It's no big secret that I love watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For a comic book fan such as I it has been on my weekly watch list since it came out-- and not only is it a Marvel show but it is also a Whedon brothers and Maurissa Tancharoen show... how could I let this one slip me by?!
It was one of the most highly anticipated shows of 2013. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe waited eagerly to find out how Agent Coulson survived a Chitauri spear straight to the heart,and to see what S.H.I.E.LD was up to in the wings whilst the new movies were still in production. The cast of (mostly) unknowns was exciting too, as well as familiar faces such as J. August Richardson (which made Angel fans tingle in all the pleasant places) and Ming Na Wen (Stargate Univers, Mulan). It was one of the most watched pilots of the year... so why all the hate, yo? Lemme break it down for you,
COMPLAINT #1: IT'S TOO SLOW.
I hate this complaint. I hate it more than any other complaint complained about in the history of complaints about this show. If this complaint was a face I would punch it. Yet, this seems to be the cry of disappointed TV fans everywhere, and let me tell you why it induces headaches in this tired little skull of mine: it completely disregards storytelling formula in favour of an instant gratification approach. That meaning,the audience doesnt want build up, or character development or mystery-- they want all the answers NOW. They want to know what's up with Coulson RIGHT NOW. They want all the characters to be fully developed with quirks for the sake of quirks RIGHT NOW and god forbid their interaction with the other characters sparks changes in their personality. They, the audience, want to be in the loop whilst the characters are not and frankly, that is boring. That is just not how we do things here in the Whedonverse boys and girls.
In storytelling (specifically scriptwriting) you break a story down into acts. Let's say an episode has 3 acts. The first act is introductory-- what is happening, where are we, who is involved etc. The second act is what this means and the consequences, fleshing out why we should care and the third act is the reveal and explosions and the action and the special effects everyone is complainy complaining about wanting.
If we look at an entire season as also adhering to this structure then A.o.S is actually moving along quite well. In fact, you could almost say it's moving along pretty fast, since the last episode (11) answered some questions about Coulson's resurrection, and the next episode will be all about revealing Skye's parentage. That is midway through the season! Can you imagine what the end of the season is going to look like if you take into consideration this may not be the EXPLOSIONS part of it?
The reason everyone wants everything right away is a product of our times. I could write an entire essay about how magazines and the internet have moulded our brains into information hungry monsters with stompy feet that hate waiting in line but I'm sure an older person has yelled the gist of it at you before. We want things and we want them now... but that isnt going to make a good story. You have to remember there are 22 episodes in this season; if the writers gave you all the good stuff now the series would burn out quicker than it started. Hang tight, you antsy rascals.
COMPLAINT #2: THE CHARACTERS ARE CLICHAND BORING!
I understand what you're feeling, fellow TV bro, but let me try to appeal to you for a second.
Ideas don't start out completed.You don't get to know everything about a person just by meeting them once. Everyone but you and your friends are NPCs... is this making sense? No? I'll go on, then.
In A.o.S the lens is Skye. She is the relatively normal young adult that gets swept into this crazy, crazy comic book story (hey, that's just like us! The audience! We're practically Skye!). She meets Melinda May, the quiet and mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D agent who seems kind of like a bitch; Grant Ward, the muscle who doesnt like to talk about his feelings; the two science bros that she doesnt understand and plus FOREIGN?!?!; and then there is Coulson who we all know a little bit about and she takes to him the same way his real life fans do-- with adoration.
The characters are rooted in stereotype. They are oozing stereotype. So why should we care? Because the only place to go from here is up. You can't make the characters any more cliche than they already are. The stereotypes are there to be broken! Slowly, but surely, May is becoming more friendly and inclusive, Ward is becoming a team player that actually trusts people, FitzSimmons are becoming increasingly more brave and the entire team is learning to question everything.
If anything, the characters development reflects the tone of the show: what happens when you can't trust convention? What happens when everything you've ever been comfortable believing puts you on the barrel side of the gun?
Trust me, these characters are in for one hell of a ride.
COMPLAINT #3: IT'S NOT A MARVEL SHOW!
Er... what? Yes it is? Do the endless obvious and non-obvious references to the Marvel Universe not tip you off? Is it the lack of superheroes getting you down? What is it? I honestly have no idea. The dialogue and plotlines are pretty damn similar to what you would expect out of a Marvel comic, so I dont really get this complaint.
I like to think of A.o.S as a Marvel TV version of DC's Gotham Central. If you're familiar with comics you will no doubt have either heard of or read some/all of this series. It's a great series, it's rooted in Gotham but... it's not about Batman. It's not even about any of the Bat-family and their sometimes super-comrades or foes. Well, not really. The series is about the Gotham Central police department and how they have to deal with the threat of superheroes and masked vigilantes. It's frakking awesome, and A.o.S has this vibe to it. You've got your average super secret spies (lol) suddenly having their entire lives and worldview turned on it's head because in the timeframe of one day aliens, superheroes and two so-called Asgardian gods all got together to have a spectacularly violent mardi gras. How are you meant to deal with that? How do you continue to hold down the fort? Not only that but these super-beings are like the terrible flatmate of the world and they're breaking all ofyour stuff and owe the mafia a lot of money and gangsters keep coming around and standing outside your window with a baseball bat.
That is pretty much how these agents are feeling.
HAVE I GIVEN YOU FOOD FOR THOUGHT?
I didn't write this to change anyone's mind, I'm not that naive. People think what they think and that's just how it is. But I did think a lot of the criticism the show got was unfair, and I wanted to address that as well as talk about how modern society has skewed the way we watch TV shows. From being content with a story arc that slowly builds to wanting everything as soon as we can get it, I wonder what this means for the future of TV? More self-contained episodes? Seasons consisting solely of mini-arcs? More 8 episode seasons? Who knows. I'm only 22 and I already feel the world is changing around me. Soon I'll be spending all day in tracksuits, then I'll be playing bridge and then I'll be dead. Life is a fickle mistress, kids.
The show isn't perfect. I have come away from an episode more than once being let down by the writing, and I've cringed at some of the dialogue more times than I'll admit but the potential is so strong in this one, young padawans. So strong, so I'm sticking with it.