Expectations were high when Marvel announced its first live-action television series, but every new episode reveals the greater depths of mediocrity that the show can sink to. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D follows the fictional peacekeeping and spy agency of the Marvel universe, and as one of the characters so eloquently puts it: “it means we’re the line between the world, and the weirder world.” Colbie Smulders guest stars in the pilot and adds, in perhaps one of the most patronizing lines ever written, that the public “have access to tech, to formulas, they’re not ready for.” S.H.I.E.L.D is thus presented to viewers as an angry, over-bearing first-time babysitter trying to keep those pesky kids, the general public, in line.
The biggest issue with the series is the cast of boring, stock characters that a marketing agent somewhere in the Marvel offices deemed likely to be popular. Agent Coulson, played by fan-favourite Clark Gregg (of The New Adventures of Old Christine fame), is at the forefront of the team. He’s the only one who injects any talent into the otherwise bland cast. When reading a report assessing Agent Ward’s ability to relate to others, he adds humour to what otherwise would have been too obvious a line: “Under people skills, she drew a… I think it’s a little poop? With knives sticking out of it?” Agent Ward is a predictable addition to the cast, and appears to be present only to act as stereotypical macho eye candy. He’s obviously too much of a sexy loner to talk to anyone else, and he informs the viewers of this with the subtlety of a jackhammer: “Defusing a nuclear bomb? I’m your guy. Rolling out a welcoming committee? Not my speed.” Oh, sing to me you gorgeous crafter of words.
Equally eloquent is Skye, whose hair remains perfectly blow-dryed even though she lives in a van. Skye is also a computer-whiz who single-handedly runs “Rising Tide”, an Anonymous-like cyber organization dedicated to exposing the superhero-world and those nasty government busy-bees at S.H.I.E.L.D. Again, predictably, she joins the organization by seeing the error in her ways thanks to Agent All-Day-4-O’-Clock-Shadow Ward. It is her soft curls that will ultimately soften the heart of knife-poop Agent Ward. Yet perhaps the worst additions to the cast are the scientist duo Fitz and Simmons (or Fitz-Simmons for short) who add the UK quotient to the show. Marvel’s marketing agent wins yet again, because obviously, an addition of English and Scottish accents into a show will automatically make it popular.
It’s a shame that the characters are so poorly written, because at the outset, the show did have the potential to be hugely successful. The Marvel universe is filled with well-sketched, interesting characters, but the show has created a cast of bland ones as the audience’s way to get to the good ones. This just leaves the audience short-changed as we are forced to stay with this boring, archetypal team for too long. On the other hand, a show like Gotham exploits the fantastic DC universe in a far cleverer way, by having Inspector James Gordon as the protagonist – an already well established, compelling character played brilliantly by Ben McKenzie (of The OC).
Surprisingly, the show is already two seasons in and still hasn’t been cancelled, probably because producers are hoping that the upcoming series of Marvel films will boost ratings. While there are a few good things about the show, such as the well-choreographed action sequences, ultimately, the show proves that while market research can guarantee a certain number of viewers, it can never guarantee quality.