I finally broke down and watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If I wanted to be kind, I would say it was fairly mediocre, but the fact is, it pretty much sucks, and it sucks in a way only Disney can deliver. We got the Wonder Bread version of the Marvel Universe. A bland, boring slog through re-tread stories of double-cross and triple-cross filled with new bad guys, and a handful of… Jesus, D-List villains? E-List, maybe? I mean we’re talking about guys like Scorch (surely you remember him from the Night Thrasher comic?) and Blackout for fuck’s sake.

In fact, it doesn’t matter, because they’re so removed from their forgotten comic-book counterparts, they might as well be all-new creations anyway. Then, of course, there’s Garrett, who’s also from the comics, and also completely forgotten, the origin of Iron Man villain Blizzard, and Deathlok, the only thing close to a “marquee” character introduced in the show, although he got a name change and a complete makeover to allow him to pass in public. We also get the setup for Franklin Hall to one day become a very boring Graviton…

All of which begs the question why? Why bother dredging up meaningless characters if you aren’t going to make them something interesting? In AoS, they’re just a bunch of soldiers and spies and agents and extremely tedious people. I realize I’m a bit out of touch, but things do still happen in comic books, don’t they?

Picking on the obscurity and mismanagement of the supporting characters is really the wrong place to start. There’s so much else wrong with this show that’s even more damaging.

The main problem is that AoS starts off not know what it wants to be when it grows up. A team of plucky outsiders led by gruff-but-caring commander who doesn’t play by the rules? How original. Is it The X-Files? TorchwoodCSIMission: Impossible? The answer is yes. It’s all of these. The setup of the show is so derivative and so familiar, it’s like a reboot of a show you remember watching, but can’t recall the title of.

The cast of Abercrombie & Fitch models they’ve surrounded poor Clark Gregg with certainly don’t help. Are we really supposed to give a shit about these people, because if we are, fail. Apart from Ming-Na Wen, who’s fine as Melinda May, the rest all taste like Shredded Wheat. The pretty boy badass traitor, the other pretty boy badass not traitor, the attractive-in-a-family-friendly-sexless-way hacker, and the idiotic, socially-retarded Beaker twins. Not only is it a mess, it’s a very familiar mess.

The chaos is partly due to the fact that the show’s first half is plainly marking time until it can get to the events in Winter Soldier, at which point it becomes a different series altogether. The split is plainly delineated by when they stop using the “Icers” (is this ABC Family, for chrissakes?) and start actually shooting people. Frankly, the changeover is clunky, mismanaged, and unforgivable.

It’s obvious that Joss Whedon’s little brother was given too much authority riding on his bro’s over-inflated coattails. Someone at Disney should have cracked some skulls. Or maybe the problem is equally over-inflated film hack Jeph Loeb, the guy who single-handedly destroyed Marvel’s “Ultimate Comics” line (which was previously awesome) after giving us the finale to Lost. Yeah. HIM. Regardless, what we actually got is shameful. How many McGuffins, red herrings and false flags do you have to fill one season with before you admit the writers were running on empty?

Let’s have a quick tally; Coulson’s on a personal quest to learn how he was revived, and why, and boy is he pissed about it. Skye is on a personal quest to find her parents, and then everyone isn’t on a quest to find out who and what the fuck she actually is after they learn she was once classified as an “Object of Unknown Origin.” (Haven’t they read the comics? She’s Mantis. The Celestial Madonna. Duh.) Everyone is on a quest to find the Clairvoyant, who watched Saw, and uses people to control other people controlling other people.

So first, the Clairvoyant is this fat guy coming out of a building, then it’s Brad Dourif, in the most WTF piece of wasted stunt-casting I’ve ever seen, then it’s scenery-chewing good guy Bill Paxton turned into scenery-chewing bad guy Bill Paxton… except he’s also Hydra, which means he’s really just a cog in Robert Redford’s big machine… except he’s also been working his own thing to get to Coulson’s life-regenerating serum for his own purposes, and to make a ton of money with Centipede… or something.

And, of course, Agent May is a traitor… except she’s not. And Hand is a traitor… except she’s not. And Ward definitely isn’t a traitor, until he is. And Deathlok? Well, he’s a guy with powers who goes nuts and gets shot and becomes a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent then double-crosses Coulson then double-crosses Garrett. It’s just flat-out bad scripting. If they’d had the sack to kill one of the muppets in the final story arc, I could have cut them some slack, but alas.

Mainly, though, the show just feels cheap. When characters fight, they smash through a lot of drywall… when they “trash” Coulson’s plane, they never trash it too badly… And no matter what far-flung part of the world they have to visit, it always looks and feels a lot like L.A. Streets of Hong Kong? No, that’s Broadway in  Chinatown. Forest in Norway? Try Griffith Park. Portland? Pasadena. It reminds me of the old I Spy series… You can go anywhere you like, as long as it’s in L.A. County.

And can I take a moment to address something the really bugs the fanboy in me? Are WhedonCo really setting up a Marvel Universe with NO mutants, and NO actual metahumans? Apparently, they never plan on getting the X-Men back because their absolute certainty that no one in the world has psychic powers means there are NO mutants. (Let’s forget that grunge-rock Scarlet Witch and burner Quicksilver are in Avengers 2.) Apparently, there are aliens with astonishing abilities, and altered humans (like Cap, and as Spider-Man would be if they ever got him back, or the Fantastic Four), but no one born on Earth has inherent powers. I find this approach disturbing, but I guess we’ll see.

Supposedly, season 2 will be darker, have higher production values, and be more akin to modern television series with a solid continuous plot rather than 10 fractured ones. I’m skeptical. Frankly, S.H.I.E.L.D. has more to answer for than just Operation Insight.

 

 

Whatcha think?

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