I should have known better.
Shawn tried to warn me on several occasions, but I didn’t listen. After I got out of Captain America: The Winter Soldier over the weekend, one of the first things I thought about was how the events of the movie would affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show that until now, I couldn’t care less about. Sure, I’ve seen every episode since the pilot, but that didn’t mean I cared about it. Most of the time, I just let it pile up on the DVR and binged two or three at a time. Usually letting it play in the background while I was doing something else. On the one hand, watching it this way made the episodes where there wasn’t much plot momentum (and there were a lot of them) more bearable. On the other hand, I still didn’t care about any of these characters.
Then The Winter Soldier happened, and I thought, “huh, maybe I should care” so I tuned in last night and “live” tweeted with the West Coast. Needless to say, spoilers (for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America) follow.
In the intro to this column, I think I made it clear that Winter Soldier is the only reason I even decided to watch this show in real time, much less tweet about it. And I will admit that the episode, along with the one that immediately preceded it and the movie, were some of the better ones in the show’s brief lifespan. Admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar to clear. It’s not just the lack of plot momentum, poor acting, cheap sets, and “witty” banter that I find annoying. I just don’t really care about these characters. ComicsAlliance’s Andrew Wheeler, in his brilliant recap of the episode, makes the point better than I can:
I wish we had more interesting characters to explore that [new premise] with. I wish the most exciting thing to ever happen in this show was not a thing that happened outside this show. But this could be the kick the show needs to help it find its potential.
I wish I could share Andrew’s optimism that the show will reach its potential after the events of the last two episodes (and movie). But I don’t. And that’s precisely because of the characters. Of the main cast, the only ones I have any sympathy for are Phil Coulson (because it was earned over the course of several films) and Melinda May (because she’s Ming-Na Wen). The rest of the cast? Meh. If ABC wanted to recast everyone else, you’d hear no complaints from me.
Yes, Agent Ward’s heel turn was indeed surprising, but it wasn’t as shocking as, say, Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach in 1996, because, again, I didn’t care about him. (I feel like I keep saying that. Maybe because it’s true). In fact, all of the scenes between Ward and Skye bring the show’s pacing to a screeching halt. Every. Time. I don’t fault the actors at all. Chloe Bennett and Brett Dalton are fine human beings, I’m sure. It’s just their characters I find utterly obnoxious.
Now, I readily admit that I’ve never been a fan of Joss Whedon. I know such a statement will usually ostracize you from the fan community, but I can’t help it. From Buffy to Firefly and everything in between, I never got the Whedonesque appeal. Hell, it’s the Whedon-y stuff in Avengers that prevents me from really loving that movie. Look, I have nothing against pop culture referencing dialogue and flirty banter. I just don’t have the capacity to appreciate Whedon’s brand of it. Now, if Disney wanted to hand the keys over to the Brothers Russo — who’s known for their own brand of pop culture-y dialogue on Community but can also expertly blend humor and action without being annoying — then, I could get interested.
The other problem is how cheap the show feels. Even during the whole “Uprising” arc and the recent preponderance of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and guest stars, it always feels like you’re watching a TV show no matter how hard the writers keep trying to remind you of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don’t think anyone was anticipating weekly appearances by Samuel L. Jackson — or even Colbie Smulders, for that matter; though, she does have a lot more free time now — but the promise of the show was that it would be an extension of the universe. The problem is that it doesn’t feel like it.
One of the excuses that gets bandied about a lot is that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to make compromises because it’s operating on a television budget and doesn’t have access to the same resources that the films do. And while that’s true, it’s also not an excuse. Take, for example, that other superhero show on television right now, Arrow. Not only is that show also on a television budget, it’s not even on a real network. But week in and week out, Arrow seems to up the ante and provide viewers the kind of superhero action that’s usually relegated to the cinemas. Sure ABC’s resources are limited, but they’re a freakin’ gold mine compared to what The CW has to work with!
It’s telling that fans of Arrow are clamoring for its characters to be woven into the eventual DC Cinematic Universe. From an aesthetic point of view, it all makes sense. Arrow definitely takes its visual cues from the Nolanverse (and by extension, the DCU that will launch from Man of Steel). Meanwhile, if you divorced Clark Gregg from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that the show and movies exist in a shared universe.
Now, I’m in no way saying that DC has got their act together and is trumping Marvel in any way. God knows that’s not true. Marvel Studios’ long game is solid. If nothing else, Feige and his crew know how to plan and execute that plan. Their shared cinematic universe conceit is a game changer, for sure, and every other studio is busy playing catch up. And for what it’s worth, the conceit works. Sure, I had given up on AoS for a long time, but what was my first thought after watching Captain America? “I guess I better tune in on Tuesday!”
See, Marvel Studios once again bamboozled me into watching a show I don’t like. But I guess that’s all part of the plan.