December 2, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Agents of SHIELD”



It’s hard to believe that only 5 seasons ago, when ABC’s AGENTS OF SHIELD arrived on the air, the idea of a superhero TV series still seemed somewhat new and cool.  At that point, it was joined only by Arrow, in the era before CW was essentially colonized by the genre, and before services like FOX, FX, Netflix and Hulu (and even, briefly, CBS) joined in as well.  Even so, SHIELD was something of an underperformer after its splashy premiere, and things have only gotten tougher since as the market has gotten saturated with superpowered protagonists.  Last year’s ratings were the lowest yet, and SHIELD found itself shuffled off to Fridays (paired with Once Upon A Time, another fading series rescued by Disney/ABC’s branding priorities) and then kept off the air for the fall in favor of the awful Inhumans, which prevented it from trying to get some mileage out of the movie opening of Thor: Ragnarok.  In addition, as was somewhat painfully clear from the season’s two opening hours, SHIELD‘s budget has been slashed to make its lower economics work.

Season 5, at least in the early going, takes place in outer space, the zinger of the premiere being that it’s also sometime in the unspecified but post-apocalyptic future.  That may sound like a justification for spectacle, but although the premiere had a couple of CG sequences, mostly the action was confined to the kind of grimy, low-lit spaceship corridors that wouldn’t be out of place on a Syfy series.  It’s a look that isn’t going to wear well if we and our heroes are stuck there for many of the season’s 22 episodes.

The storyline, laid out in the opening hour by series co-creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and continued in Hour 2 by Co-Producer DJ Doyle (the respective directors were Jesse Bochco and David Solomon), picked up from the tag of last season’s finale, with all of the regulars (except Iain de Caestecker’s Fitz, who wasn’t present for the premiere) transported to a space station run by the hated blue-skinned alien Kree.  The Earth has been destroyed, allegedly by Daisy aka Quake (Chloe Bennet), and the Kree use the remaining humans as slave labor.  As soon as they figure out what’s what, of course, Coulson (Clark Gregg), May (Ming-Na Wen), Jemma (Elizabeth Henstridge), Mack (Henry Simmons) and YoYo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley, now a regular), along with Daisy, embark on a mission to rescue the humans from the Kree, who are all bestial except for the inevitable ultra-sophisticate sadist in charge.  He delicately prunes foliage as he purrs his disdain for humanity, and by the end of the premiere he’d turned Jemma into a high-tech deaf-mute capable of hearing only his voice.  New allies include reluctant hero Deke (Jeff Ward) and Tess (Eve Harlow).

The Agents of SHIELD writers know how to tell a story smoothly, and the premiere lays out all the necessary exposition in an efficient manner, but so far everything is very familiar, a particular disappointment given the twists that last season’s Framework storyline allowed to the series formula.  This time, the characters stay well within their allotted beats, and combined with the unattractive visuals, it feels as though the series has lost more than a step.

Agents of SHIELD probably doesn’t have a lot of room for failure this season:  as much as the parent company may want it and Once Upon A Time to survive, it’s unlikely that both shows can endure back-to-back awful ratings, and Once has already been tanking.  A cheaper SHIELD could have shown some ingenuity–Supergirl had to figure out how to work with a lower budget, and if anything its scripts have been stronger at CW–but so far, that isn’t evident.  It’s not just the fate of mankind that’s at risk this season.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."