Mar 12, 2015

[TV] Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1

It seems to happen almost every time I think that I've run out of shows to review, I'll be reminded of a prior season of a show that I had watched some time back but for some reason never reviewed here on the Geeky Guide. Thus is the case of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. whose omission became truly evident once I reviewed the first season of Marvel's Agent Carter.

This blog always reminds me just how much television we manage to watch and how easily a lot of it can slip through the cracks, as it were. And this does not reflect how good or bad a show it - I just really need a better tracking mechanism for shows that we've watched and how to review them here.

And this show represents an interesting venture - a conscious effort to create a TV series that is supposed to remain connected with on-going Marvel movie projects. It's a multi-platform franchise effort that's certainly ambitious and not without its hiccups over time. But they're clearly learning to be better, if recent episodes aren't good enough examples of how far they've come with this show.

Synopsis: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a US drama series created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen. The show is based on the Marvel Comics organization S.H.I.E.L.D. but tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continuity.

The show begins with Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who is back in action despite appearing to have died during the first Avengers movie. He has been tasked to put together a small S.H.I.E.L.D. team to investigate unusual events and strange cases, which nicely mirrors his role during many of the Phase 1 Marvel movies leading up to The Avengers movie. His team consists of Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), pilot and weapons expert, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), black ops specialist, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), engineering and weapons technology, and Jemme Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), life sciences both human and potentially extraterrestrial.

This first season has them investigating a series of cases related to a secret organization known only as Centipede, although the goals of the group are not immediately apparent. There are also numerous references to their mysterious leader known only as The Clairvoyant. Their initial cases also bring them in contact with Skye (Chloe Bennet), a civilian hactivist with a mysterious past of her own. She eventually gets recruited into the team as a sort of consultant as they face down various criminals and such.

Now the show obviously had a challenge from the very beginning since it was meant to supplement the movies without utilizing any of the key movie talent for the most part. Thus it often begs the question of why S.H.I.E.L.D. would be sent in to investigate this case or another instead of one of the front line superheroes coming in to save the day. The first part of the season struggled with this since not many folks found Centipede all that interesting an adversary - it wasn't exactly a well-known organization in the Marvel Universe unlike Hydra, A.I.M. and other such groups.

The show had some early attempts to tie into the movies by connecting an episode to the events in Thor: The Dark World, although it wasn't totally overwhelming. We see a good number of cases related to Asgard actually given the efforts to reassemble an Asgardian Berserker Staff in "The Well", and even an adventure with Lady Sif as they try to track down a rogue Asgardian in "Yes Men".

But it isn't until the tailend of the season that we finally get a better understanding of why the show seemed to be stuck in a weird backwater of freak-of-the-week style cases when the show finally links up to the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I know it has been a while, but I still don't want to spoil anything. So all I can say is that the big reveal in the movie had some major repercussions in the show that really gave it the sort of focused narrative that it had needed for most of its run.

To be fair, this is not to say that most of the stories before that episode were useless. If anything, we had ourselves a very slow build-up of a greater narrative as the writers maneuvered in various pieces needed for later on. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to characters being introduced into the show that at first seem like they have little to no connection to the Marvel Comics only to be revealed a little later that they are in fact renamed analogues of comic book stories. Figuring out who is really who sort of became a game for comic book fans, but probably just added to the initial confusion for non-readers who came to the show after enjoying the movies.

On the whole, the big reveal of The Winter Soldier really held the show back and I think  that Marvel could have benefited from launching this show a little closer to that movie instead of the initial efforts to somehow leverage Thor: The Dark World as a platform. Not every Marvel movie can work with this little S.H.I.E.L.D. team when you really get down to it.

But the show shines in terms of its overall tone and structure, which ends up feeling rather "Whedonesque" even though it's not like the Whedons write every single episode. But you see the usual elements of strong female characters and a lot of good banter between characters. To be fair, every member of the core team is pretty well fleshed out and that's just plain good writing, period. It just takes a while for everyone to really grow into their roles and establish distinct voices for themselves given everything else going on.

This first season of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't the strongest possible first jaunt into modern television for Marvel, but I suppose you can't fault their ambition of maintaining a single universe for both the movies and the TV shows. A lot of folks love to cite how some of the DC productions are better on the small screen than Marvel, but then I think they're not factoring in how difficult it is to align movie projects with TV projects. Still, the show has some ways to go and this first season only gets 3.5 comic book relate Easter eggs in the show out of a possible 5.

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