I’m torn over this series, because I so desperately wanted it to be good, and expected it to be good, that I’m struggling to find a balance between going easy on it and venting my frustrations. My expectations and hopes were high from the get-go with this series and while I knew that it would never be able to live up to the phenomenal hype, I had hoped it wouldn’t fall quite so far.
I am a big fan of the comic-inspired superhero genre that’s been ruling the box office for the past decade or so. I’ve always been a fan of genres like science fiction and fantasy which allow investigation of ideas and characters unusual circumstances, and the superhero genre is a good lens through which to tell stories about people both normal and exceptional and what those labels even mean. The series of Marvel films built around the individuals that eventually make up The Avengers has done a great job at making interesting stories and blending them with so much action and humour that they are exceptionally entertaining to watch.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m also a massive Joss Whedon fan and was utterly blown away by The Avengers, he’s a perfect match for the genre and the whole of his spectacular back catalogue has clearly been influenced by his love of exactly the things I just described. It seemed almost too good to be true that after showing what he can do with the budget and characters in a film, that he’d be able to continue playing in that sandbox with the much larger scope of television.
As it turns out, it was too good to be true, because with the exception of a couple of ideas and the occasional line of dialogue, this is not a Joss Whedon production. I don’t know what his actual involvement was, but given that he was prepping for what’s sure to be the biggest film of 2015 during the production of SHIELD it’s unlikely he had a great deal of time. And while those working on the series did a passable impression at times, the absence of Whedon’s polish, originality and flashes of pure genius were notably absent.
Sadly the whole thing felt a bit like the B-team were dropped in the deep end. There were times on the series, particularly during the first few episodes after the pilot that felt out-right amateur. The relative inexperience of most of the young cast and the showrunners left many scenes feeling like it was a rehearsal being filmed. Dialogue was clunky and flatly delivered, plots were predictable, stage directions were clumsy and it only felt a couple of steps away from actors looking for their marks and being unable to walk and talk at the same time. I absolutely adore Clark Gregg, but there were lots of times when he felt like a brilliant supporting actor floundering in a lead role. It all felt stodgy and forced, nowhere near the organic and solid style that Whedon’s work usually has.
On the plus side, the series did gradually pick up. There was a marked improvement following Captain America 2 which dramatically changed the context for Agents of SHIELD. There were still some problems with dialogue and characters, but the structure and interest which the ongoing storyline brought gave the series sufficient energy to cover over some of the gaps. I think the series was completely at the whim of the film schedules and the writers had to sort of tread water a bit until that storyline kicked in. On the other hand, it may actually have been better to have even more ‘normal’ time for the team before everything shifted. It didn’t really feel like they’d necessarily earned the strong bond that they had to rely on. I know my context is somewhat different, but I can’t say that after just 6 months I would treat my colleagues like my only family in the world. The pacing just didn’t feel quite right, both too fast and too slow.
I do still like Agents of SHIELD, after all it’s hard to be frustrated about things that you just don’t care about. I think it still hasn’t show its real potential and don’t think it really will until Whedon himself is able to spend more time on it. The bones of it are there, but it just needs him to polish it up and add more of those lines of dialogue that just blow you away. The quiet “huh” in response to bad news, the quirk of an eyebrow instead of shouting, the moments of emotion that are so well earned that you want to jump up and cheer. Agents of SHIELD had all of those somewhere in its 22 episodes, but Firefly had them every single scene.
Fingers crossed for next year.