Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hiatus report: MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D - season 1, episode 1-5

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

I've been watching Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D since it began, but after five episodes it still isn't working for me. The best episode has been "Eye Spy" (the one where a former SHIELD agent was being forced to steal by an unseen handler via a high-tech eye implant), and part of the reason was how that idea felt fresh and intriguing. It also had some cool scenes, like the excellent teaser where identical red-masked men carried metal briefcases onto a subway train only to be slaughtered by the aforementioned reluctant thief.

But I'm just not responding positively to enough of the show. It still feels cheap because its cousins are $200m blockbuster movies (iTV shows usually get promoted to features, so AoS can't help feeling like a demotion for the Marvel brand). I like Clark Gregg as the group's father figure but I'm not convinced Agent Coulson is a complex enough lead. He's too much of a "company man" cipher, which was fine in the films but you need more for TV.

The other actors just kind of melt into the wallpaper for me (particularly wooden-hunk Brett Dalton and inscrutable Ming-Na Wen), and the double-act of British science geeks Fitz and Simmons are an oddity. I don't see why two characters are required, as their repartee and chemistry isn't much to write home about.

Maybe the biggest issue is that AoS feels hemmed in by its duty as part of the Marvel Universe. It would actually make more sense to include more superheroes (i.e. set this in a Heroes-style world), or for TV versions of Captain America, Thor and Hawkeye to drop by for an adventure with the agents... but, for obvious, it can't do any of that. They even made it clear during "The Girl in the Flower Dress" that the number of superheroes and bizarre gizmos are relatively few in number. AoS is mainly about crazy technology/science, so it's basically a poor man's Fringe, with an attempt to replicate Firefly's 'crew-becoming-family' dynamic.

It's early days, of course. If we get more creative stories and concepts like the one presented in "Eye Spy", I would be more willing to stick around and hope the characters and their relationships develop... or, perhaps, a few are killed off and replaced with better ones. (That is very possible with a Joss Whedon-affiliated show). AoS has been given a full season order by ABC, so you can relax about the axe falling prematurely, but ratings are dropping every week. It started with an excellent 12.12m, but is hovering around 7m already . It clearly hasn't maintained the general audience lured in by the marketing buzz (4m bailed by episode 2), but now it feels like even the genre fans aren't too keen. My guess is AoS will plateau around 6m unless the writers find the show's voice, start writing to its strengths, and claw lost viewers back for a second chance.

AoS can do things its cinematic siblings can't, like tell long-form stories and delve deeper into its character, so hopefully some of that will come into play soon. They've already set up a super-villain with Ian Hart's scientist Franklin Hall, who fell into a "gravitonium generator" and appears to have survived... to undoubtedly emerge as Graviton later this season. That bodes well for a 'super-smackdown' later this season.

Maybe AoS should raid more of the Marvel catalogue, too; using ideas and characters the films probably wouldn't touch for various reasons. AoS returns to ABC on 5 November, and Channel 4 on 8 November, so we'll see how it fares.