The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Agents of SHIELD - The Complete First Season

Because there is no way I would have willingly plucked down money for this shit.

NOTE: This was supposed to go up on Marvel Animation Age, as I was sent a review copy for that purpose, but Stu and James Harvey have both been very busy and neither know when they will have time to post it. So here it is.

Like many of you, I was raised on Marvel Comics. I learned to read with Spider-Man comics. I went to see "Iron Man" on opening day and loved it. Likewise, I went to see each movie on opening day, never missing it. I loved "The Avengers", and the worst any of the MCU movies have ever been in my eyes has been just okay. Agent Phil Coulson grew on me and like most of you, his death hurt. I waved my "Coulson Lives" flag (there was a bumper sticker with the slogan on a street light in lower Manhattan right outside of Lombardi's Pizzeria) and was ecstatic when "Agents of SHIELD" was announced with a resurrected Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg as the lead. I oohed and aahed over the trailer, and every piece of marketing. The potential was endless, and as we have spent the last few years in the golden age of television, I awaited the premiere with breathless anticipation.

Then the show hit the airwaves.

I was in denial.

I watched the second episode.

I tried to talk myself into thinking "well, it's... okay."

By the time the fourth episode aired I asked myself "am I actually enjoying this?"

I quit after watching the sixth episode after admitting what I didn't want to admit: I hated this show.

I read the showrunners' "our show does not suck, you're just watching it wrong" damage control interviews. There were a lot of those, mostly using the straw man argument that those of us who were disappointed were expecting superheroes or the Avengers every week.

I read that Clark Gregg called people who quit watching the show "losers".

I watched "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and believed there was potential for the ship to correct course.

I tuned in and finished the season.

The ship did not correct course. The ship went down faster than the Hindenburg.

Anybody who said it did improve was in denial. Or lying.

How did this happen? I was not expecting superheroes every week, I was expecting a decent TV show. I was expecting Joss Whedon-quality television. But this wasn't really Joss Whedon's show. The showrunners were Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen; Joss's less talented brother and sister-in-law. To make matters worse, the beneficiaries of nepotism had Jeph Loeb as their overlord, a man who has been busy ushering an age of low quality television ever since he failed upward into the seat of Marvel's television division. Together, they managed to hire people of little to no talent, and bring people who actually possessed honest to god talent down to their level. There is not a single moment in all twenty-two episodes of the show that feels sincere. Not one line of dialogue, not one example of cinematography, not even so much as an inflection or facial expression from any of the cast. This entire series feels like a master's program in how to produce the worst television series possible. I understand the concept of "so bad it's good", but this series is so bad that it's insulting.

Chloe Bennet as Her Greatness, the Special Snowflake Whom We All Love and Brett Dalton as Grant Ward the Block of Wood epitomize everything wrong with the casting of this series all by themselves. One is a failed pop star turned failed actress (look up Chloe Wang's music video, "Uh Oh" if you're in the mood to cringe) and the other would benefit from Hayden Christensen as his acting coach. The rest of the cast doesn't fare any better with Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge playing walking, talking cliches; two scientists who each make the other redundant. Clark Gregg and Ming-Na, the two acting veterans fare poorly here, as bad directing and awful material prevents either character from even taking a step towards potential. Likewise, guest appearances by Samuel L. Jackson, Jaimie Alexander and Cobie Smulders would make you swear these three needed to attend acting classes if you had never seen them before.

If a series is only as good as its villains, then this show is the pits as our villains are personified by a dull girl in a flowered dress, a generic evil business man, and eventually, Agent John Garrett. Garrett is played by Bill Paxton, a mentor of Grant Ward, and an agent of HYDRA who's villainy is revealed when the series briefly ties into "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". I'd be lying if I said there was no potential in Garrett, but all of that is stripped away in the finale when he transforms into a Power Rangers villain, delivering a performance that would embarrass even Uwe Boll. It was like an 80s cartoon, where all the villains got dumbed down so the writers didn't have to think too hard. Oh yeah, and Deathlok is in this show, too. Do you care? I don't.

This show didn't even care about the HYDRA reveal as it was structured so that once SHIELD fell, nothing would really change anyway. Coulson and his crew were on their own all the time, hardly ever backed up by the greater organization, so nothing changed at all once "Winter Soldier" hit. Nothing. The worst part of the season finale, other than Bill Paxton chewing all the scenery he could, was the pointless FitzSimmons "drama". It was the "if we do this one of us will die!" and then they both lived anyway. What was the point? How can you have drama without consequences?

Now, some of you might wonder why I am so angry at a television series. I looked back at comments I've made over the past year and even asked myself "was I really that furious, why was I that furious?" Re-visiting these episodes for this review I reminded myself that I was furious because I despise these people! Why do I despise these people? Because drinking bleach seemed like a better use of my time than watching the Special Snowflake and Sidekicks behave like irritating idiots while the writers sprinkle in names like "Stark" and words like "Avengers" and "HYDRA", along with references to Captain America, the Red Skull, and Loki so that morons like myself would keep tuning in because we love the Marvel Universe.

Jeph Loeb's reign of terror at Marvel's television division began with the animated series, "Ultimate Spider-Man" and continued with "Avengers Assemble" and "Hulk: Agents of SMASH" and culminated in "Agents of SHIELD", and it shows no signs of slowing down. I have never seen such a smorgasbord of tripe that hearkens back to the days when television was known as the idiot box. We live in a golden age of television, an age that has given us TV shows like "Breaking Bad", "Game of Thrones", "Mad Men", "Sherlock", "Orange Is the New Black", "House of Cards". An era that started with "The Sopranos" and was pioneered years before that by "Hill Street Blues". Even "Arrow" is fun and brings quality, and while "Supernatural" is no longer as good as it once was, it still blows "Agents of SHIELD" out of the water on every level. There is no excuse.

Every great franchise needs an awful inclusion. STAR TREK has "Voyager" and "Enterprise"; BABYLON 5 has "Legend of the Rangers" and "The Lost Tales"; STAR WARS has the prequels; for the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE, let's hope "Agents of SHIELD" is as bad as it gets. But, I will not be watching the second season, I have no good will left towards this show nor curiosity to discover what happens next. If you want to keep watching, then frankly I feel sorry for you. I understand loving Marvel, I do too. But I don't love the brand blindly, nor unconditionally. I love it enough to tell them when they suck, because it's the only way they will ever get better. Unfortunately, it's too late for this show, as the worst aspects are so ingrained into it, it would be a completely different show if they excised those elements. And for those of you who think it's genuinely good, you need to expand your horizons and watch better TV shows, I know this sounds insulting but I say it because it's for your own good. Before you post the angry comments, ask yourself this question and answer it honestly: would you care about this show at all if it didn't have Marvel's name on it?

I'm not saying it's the worst television series ever made, but it's definitely the worst television series I have ever seen. Nepotism is bad, Joss.

Now, after all of that, I had hoped to at least say that the disc was well done, but it isn't. The menus are ugly, and slightly confusing. The bonus features consist of "Journey Into S.D.C.C." documenting Jeph Loeb's appearance with the cast at San Diego Comic Con to a thunderous applause from MCU fans weeks before the series premiere... and I cannot help but wonder how many of them were disappointed when the show finally aired. Also included is the TV special: "Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe" which originally aired shortly before the premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier".

In addition to that are several making of featurettes (called "Field Reports") that include:

* "The Malibu Jump" - A behind the scenes look "The Asset", specifically the assault on Quinn's mansion. Much props to Chloe Bennet's stunt double, who is thousands of times more talented than Bennet, herself.
* "The Bridge" - which documents the action sequences in the tenth episode of the series.
* "Asgardian Bar Fight" - Which features a look at the action sequences of "Yes Men", featuring welcome appearances by Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif of Asgard and Elena Satine as Lorelai... the only episode of the series I almost didn't hate.
* "Classified" - A look at the making of "Turn, Turn, Turn"... the episode where supposedly the world is flipped upside down, but due to how the show was constructed from Day One, nothing really changed.
* "Cello Duet" - A behind the scenes look at "The Only Light In the Darkness" which features a welcome appearance by Amy Acker as Coulson's former love interest. I've always enjoyed Amy Acker and I believe it is a shame that this series failed her.

"VFX Breakdowns" offers a fairly decent look at the show before and after the visual effects (which were correctly defeated by "Game of Thrones" at the Emmys) were inserted, and finally "Bloopers of SHIELD" which features more heartfelt performances and humanity than the series itself, as well as a small selection of Deleted Scenes.

There are supposedly audio commentaries on the discs featuring various members of the cast and crew, but so far I have been unable to find them. Not under BONUS FEATURES, not under SET UP, or even under the episode selection. I've spent the better part of an hour searching; and I blame the design of the menu.

The Aspect Ratio is 1.78:1, 16x9 Widescreen. The Audio on the Blu-ray is 5.1 DTS-HDMA, while the DVD is 5.1 Dolby Digital. The episodes themselves are only in English with English, SDH, Spanish, and French Subtitles.

Overall, this is a mediocre release for a repulsive television series. I would avoid it, and keep on enjoying the movies because nothing in this series will ever influence the big budget feature films. Next week, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" arrives on Blu-ray, and I look forward to watching it again. It will be the perfect antidote to this filth.


  1. Great review! All that last segment needed was a mic drop.

    While I think you disliked the show more than I, you admittedly saw much more of it than I did. I never hated it but I became more disinterested in its' incompetent mediocrity with moments of pithy ignorance at itself with every episode until about 6-7 in when I quit and didn't look back. I was watching the show for free at my own schedule on the website, and even then I couldn't justify spending the time on it. At best it felt like a syndicated sci-fi show that would air on UPN or Channel 11 on Sunday afternoons in the 90's. And that sort of stuff was barely tolerable in the actual 1990's. All it was missing was a cameo by Kevin Sorbo.

    I did like Coulson and May, and I could even tolerate Ward or FritzSimmons, but Skye (atop of the generic plotting) was the deal breaker. She was obviously the main lead and I couldn't stand her. And if you have a show where the main lead is intolerable, you need to at least back it up with good plotting and a great supporting cast. AOS didn't have that. At best the supporting cast fill cookie cutter script cliches from out of a college fiction class and Skye is at the center of the web. And that wasn't worth my time no matter how much I wanted to like it.

    I can only imagine what'd happen if Marvel Animation Age sent you an "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" blu ray. Hell, even I'd take pause at that and demand hazard pay.

  2. Great review! Especially that last segment; all you needed was a mic drop.

    Although I think you disliked the show more than I did, I also couldn't be bothered to sit through as much of it as you have. I lost interest after about 6-7 episodes. Fritz and Ward went to Russia and I never came back. It suffers the same problem that "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" does in that the show's production team clearly assumes the things they are doing poorly are in fact awesome, and they endlessly repeat them.

    I had some time for May and Coulson but in the end even if I was willing to accept Ward or FritzSimmons or the villains from college fiction 101, Skye was the deal breaker. She was obviously the lead and I couldn't stand her. A show with an intolerable lead can still work if the rest of the cast is good (or allowed to shine) and the writing is good, but AOS doesn't do that. At best it was a throwback to 90's era syndicated fantasy/sci-fi stuff like "MUTANT X" or "ANDROMEDA" only with triple the budget and a cushy prime time network slot. And that sort of stuff was barely tolerable even in the actual 1990's.

    There was so much potential here, but AOS at best is almost a representation of the worst of the Disney/Marvel merger; a production created from beginning to end in pursuit of profits first, quality second (or third) and it is all about the sell. It is the TV version of a spare franchise team comic that only seems to exist to pad out crossovers (which made the film tie ins unintentionally hilarious). It is the TV version of X-FORCE circa 1997.

    By the end I couldn't even justify spending the time to watch it. I didn't quite hate it, I hated the time I spent watching it that could have been put to better use.

  3. Whoops, guess I don't know how Blogspot works. And I disliked AOS enough to go for tearing into it twice when given half the chance.

  4. "If you want to keep watching, then frankly I feel sorry for you. I understand loving Marvel, I do too. But I don't love the brand blindly, nor unconditionally. I love it enough to tell them when they suck, because it's the only way they will ever get better."

    In my defense, I acknowledge flaws Marvel has in general. For starters, they need to make a Black Panther and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) movie respectively. There's a set audience for them and I ain't talking about fans. Not to mention Kevin Fiege needs to stop dancing around the issue.

    That and they dropped the ball on letting Edgar Wright go from Ant-Man. Though apparently somebody higher up than Fiege disagreed with him so that explains things.

    Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are very much the weakest films in the MCU. The Marvel exclusives cabin or whatever club that is won't invite Kelly Sue Deconnick to join and apparently it's because she's not exclusively writing for just Marvel since she's been writing for different as well, not just Marvel. Which is odd since it's an entire sausage fest and they need more women.

    I'm with you on their recent cartoons though, they need to rework those. I admit though that I watched out of curiosity, me being a masochist and all or just leave them as background noise.

    Before you jump on me, I'm on season five of Breaking Bad with 14 episodes to go as of this message.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, as a huge Marvel fan, they have their flaws and it's okay to admit them because you want them to get better.

  5. Excellent review.

    The thing about this show is that it's not obviously terrible, it's not a Uwe Boll or Tommy Wiseau, it's mediocre. Mediocrity can be forgiven by fans, can be rationalised away because they like Coulson or just that it's connected to the MCU. If you turn off your brain, if you embrace the mediocrity, that's the only way to like it. That's probably why it won't be going away any time soon. Sadly.

    The show is safe, doesn't take chances or risks. It's banal television at it' worst. The characters are one-note to appeal to the wider audience. It can't even risk the audience actually liking or caring about the character they want to turn evil as a "dramatic twist." Comparing it to Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise was very apt, some go-to examples to safe bland TV.

    Season 2 will be no different.

    1. I don't know, Tommy Wiseau has more charisma than Chloe Bennet does. "The Room" is also thousands of times more entertaining.

    2. Tommy Wisseau is a weirdo moron with obvious issues but he's damn fascinating and I want to see more from him because he be this generation's Ed Wood.

      Chloe Bennet and co., though? They don't leave me wanting more. And that's probably an understatement.

    3. I definitely want to see the film adaption of "The Disaster Artist", that's for sure.

    4. Same here. The book gave me so much perspective to things regarding Tommy and "The Room" that I would not have even given a second thought to.

  6. I felt the second half of the season was better than the first, but that's really not saying much since it's more an observation than a claim that the show got any bit *good.* But even then I felt something was off and didn't know what until you brought it to my attention - the mid-season "game changer"...really changed nothing. These guys might as well have been operatives independent of S.H.I.E.L.D from the start and it wouldn't have felt any different.

    Also, I almost get the sense that Bill Paxton gave an awful performance on purpose. The script and direction must have told him that he had to "go crazy" because that's what the character was going through, so he took it as "be as cartoonish as possible and see if I can get away with it." It'd be commendable if it didn't make a bad thing worse...

  7. Why does Jeph Loeb keep that position? I hear that he's a great guy, and that some of the problems with his writing came from his son dying of cancer, some people note there signs of him projecting grief into his work, but being a nice guy doesn't mean you should get a job. I'd rather have a mechanic fix my car and be a jerk rather than a nice one try and fail. Then again, we also live a world where Frank Miller has still managed to get his name tagged to Sin City despite ASSBAR and Holy Terror.

    1. Funny, I've been told by people whom I know personally and trust, who have met him, that Loeb is by no means a nice guy.

    2. Interesting. Well then I don't know what to think other than he shouldn't have that job he enjoys.

    3. I'd be more inclined to believe that myself. Loeb, through his work and his experiences, just seems like a guy who is bitter at the world and wants to lash out by feeding us all garbage.