December 10, 2013

THE SKED Fall Finale Review: “Agents of SHIELD”


For its fall finale (the show is taking a relatively brief break, returning on January 7), AGENTS OF SHIELD turned to its continuing storylines, such as they are.  The script by Co-Producer Shalisha Francis, directed by Holly Dale, went back to the pilot and its story of the Centipede project, which has recurred in a few subsequent episodes and involves a serum intended to create Captain America-ish super-soldiers (but, you know–for evil), complete with return appearances by Raina (Ruth Negga), Centipede’s sinister “girl in the flower dress,” and even Mike Peterson (J. August Richards), a basically nice guy who’d taken the unstable serum (it eventually blew its users up) in the pilot, was stopped/saved by our heroes, and now worked for SHIELD himself.  The B story returned to its runner of Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) efforts to find out who her real parents were, and why Agents Coulson (Clark Gregg) and May (Ming-Na Wen) were so determined to keep the truth from her.  After a last-act mislead, the closing cliffhanger brought viewers all the way back to the mystery of just how Coulson died in The Avengers and yet was still around for this series–which promos for the show’s return promise will finally be explained.

Agents of SHIELD is 10 episodes old and until now, none of these stories have particularly gone anywhere, which is one of the problems with the series.  SHIELD isn’t a flop (as of now, it has a better-than-even chance of being renewed next season), but it’s a major disappointment, both creatively and in the ratings, where before a recent mild rebound it had lost more than 50% of the viewers it had when it started.  The show, run by Avengers supremo Joss Whedon (although he appears to be something of a figurehead post-pilot, busy on the next movie) and his brother and sister-in-law Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, has been shockingly lifeless–far less successful at translating a comic book universe to TV than Arrow, and not even all that much better than The Tomorrow People.

Part of the issue is conceptual–from the start, SHIELD was intended to revolve around the human agents who tend to the day-to-day business of Nick Fury’s organization, not the splashy superheroes.  Although ABC/Disney gave the series healthy resources compared to other network series, they were inevitably minute compared to what the studio spends on any of the Marvel feature films.  There could never be a comparable level of spectacle on the small screen–although CW shows like Arrow and Nikita, which are almost certainly less well-funded, use their budgets far more impressively.  A bigger problem has been that the mostly self-contained storylines have been unexciting and routine, with no consistency to the mythology.  For that matter, there’s nothing all that interesting about the Centipede story either.  There haven’t even been any memorable villains.

The shocking shortcoming of SHIELD, though, has been in its ensemble of characters, traditionally the highlight of anything Joss Whedon touches.  While Coulson remains an engaging character, and the show has tried in recent weeks to provide some backstory for May, Fitz (Iain de Caestecker), Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and Ward (Brett Dalton)–recently Ward and May have been having clandestine booty calls–none of them is more than an attractive, pleasant presence.  Skye is even worse, because she’s seemingly intended to serve as the center of the enterprise, and she’s flat and uninteresting.  (In tonight’s episode, when she nagged May for help with her parent project and May snarled back at her, you found yourself on May’s side.)  While Gregg and Wen are accomplished performers, the younger cast members have made only scattered impressions.  After half a season, the group should be clicking, and that’s not even close to happening.

ABC and its corporate parent have an enormous investment in Agents of SHIELD and its synergistic possibilities (a recent underwhelming episode picked up on a plot shard from the new Thor sequel), so there’s every incentive for the series to get whatever help it needs going forward.  The question is whether anyone is prepared to really shake SHIELD up, perhaps with new writers and cast members.  Revealing why Agent Coulson isn’t still dead won’t solve anything if the show he’s on is perishing around him.

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."