episode, but the inter-connectivity would do wonders. Here’s hoping the series can live up to its potential!

    January 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    • Fitz and Simmons grew a lot as characters over the first half of season 1, and both Coulson and May are pretty cool. I agree that they’re maybe trying a little too hard to make Skye and Ward work for viewers. They’re probably my least favorite characters so far. However, I do think they still have potential, and I hope this show isn’t canceled before it can really find its footing.

      January 19, 2014 at 11:43 pm

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