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CSBG Archive

Committed: Agents of T.E.D.I.U.M.

102313_shield1According to this show I’m trying to watch, S.H.I.E.L.D. is “a giant bureaucratic organization that is tracking your every move.” This is interesting, (or rather it isn’t), because we already have the NSA. This most recent comic book inspired television show is unfortunately less exciting or exhilarating than the comic book and worse – it is even more tedious than real life. Like most comic book readers, I’m constantly asked by friends and family who (meaning well) think the television and movie adaptations of superhero comics will appeal to me, operating under the assumption that this is the “kind of thing I like”. It is frustrating and embarrassing to be associated with this endless parade of mediocrity, and I’m finding it increasingly difficult not to lecture them about how little these disappointing offerings have to do with the power and potential of comic books.

Over the years we’ve all got used to the fact that superhero comic books aren’t going to be adapted (for large or small screens) in ways we want them to, the comic book reading experience is just too personal. Instead we’ve learned to appreciate what we can, and ignore the worst offenders. The current batch of superhero movies has had it’s ups and downs, some things worked for some people and some didn’t. On television, the current show Arrow, like Smallville before it, is targeting a melodrama-hungry audience with messy romantic entanglements interspersed with exhibitions of power and bluster. This is not what attracts me to these heroes. It is confusing to me that this is what some people think is needed to make a heroic story engaging. Not only is this not what I read comic books for, it is not what I watch television for. Far from speaking to a superhero-curious audience, my worst fear is that this is the kind of thing which will turn people off and push them away from looking deeper into the medium.

102313_shield3When I was a kid, my first experience of S.H.I.E.L.D. was as an bizarre organization which existed on the periphery of everything too weird to make sense. S.H.I.E.L.D. had crazy renegade agents with removable, recordable memories in Elektra: Assassin. Captain America was always going off for tests at S.H.I.E.L.D. and who knows what they were doing to his well-preserved body? When the Guardians of the Galaxy showed up in Earth orbit, it was S.H.I.E.L.D. that tracked them. Tony Stark would make weird weapons deals with S.H.I.E.L.D. And when I saw Steranko’s take on S.H.I.E.L.D. it felt like the ultimate psychedelic cool spy story. Time and time again, S.H.I.E.L.D. seemed like the bastion of everything too big and too strange to exist and when they announced the TV show we all knew it might not be THAT crazy, but I don’t think anyone expected this endless parade of chiseled-people-in-suits-looking-uptight interspersed with inexperienced, incongruous science cuties.

Oddly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has attempted to reserve all of it’s drama to lingering shots of bored looking actors. Perhaps they intend to emote something, but I’m not sure what… exhaustion or confusion? They certainly are a far cry from the wild confidence of Nick Fury. Black or white, in whatever era he is depicted, Nick Fury was always a tightly wound ball of urgency and a compelling character to build an agency around. Unfortunately that’s not what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have done. Instead someone made the decision to build a show around a dead guy (who’s probably a LMD). I recognize that some people feel connected to the character because he was used as a device to force the heroes to get off their asses and save the world in the Avengers movie (and that’s a whole other can of worms; since when do superheroes need a reason to save the bloody world?). He’s great as a side-character, but I struggle with him as a charismatic lead and I’m very disappointed by the amount of people in suits I’m expected to be interested in. Not a one of them is super heroic. They’re all just getting on with their jobs and having offbeat social skills (which, by the way, is a cute Whedonesque trick for teens, but I’m becoming quite irritated by this trait applying to everyone. People over 25, especially high ranking government agents, aren’t all cute and dorky).

102313_shield2Exhibiting an confusing misunderstanding about the appeal of superhero comic books, television companies continue to bring us shows which lean heavily on melodrama, shunting to the background the fact that these are superheroes choosing to do an impossible job. Maybe television executives fear alienating their audience by showing us meager humans something super or heroic. If that is true then they think very little of the audience, implying that our own self-worth is dependent on demeaning and belittling the heroes we need so badly.

A great deal of what is always appealing about superheroes is the way in which they present a solution to fill a real-world problem, where there are no larger-than-life figures to instantly right all the wrongs. Of course superheroes are a powerful concept, when many of us feel a sense of empathic horror at the pain and suffering experienced by our fellow humans and making what small efforts we can to make the world a better place often feels like swimming against an insurmountable tide. The idea of superheroes has never been more appealing than it is right now, so then why does it feel like television companies hobble the very properties they’re (supposedly) adapting? I feel lucky that we still have a world rich with heroes in our comic books, more potently realized than this screen adaptation has managed… so far.

42 Comments

I think what we’re running into with these shows is they’re being adapted to network formulas which strip out many of the qualities that make these characters and concepts interesting. Agents of SHIELD is a procedural, like CSI or NCIS. Arrow is a action-melodrama like other CW shows. People talk about budget but I think it’s the narrow thinking of broadcast networks that hobble things.

I think Arrow is starting to feel out a better path but I don’t have much hope for SHIELD. Part of the reason is because action/melodrama is closer to the spirit of the source material than a procedural. Maybe if Joss Whedon were more directly involved he could find a way to bring the characters more zip but as it stands, there’s nothing that makes the show stand out besides its connection to movies and comics people like. Sure that could change as the show develops (as Arrow seems to be doing) but the window to accomplish it is closing.

@Dan It seems odd to say that after 25 or so episodes Arrow is moving in a direction that you like but after 5 episodes Agents of SHIELD’s window is closing.

I may be too uncritical, as I do watch quite a bit of scripted TV and enjoy pretty much everything that I watch, either for its quality, or its hilarious badness (hey there, Dexter!) but I am enjoying SHIELD so far and do feel like it is “being written for the trade”, with a fair bit of long form serialized plot interwoven.

I find the article writer’s complaints hard to pin down, since they seem to not like what SHIELD is but I can’t get a grip on what she does want/hope for it to be. Since the role of superheroes is brought up in the last couple of paragraphs, I wonder if it is as simple as wanting it to be a superhero show when it is very explicitly intended to not be a superhero show.

I recognize that some people feel connected to the character because he was used as a device to force the heroes to get off their asses and save the world in the Avengers movie (and that’s a whole other can of worms; since when do superheroes need a reason to save the bloody world?).

I agree with you, but the problem comes from a generation of post-Star Wars screenwriters who think Jospeh Campbell’s monomyth is prescriptive rather than descriptive and treat it as an instruction manual for writing. With all movies made to be the presumptive first part of a trilogy, movie #1 now always follows the “Departure” part of the monomyth. So now there has to be the call to adventure, then the refusal of the call to adventure, then the eventual acceptance of the quest, like clockwork, even if it doesn’t make sense within the context of the specific character and adaptation. So at some point, the Avengers have to refuse the call simply because screenwriters believe that’s what Campbell tells them to do.

The worst offender for inappropriately shoehorning a story into Monomyth is Abram’s Star Trek though.

Steve, I think you might have misread the article a bit.

Sonia doesn’t need me to explain what she wrote, but I think saying SHIELD isn’t intended to be a “superhero” show is disingenuous. In the narrow confines of the MCU, SHIELD is all about superheroes — finding them, analyzing them, dealing with them if need be. The pilot certainly conveyed this image, and the promos have traded on it incessantly. There was a cottage industry as to whether J. August Robinson’s character was meant to be Luke Cage, for example. To say that it isn’t a superhero show is at least a little disingenuous.

Five episodes in, this is better than Arrow was, in my thinking — but that is faint praise. Arrow didn’t find its stride until, of all things, the Christmas episode — usually when a show can get derailed.

The Most Honorable Reverend Colonel Joseph W. Rice

October 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

Sonia nailed it. I’ve tried this show repeatedly, hoping the kinks got worked out …but it isn’t so much that there are kinks, it’s more than none of these characters is even vaguely interesting. They refer to the scientists as one person, and they might as well be. It’s boring, charisma-deficient actors (or characters, hard to tell) doing just another TV show. There’s a reason I don’t watch TV; it’s terrible. SHIELD so far isn’t even worth free Hulu when I’m doing something else, as background.

And don’t get me started on that WhedonWoman we’re supposed to find charming. Jesus H.

I’ve never tried Arrow due to Marc Guggenheim’s involvement. That guy’s stuff really leaves me cold.

Last week’s episode had me hoping the corner had been turned, but last night’s has me considering giving up. Sonia is spot on about Coulson’s limits. None of the other characters (except maybe Melinda May) are anything other than two-dimensional. Skye’s big secret is that she’s looking for her missing parents? Really? How original.

As Most Honorable noted, it’s hard to tell if it’s the characters or the writing, but whatever is at fault, the show is simply dreary. And the action scenes come off as movie-spectacular wannabes. And, please, stop named dropping the MCU at ever awkward opportunity. We get it. We’re not stupid. If you are going to refer to it, please do it organically or subtly, not with pointless character pronouncements. (Coulson was stabbed in the battle of New York? Really? I didn’t know.) I wouldn’t mind the procedural format if it were smart, but this show has very little brains. What a disappointment.

The group I’m the show are clearly dragged together rejects, probably as a way of making Coulson feel okay about himself. Why? We’ll see if it isn’t cancelled. What are SHIELD proper up to? That is a more interesting question, and if things go well maybe we will get an answer. I get that some people don’t want to wait for an answer but I reckon it’s on the way anyhow.
Here’s a question. When Coulson said “This isn’t my first rodeo” what was his first and is that going to become relevant?

They DO seem to be setting up Skye as their first superhero ripped from the comics though, don’t they? She’s searching for her missing parents that SHIELD seemed to have a hand in disappearing. Isn’t that part of Jessica Drew’s origin? Maybe that will turn out to be Skye’s birth name.

They continue having moments where Fitz is clearly ga-ga over her, hinting at her pheromone powers, (also helping explain why Coulson and Ward put up with her against their better judgement.)

The Most Honorable Reverend Colonel Joseph W. Rice

October 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Then she’d just be “Boring Spider-Woman” instead of “Boring …um …good at computers, I guess? Girl.”

Once again, Sonia, it all comes down to the Jay Sherman manifesto:

“If the movie stinks, just don’t go.”

If you think Agents of SHIELD stinks, just don’t watch it.

Ultimately, if you want someone to blame for your problems with how the show has been ‘stripped down’ (and its contemporaries as well), yes blame the writers, but also blame the accountants.

They should keep every character with a photo in Sonia’s article. The rest of them should be phased out.

RegularSyzed Mike

October 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm

None of the bad guys have been shown wearing cylindrical, yellow helmets so this isn’t the real S.H.I.E.L.D.

William O'Brien

October 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Arrow was creaky after 5 episodes, but at least it had a few engaging characters, a couple of mystery hooks and thus some hope for improvement. Even in the weaker episodes it was at least holding attention with some actually interesting cliffhangers. So when the show started getting its act together, it wasn’t completely unexpected.

The characters in Shield are either bland or outright annoying. The guest stars have usually been pretty bad as well. The show is basically subsisting on the Coulson mystery, Skye’s true loyalties, and the Marvel connection. The second of those may have been put to rest already.

The Coulson mystery barely seems like a mystery. He’s an LMD and nobody wants to tell him.

I mean, I suppose it’s possible they could go a way I don’t expect, but… eh. Maybe it’s not fair to judge it for using something the casual viewer wouldn’t know about, but man, if you do know, well, the payoff would have to be pretty great, and I’m not really that engaged.

Honestly, if they killed everyone tomorrow and a new team took over, would anyone really care?

Edit Of Shield – reedits of Agents of Shield anyone?

Episode 3 OPEN REDUX
https://vimeo.com/76848031

EDIT OF SHIELD
A Phantom Edit of Episode 2
https://vimeo.com/76366201

I guess it doesn’t help that I was bothered by the omnipresence of SHIELD (and a meddling, militaristic version of it too!) in the movies. I am rooting for SHIELD to be phased out of the movies, not for seeing more of it in the meantime.

And Coulson, most of all, is a difficult character to like. He is simply much too self-important.

While I have disliked the show myself, this list of complaints is summed up, albeit a contrario sensu, in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

The funny thing about all of this to me: I keep hearing about there is no budget to show “tights” or have recurring characters with powers on the show….

…then on EVERY commercial break what do I see? Ads for Once Upon A Time & Wonderland that show NOTHING BUT characters of power/CGI makeup….

And then on top of that, the running joke in this episode is that this man with a power names himself Scorch and that’s frowned on… By BOTH the villains and heroes… Um Disney, most of the loyal fanbase who devote themselves to this show are fantasy/comic books enthusiasts that I am sure have dreamed about being a hero (or villain) at one moment or another. You know you essentially just slapped us in the face right? What the hell Marvel? I’m giving it the season sure, but if I wanted to by put down in a “meta” way, I’d look at Big Bang Theory or *GASP* Fangasm…..

More and more, I am starting to regret that I lost Alphas, which was a B-style hybrid of SHIELD and X-Men…

The funny thing about all of this to me: I keep hearing about there is no budget to show “tights” or have recurring characters with powers on the show….

…then on EVERY commercial break what do I see? Ads for Once Upon A Time & Wonderland that show NOTHING BUT characters of power/CGI makeup….

And then on top of that, the running joke in this episode is that this man with a power names himself Scorch and that’s frowned on… By BOTH the villains and heroes… Um Disney, most of the loyal fanbase who devote themselves to this show are fantasy/comic books enthusiasts that I am sure have dreamed about being a hero (or villain) at one moment or another. You know you essentially just slapped us in the face right? What the hell Marvel? I’m giving it the season sure, but if I wanted to by put down in a “meta” way, I’d look at Big Bang Theory or *GASP* Fangasm…..

More and more, I am starting to regret that I lost Alphas, which was a B-style hybrid of SHIELD and X-Men…

Damn..sorry about the double post Sonia & Brian…pudgy fingers on iphone strike again!

Ah yes… the well-meaning friends and relatives.

Back in college I made the mistake of telling my family I was getting into Spider-Man comics again.

“Happy birthday! Here are some Superman boxer shorts!”

“Merry Christmas! Here’s a superhero-themed board game for 7-year-olds!”

Agents of SHIELD is the story of hacker girl Skye, as she learns to become Phil Coulson, Jr. Everyone else is supporting cast to Skye.

Only Skye is allowed to act outside her designated role. Only Skye is allowed a personality outside her designated role. Skye is the only one allowed to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Coulson, as everyone else can only briefly talk to Coulson about SHIELD-related events. Characters are only allowed to have non-SHIELD related moments if Skye is involved in the scene. (Even last episode’s scene of Ward and May drinking together was just a set-up for Skye to show up and talk about going to Coulson’s office.)

Skye is the only character to maintain an active multi-episode story arc, and already has two such arcs. Coulson has “Tahiti,” but that storyline has apparently been backburnered to nodding references, probably until the writers decide to really tease an “Is he an LMD?” story. May seemingly had the question of why she stopped being an active agent, but that appears to have been dropped unaddressed with her agreeing to become a fully active agent again.

Skye is the one teased to be Coulson’s new protege, and is the one who acts in all fields. She does science/tech stuff with Fitz and Simmons, as part of her super-hacker role. But she also does agent stuff with Ward and May, as part of her SHIELD training. She’s the only character that bests SHIELD, through her Rising Tide stuff (such as hacking SHIELD with ease.) She gets to play the out-of-her-depth character in one scene, while playing the calmest of the group in the next. Besides Coulson, she’s was the only character who understood working as a team in the first episodes. Like Coulson, she is used as a deus ex machina to advance the plot when necessary.

Skye is quite clearly the main character in the eyes of the writers. She is a miniature Coulson-in-training, quite possibly because the show can’t use Coulson himself for everything without killing the team concept. So they made Skye. And revolve the show around her.

And Ward is the worst agent ever. Sorry, but each episode seems to highlight his awfulness as a field agent. Yes, the first episodes had the idea that he was a lone wolf who couldn’t function in a team, but he’s been equally incompetent since adapting to a team mentality.

I hope I’m not repeating someone else:

Agents of T.E.D.I.U.M

Televised Escapism Diluted In Underwhelming Material

I so want to like this show, but it is dull and uninteresting. They act like if they have some brief comic reference in a long boring episode that will somehow keep the geek in me involved.

I’m not watching the show, but I ask this of Sonia, what was it you were expecting?

Because, when people complain of superhero shows like SMALLVILLE and ARROW being heavy on melodrama, I think fans are being unrealistic. There is no budget to make credible action-oriented superhero TV shows. I think it’s sort of obvious why they have to make it so 60% or more of the scenes are “civilian subplot” scenes.

Of course, it’s okay to complain about the quality of said melodrama. The quantity? No. Perhaps if they abandone the idea of superhero TV shows altogether, or made a couple of TV movies per year, then we could have superheroics in the foreground, melodrama in the background.

Sonia, your opinion is wrong and you should feel bad.

I’m hoping things will get better once they introduce a real opponent – whoever’s behind the smaller-scale organizations we’ve seen so far.

Ugh the plot of episode 2 turned on an appalling lack of protocol from an agency that we’re supposed to believe is the best in the world — and that’s when I stopped watching. Grab the unknown alien device WITH YOUR HANDS and bring it on board the plane unshielded. Invite the ARMED FOREIGN MILITIA onto that plane and give them full run of the place. Grant security clearance to the spunky hacker KNOWN TO ASSOCIATE WITH A PSEUDO-TERRORIST GROUP and hey, send her on missions. I just don’t see how SHIELD could survive with this level of incompetence. It just doesn’t make sense. Is it crazy to want more realism in a super-hero show??

I can never take Cheese seriously again.

I want to like the show, but it’s only been background noise since the pilot.

I’ve only seen a bit of episode 2, so maybe this has been addressed already, but why are people so sure Coulson is an LMD? When I watched the Avengers movie I kept waiting for the scene where they’d show Coulson actually survived his injury and Fury just faked his death to motivate the others, (which I agree with T that it was stupid they needed to be motivated to save the world anyways.) Couldn’t that be the explanation, or has there been something in the show that makes it clear he died there and Fury wasn’t lying to the others?

That’s a helluva complicated plan to try to institute on the fly. Smearing some blood on cards is one thing, but faking a guy’s death without his permission and hoping two geniuses and a demi-god are A.) unable to see through that, and B.) motivated enough by the death of a casual acquaintance seems so ridiculously unnecessary when you could just walk in there and point out that Loki’s victory would mean the death of everyone they love.

More notably, though, then why the mystery? Why not just tell him so he doesn’t call up Tony Stark tomorrow to ask about the latest weird alien tech he found? He’s like the #2 or 3 guy at Shield in the films; surely he can be trusted not to say anything.

Couldn’t that be the explanation, or has there been something in the show that makes it clear he died there and Fury wasn’t lying to the others?

Nothing is explicit, but there has been enough hemming and hawing over his “recuperation” that it seems pretty clear that SOME sort of crazy shit went down leading to him still being alive. LMD just seems to make the most sense. Although an interesting debate is over whether he was ever alive to begin with or whether he was ALWAYS a LMD (hence why he would have survived an attack that would have killed other people).

I don’t mind the melodrama. I’m an X-Men fan primarely, so it would be kind of ridiculous for me to have a problem with melodrama.

But I will say that Agents of SHIELD so far has been rather underwhelming, and the only thing that keeps me waching is my fondness for Whedons provious work, and the fact that both Buffy and Dollhouse took some time to find their feet.

(Plus, it’s not like I’m *that* busy that I don’t have the time to watch a slightly underwhelming show sometime. It’s not atrocious, or anything. And I like agent Mae.)

That’s a helluva complicated plan to try to institute on the fly. Smearing some blood on cards is one thing, but faking a guy’s death without his permission and hoping two geniuses and a demi-god

Even though they called him one in The Avengers, Thor is not a demigod. He’s just a plain old god.

So only one character has a personality and he’s a smug git who may turn out to be a robot. No wonder this show’s got problems.

@Jazzbo
The first episode has a bit where, after Coulson comments about his recuperation in Tahiti and walks away, one character says “He doesn’t know?” and another responds “He must never know.”

Bits are teased throughout the episodes. Everyone who knew Coulson in the past makes a comment about how different he is now, which he brushes off as a result of his near-death experience. One episode repeatedly hammers that he apparently doesn’t have the muscle memory for gun handling that he had before Avengers. X-ray eye woman asks I think May what SHIELD did to Coulson, heavily implying that she saw something different inside his body.

Obviously fans are supposed to guess “He’s an LMD” from the first mention in the first episode, and the later mentions are to reinforce that idea.

Of course for that same reason, it doesn’t mean that he is an LMD. The writers probably plan to tease it again in the future, before eventually pulling the trigger on the plotline, but they could choose to make it a fake out. It depends on whether they want to do a few years of Coulson learning to live with being an LMD, or if they would rather just have a new mystery. Other possibilities: Coulson was already an LMD before Avengers (as suggested by someone above), the real Coulson is alive and piloting a Coulson LMD Avatar-style but doesn’t realize his real body is in a hospital (seen posited on another site), Coulson’s brain has been placed in an LMD body, Chitauri tech, and “the writers haven’t decided yet, and it may be moot anyway if the series can’t stay on the air long enough”.

Unfortunately, the mystery is probably at least in small part the last of those options. The writing of the show is not exactly stellar, and seems to be a bit seat of the pants instead of well planned.

Slightly off-topic, as I’ve only seen about 5 minutes (too much) of The S.H.I.E.L.D. Show, but is anyone else tired of the Avengers being tethered to the government? The team now feels more like an arm of S.H.I.E.L.D. than the group of philanthropist scientists that they were created as. Earth’s mightiest heroes were always at odds with the government liaison or whatever shady business the army cooked up. Now they’re just gov’t stooges.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is basically Fringe with some Marvel stuff thrown in. I loved Fringe (until the last season), so if I just watch S.H.I.E.L.D. thinking its more Fringe, I’m OK.
It is definitely not living up to its potential.
But, at the same time, I’m happy when the comics get introduced to new audiences. Who knows, maybe someone will love the TV shows and start getting into the comic because of them?

Watching the other week I thought, “Fringe had struggle for years against cancellation, and this crap gets the big push?” Having said that I think AOS has no chance of lasting five seasons.

I forget off the top of my head, but wasn’t there blood on the spear/staff when loki stabbed coulson in avengers? If so, it’s doubtful Coulson was always a LMD. Unless they’ll try to say LMDs have a thin layer of blood under their skin to help with the illusion in case they get scratched, etc.

I actually have watched every episode so far (will be Hulu-ing last night’s when I get home), and enjoyed them enough. But, even as a self-described fan of the show, I am getting pretty tired of nothing fucking happening. I tuned in because we were guaranteed that the “real” Marvel Universe would be bleeding into the show, in the form of character cameos and whatnot. So far all we’ve gotten on that front is a scientist who shows up in an episode who has the same name as a REALLY obscure villain, implying he might become that villain at some point.

The last two episodes I saw were basically the same concept (“Is Skye a traitor??? Oh no, wait, it’s fine.”), and they really need to reveal that “Centipede” is Hydra already. So yeah, I’m hanging in there, despite agreeing with what a lot of the critics are saying. If I have to wait until the season finale for anything actually interesting to happen, I might not come back for season 2.

Hmmmmm…. I’ve only watched a few episodes so far and the show was very borrrriiinnnnggg I’m disappointed to say as I’d love to see a darker world with richer characters than what we’re SLOWLY being spoon fed so far.

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