Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken a lot of flak, even before it premiered. PJM’s own Scott Ott declared “no interest” in the series despite loving its source material. I confess to holding my own doubts regarding a superhero show without superheroes. However, unlike Ott, I was willing to give the series a chance. After watching the first season in its entirety, I’m glad I did. Here are 10 reasons to take a look at Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
10. Cinematic Action
Certain shows have come along in recent years to demonstrate that the small screen can nonetheless explode with cinematic action. Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica comes to mind, a genre show which looked better than many films from past years.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a similar case for the possibilities of televised entertainment. In essence, it’s an international spy thriller, much of which takes place in the enormous aircraft our heroes call home. The special effects, while lackluster here and there, largely do justice to their Marvel cinematic pedigree.
Now if we can just get a live-action Star Wars series, life will be good.
9. X-Files Vibe
Like its source material, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. weaves in and out of several genres. It’s action adventure. It’s fantasy. It’s spy thriller and, once in a while, horror.
The comic book setting enables a variety of bizarre and threatening scenarios which need not remain anchored in conventional reality. Gods from another dimension? Why not. Anything is possible. And that enables the show to take on an X-Files vibe. A team of government agents traveling the world solving extra-normal mysteries? Sounds about right.
How is Agent Phil Coulson alive after the events of The Avengers? What threats remain after the interdimensional invasion of New York by alien Chitauri warriors? These questions and more set up story arcs which span the first season.
8. Chloe Bennet
Cut from a similar mold as actresses from Joss Whedon’s past series, Chloe Bennet is lithe, quirky, and totally mesmerizing. As a criminal hacker turned reluctant S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit, Bennet’s Skye serves as our relatable access point to the fantastic world in which S.H.I.E.L.D. operates.
Skye is complicated. She exudes strength while presenting significant vulnerability. She acts with conviction while retaining healthy skepticism. She pursues her own interests while nimbly expanding them to include her new teammates.
Whedon seems to have a talent for discovering actresses who can be at once glamorous and then, at the drop of a hat, become klutzy jesters. Bennet navigates the territory with ease.
7. Clark Gregg
Expressing his disinterest in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., PJM’s Scott Ott cited the presence of Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson as his primary gripe:
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character and Clark Gregg plays him with just the right mix of authority and humanity. But Coulson died for a reason in the movie. His death meant something. Only by a beloved character getting stabbed-through-the-chest dead was Nick Fury able to forge his dysfunctional group of feuding heroes into a team.
Take that away, and you take away what made The Avengers something more than just popcorn fare. Coulson’s death didn’t just galvanize the heroes; it galvanized the audience.
Fair enough. Nevertheless, Gregg’s presence in the series defines its style and supplies much of its substance. If Skye is our relatable access to the fantastic world of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson is our knowing host.
The mystery surrounding his return from apparent death drives a key story arc throughout the season. Suffice it to say, his resurrection did not come cheaply or without lasting consequence.
Spoiler alert! Don’t watch unless you want a key plot point of both Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Captain America: The Winter Soldier spoiled for you.
6. Twists and Turns
Another hallmark of projects guided by Joss Whedon is radical and unexpected plot twists. What separates Whedon’s execution from others who employ the tactic, like – say – M. Night Shyamalan, is the effort Whedon invests into creating an emotional response to the twist. If one character betrays another, Whedon wants you to feel betrayed. If a character dies, Whedon wants you to feel that loss. If a character harbors a simmering desire, Whedon wants you to yearn alongside them. He takes the time while crafting his stories to ensure those emotions are felt, and that makes his twists extremely effective.
5. That Whedon Wit
Another hallmark of Whedon’s work is an unearthly wit, particularly in dialog. Who can forget the line that Iron Man delivers to Thor upon their meeting in The Avengers? “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”
Such humor provides much needed relief to consistently building dramatic tension. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. retains that feel, which makes sense given Whedon’s involvement in both projects.
Peculiar to Whedon’s comedic style is the ability of any character, hero or villain, coward or juggernaut, to crack a joke without betraying their nature. The supremely serious Agent Melinda May, played expertly by Ming-Na Wen, offers dry cracks without ever fracturing her icy veneer.
4. Extended Marvel Cinematic Universe
With “Marvel” in the name, and a supporting character from the Marvel Studios’ films in the lead, you have to expect some connection to the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Whedon speaks truth when he says, “we couldn’t have a show that said ‘Iron Man was just here, but he left right before you showed up,’” there does need to be some compelling sense that he and the rest of the Avengers inhabit this show’s world.
Whedon accomplishes that through means subtle and overt. On the subtle side, he peppers the world with contextual references to the characters we know – a mention of Bruce Banner here, a nod to Tony Stark there. More overtly, the series’ first season has included cameos by characters from the films. Cobie Smulders appeared in the pilot as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill. Jaimie Alexander guest starred as the Asgardian Lady Sif. And Samuel L. Jackson shows up in the season finale, reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.
3. The Series Takes Place Now
While not the number one reason on this list, this may prove the most impressive. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. broadcasts in narrative sync with the release of new Marvel Studios films. That is to say, when Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier released in theaters, the events in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were immediately and directly affected.
It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s cool to experience two interconnected narratives in different formats. On the other hand, watching one can spoil the other. Believe it or not, I’ve yet to see Captain America: The Winter Solider (that’s life with young children). Nevertheless, I feel as though I know much of its plot from having watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Another negative highlighted by critics is the limitation that interconnecting television with films has upon the writers of both. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. must dance artfully between the films and somehow manage to remain compelling in its own right.
2. Joss Whedon
It may seem redundant given the attention bestowed upon him throughout this list, but Joss Whedon deserves singular recognition for his contribution to this show. His wit, his sensibility, and his interpretation of the human condition define Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they did previous projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and – yes – The Avengers.
Whedon transcends the mediums he works in, standing out as a true artist with something profound to say about life and our living of it. Philosophically, he presents a contradiction. He crafts cold, hard worlds for his characters to inhabit, where life proves unfair, brutal, and short. But he retains an intransigent sense of optimism in the darkest of circumstances. There could be no finer steward of the Marvel brand.
1. Ensemble Chemistry
After watching a number of cast interviews and discussion panels, I think I like these actors more than their respective characters. And that’s saying something.
Again, we must nod to Whedon for his remarkable ability to find and cultivate performers who brim with personality on and off camera. As importantly, they work synergistically together and always seem to be having fun.
That last part no doubt fuels the irreverent tone of the show. Lest we forget this is genre work, it would be a mistake for anyone to begin taking themselves or the material too seriously. It’s a lesson Warner Bros. could stand to learn as they expand the D.C. Cinematic Universe from the way-too-serious Man of Steel.