Sunday, 9 February 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a programme with a lot of potential. Okay, the big name superheroes and villains may be inaccessible because the rights have either been sold to film studios or because Marvel’s holding them in reserve for future projects, but the seventy-year-old fictional universe is a big place. There are dozens of minor characters that could be plucked from obscurity and made into a relevant and enjoyable part of a modern day TV series. How about Wonderman or Mr Immortal or Photon or Tigra?

There are plenty of oddball plots and series that are never going to be converted for the silver screen. Delving into Marvel’s Essential collections would turn up plenty of material. A look at Jim Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. work would be a good idea too. In fact I think the creative types working on the show have a great deal more freedom than those working on Marvel film projects for Fox, Sony or Marvel themselves.

The problem the show has is that this potential has come nowhere close to being lived up to. The show is too serious, too po-faced, too concerned with being seen as gritty and relatable. Everything from the drab stories to the cynically written and-or boring cast of characters demonstrates this. It’s a Joss Whedon show so I understand we’re going to have snarky nerds and Kung Fu lovin’ women but that doesn’t mean that’s all we have to have.

Agent Coulson is possibly the worst offense. Beyond the central mystery of how he was resurrected after death and the clumsy (and frequent) references to his time in Tahiti (mysteries I have no interest in hearing the resolution to by the way) there’s nothing to the character. As a recurring minor character in films he was fine. As a central figure on a TV show he falls apart. His motivations are supposed to be a combination of enigmatic and mysterious, his lines droll, but he’s just tedious and uninteresting. In fairness he’s the one character that had to be included as he provides the link between the films and the show but that’s no reason to make him a chore to watch.

A sense of grittiness and overly-tense characters are things that concern too many drama shows. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would make a greater impact if it embraced a sense of fun and tried to impress viewers with a sense of wonder. Grittiness can be seen any drama show. Fun and wonder cannot. S.H.I.E.L.D. is an organisation tasked with protecting the world from aliens, magic, tyrants, and errant superheroes. There’s a lot that could be done with the premise, but those in charge seem reticent to embrace that.

Episode four, Eye Spy, started in the right way. It depicted dozens of grey suit-wearing men marching in unison through public places clutching briefcases, their faces covered in red masks. The reason for it happening, when it was revealed, was boring, but the visual was both something different and compelling. If the show could dream up similarly intriguing images and marry them to plots that deserve them then it would be on the right track.

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