Man oh man, S.H.I.E.L.D. is hard to watch. Ugh.
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To put it another way:
In this, the Age of Immediacy, it can be tricky deciding how to dole out leeway. Entertainment is as serialized as it has ever been, but it is also as readily available as it has ever been; television shows increasingly ask you to buy in for tens of hours to get a story, but Netflix, Hulu, and DVRs make that buy-in incredibly easy. As a result, we (and by this I mean both viewers and TV producers) have trained ourselves to think that shows are building to something now, and even when they burn so slowly you’re not positive the wick is still lit the modern viewer is faced with the tantalizing possibility that the show is about to “get good” any minute.
This is the thought process that will underlie my justification next May, when I realize that I let Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Marvel waste twenty hours of my precious, dwindling life over the course of a television season.
Some of the shows I have enjoyed the most in my life had wince-inducing beginnings. The first season of The Simpsons has the timing of a nursing home singalong, to say nothing of a Homer who talks like Walter Matthau for some reason. No one on Seinfeld has any idea what they’re doing; Michael Richards in particular seems like he and Kramer have never been introduced. During the first season of The Muppet Show, a puppeteer’s head can be seen at the bottom of the screen on at least one occasion, and at least three different people perform Miss Piggy before they figure out what she’s for. Why, it took Star Trek twenty-one years and a complete recasting to get good.
It is possible that years from now, I will be talking about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Marvel Like The Avengers Was the same way. But how likely does that sound?
Say what you want about Joss Whedon, but most of his work to date has had something to say, as any worthwhile creative endeavor should. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had things to say about growing up; Angel had things to say about the inevitability of Bad Things Happening to Good People, the value of Fighting the Good Fight anyway, even addiction. Even Dollhouse– Dollhouse, for crying out loud!– was conceived with something to say before Fox said “oh, please do not say that” and the whole thing spun out into a whole lot of nothing.
What is anyone trying to say with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Marvel Just Like in All Those Marvel Movies You Saw? Is someone expressing themselves through this synergistic corporate object? Is what they’re expressing “people got so excited about those Easter eggs at the end of the credits; let’s make a show that’s just those”? If so, their plan has a fatal flaw. All of those scenes were teases for a new exciting thing that was going to happen in another story later.
This show has all the tools at its disposal that it needs to be great as long as the talking humans on the screen are not classified as tools. It’s a show based on a hugely popular set of concepts, set in a world the audience already knows the “rules” of from the outset, that deals with a government agency facing new threats to our security that we are completely unprepared for and asking, “How do we move forward in this new world?” Stop me when those start sounding like familiar issues worth exploring.
That show sounds amazing. And it’s about the Marvel Universe I’ve been infatuated with since I was ten? I would barricade myself in my house to watch that show.
So, where is that show? And what is this thing being dropped at my feet on Tuesday nights? Is this the placeholder until that show gets here, and how much longer should I wait to find out?
Apologists who heard my opinion of the actors might say that the Avengers spoiled me, or gave me unrealistic expectations. To them, I would say it’s not that I would rather be watching a story about Robert Downey Jr.; I’d rather be watching a story about a Downy paper towel. I don’t know anything about these characters, and they don’t make me want to know more. Right now, the main character is the logo on the plane. I didn’t know a thing about Firefly or the people in it the first time I watched it, but Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk and Jewel Staite and the others were so winning that I bought in before the halfway point. I know everything about Marvel’s Agents Marvel of Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D., and I do not care about these people and their uninteresting job at all.
Look at the edge-of-your-seat, paranormal superaction being brought to you by this elite squad. On tonight’s episode: the team is too busy to show us anything about themselves because an enigmatic featureless cube has been found in a hole, and they must go investigate the mystery of who gives a flying fuck.
The featureless cube, by the way, is a weapon (based on the exact same technology that plagued the Avengers, and that will clearly plague S.H.I.E.L.D. in every subsequent episode until the drinking game kills us all) and though this may be a quibble, it drove me craaaazy that the weapon was “the weapon.” In all of human history, has anyone ever invented something like a weapon and not given it any name? It’s not called anything? While it’s not quite as egregious and painful as when sci-fi characters call their money “credits,” it has a similar effect of making everyone who’s talking sound like sleeper agents trying to blend in with English speakers. “Once we have the weapon, we can drive our vehicle to the malted shop, like teenaged North Americans.”
It is a gun. You push a part of the cube, and an explosive ray comes out. It is a ray gun. Own it, you empty bores.
Despite it all, though, I know I’m going to keep watching. The show is a boring, fat dummy, but it has quality in its bones. It has Something to Say in its DNA. Are those genes recessive, or will they make themselves known? I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you in May. Dammit.