Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in March

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Good and bad news for the month of March, regarding Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The good news is that there will be another S.H.I.E.L.D. episode (“Tahiti”) tonight (it’s been weeks with no new episodes!) and then another on March 11, and that one (“Yes Men”) will feature Lady Sif from the Thor movies. I’m a big fan of Lady Sif, on account of how she is played by Jaimie Alexander, who is an amazing actress. I loved her on Kyle XY, where she played Jessi, a 16-year-old pod person.

Kyle XY was a weird show, with major plot points stolen directly from Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Specifically, there was a “chair” into which Jessi was put in order to download a history and personality into her brain. When she acted up, she was put back in the “chair” for a tune-up. “She’s a computer, and her life is the program,” said the head of Madacorp, the evil corporation of the show.

In any case, Jaimie Alexander had to play this very confused young person who was reprogrammed at others’ whims, and she knocked it out of the park. Watching the first time, I was convinced that she had studied the character Anya on Buffy The Vampire Slayer for her role. Now I am not so sure. But she was possibly the best character on a show which owes any success it had to its actors. They had to contend with some pretty bad writing. Kyle XY is one of the best, and one of the worst, shows I have ever seen.

And I never thought I’d have an excuse to talk about Kyle XY on this blog.  I’m kind of embarrassed to like it. It seems to be aimed at a very young audience (the way the writers don’t even bother, like they expect their audience to not think critically at all.) At the same time, it has content that’s clearly not appropriate for kids, like Laurie choosing to lose her virginity in the bushes at a party, and people killing each other off willy-nilly. It is a ridiculous show, a preposterous show, but oh such a sweet and charming show.

Anyway, the point is I am a fan, and I’m most especially a fan of this Jaimie Alexander, who is awesome as well as gorgeous. Lady Sif was pretty understated in the Thor movies, but she’ll be the main character on the new episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. on March 11.

And now for the bad news for March. On March 18, which happens to be my birthday, there will be no S.H.I.E.L.D. episode. Instead, the network is going to air a “sneak peek” at Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron as well as a look at the remaining “phase two” Marvel films (these are the ones that Joss is overseeing.) This is bad news because I’m sick of ABC not airing new S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes for weeks on end, just when the show was getting really good!

It’s good news for those dying for any hint about Age of Ultron, though. It is unclear how much can be peeked at, since the movie hasn’t started shooting yet. What I’m hoping for is just some glimpse about its supposed darkness. And I’m curious about how much parallel there will be with what’s going on in the world right now (NSA spying, for example.) Joss has a way of working the metaphor and making big statements about things that matter.

On March 25, there will be another repeat episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. (“T.R.A.C.K.S.”) Well, that one is worth seeing a second time, but I’ve already watched it three times so to me, the repeat is just annoying. There will be more new episodes in April.

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Bleh. More Bleh From S.H.I.E.L.D.

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The latest episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivered more bleh and helped continue this show along its increasingly boring path of dark colors and mediocre plot-lines. Episode 6 “FZZT” featured a Chitauri infection that killed people and suspended them in mid-air. Jemma Simmons contracted the infection through an electrostatic shock, and then had to race against time to try to find herself an anti-serum before she died. Of course, Fitz helped save the day by scratching some Chitauri cells from the inside of a Chitauri helmet (which was somehow the initial cause of the infection) and helping to develop the antiserum from them. Overall it was an incredibly purposeless and boring episode.  It was obvious that Jemma (it’s the only time she’s referred to as “Jemma” rather than “Simmons”) was not going to be killed off, so it was just a matter of waiting out the episode to find out how she saves herself or gets saved or whatnot.

While I’ve been hoping for an episode to feature FitzSimmons, this is the oposite of what I was hoping for. What I want is back-story and character development. I want some reason to care a bit more about the duo. But instead, I was treated to another episode that made it increasingly difficult for me to distinguish Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from anything else on TV.  What is going on? Who is writing these episodes, and more importantly, who is OK-ing them? I assume it’s Jed & Maurissa again at fault for this. Or maybe it’s Marvel and ABC. Maybe Jed and Maurissa can’t stand up to Marvel and ABC, or maybe it’s what I said before, that Jed & Maurissa are good writers, but they don’t necessarily share Joss’ brilliance for bringing out the brilliance in the people around him.

Not everyone is so disappointed by this episode as I was. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Joss should be heavily disappointed, and racking his brain on what to do about it. If the last few episodes were something that Joss actually rewrote, then I think he may have dementia.  I expect more from Joss. And while I know that he’s not running this show, ultimately it’s his name on the line and it’s his responsibility to make sure it’s not utter crap.

Am I being too hard on the Whedons? S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t the worst thing on TV. But it isn’t the best thing ever either, and it could be. It should be. It’s not enough for it to just be ok. I expect it to be at least as good as Dollhouse, which was an unpopular show that was canceled after two seasons. Dollhouse had so much going for it – it was a thinking person’s show. It made you think, wonder, imagine. All S.H.I.E.L.D. makes me wonder is when will Joss’ rewrites start showing up and when will this show get better?

Episode 6 wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t great. It was just bleh. But it had a few things going for it. For example: finally, finally the music was more varied and less horrible than it’s been before. And while it wasn’t funny in the least, some of the characters made each other laugh, which was kind of nice. It was not Whedon Wit by a long shot, but it was welcome levity.

There were a couple moments here and there, during Episode 6, which might have been important. There was a brief interchange between Fitz & Simmons which hinted at how they ended up with S.H.I.E.L.D. (says Fitz: “The Academy, psy-ops, and now this plane.”) And there was a scene in which Coulson wondered why he felt so different after being brought back from the dead. Nothing was actually revealed (the blood tests he ordered for himself were all normal, except for a little extra iron) so we still don’t have a clue whether he’s a robot or a clone. About the iron in his blood he joked un-funnily: “You don’t have to start calling me Iron Man.” But I think that the iron in his blood was a result of how rusty his skills are! In any case, in spite of the non-funniness, it is Coulson at this point who is carrying the show. Clark Gregg is an amazing actor. He reminds me of Giles, in terms of how much expression he can carry on his face. The similarities don’ t end there, of course. But that is another topic for another day.

The fact that other reviewers aren’t horribly disappointed by S.H.I.E.L.D. just shows how low the bar is. S.H.I.E.L.D. was compared to CSI, in what I think was supposed to be a compliment, by one reviewer. But CSI should not be what S.H.I.E.L.D. aspires to. All shows, and especially Whedon shows, should aspire to be as good as Buffy. Of course, all will fail. But Buffy, the greatest TV show of all time, showed us what is possible with television. Having seen what is possible, should we really aspire to mediocrity instead? That is all that is being delivered in this latest series.

But I’m still hanging on. I’ll watch every episode and in spite of repeated disappointments I’ll impatiently wait for the next, and the one after that. I’ll keep hoping for it to get better. There is hope. There is the hope that Joss will eventually finish work on The Avengers: Age of Ultron and return to working on S.H.I.E.L.D. and make it a better show. Because if I had given up on Buffy, Angel or Dollhouse when they were struggling in their first seasons, I would have missed out on so much I can’t even bear to think about it. I’m willing to give this show at least two seasons before I give up… and I am not alone in holding out hope. There are an awful lot of good reasons to watch a Whedon show, and maybe someday they’ll be evident in S.H.I.E.L.D. We can dream.

Should Joss Stay & Work on Avengers III?

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Rumors abound… Joss Whedon may or may not stick around to work on The Avengers 3. So let’s think about this. Do we want him to? For Marvel’s sake, obviously he should. But for his own sake, well he just may want to jump ship and get back to creating his own original content. Especially after witnessing the train wreck that is his latest TV show, one that he is hardly working on at all because he’s so busy with The Avengers II. He has claimed that he will be much more involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. once he’s done with Avengers II, that is if S.H.I.E.L.D. gets renewed for another season after its sloppy showing in Season 1.  And that is the only thing that will save S.H.I.E.L.D.. So I hope he does NOT work on Avengers III, gives his energy to S.H.I.E.L.D. instead, and saves us from mediocrity. Avengers III will have to get by without him, but that’s ok.

Don’t Blame S.H.I.E.L.D. on Joss!

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I just watched episode five of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it was horrible, and not good-Horrible either. It was just as bad as most of the other crap that’s on TV, except for the super-heroesque plot which of course makes it more interesting. But it was boring. And there was absolutely no Whedon Wit. It wasn’t even pretty to look at. I could go on.  This is reminding me of a troubling story I came across in September 2013, about how the S.H.I.E.L.D. scripts that were coming in were so bad that Joss himself had to be called in to do “major rewrites.”

I expect a lot from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because Joss Whedon is supposedly at the helm, and it’s his name that’s on the line. He has never let me down before. But I really shouldn’t critique this as a Joss Whedon show, because he’s not really running it. It’s his brother Jed, and Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen. They have proven themselves in the field (they co-wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and worked on Dollhouse as well) so they should be able to at least make sure the show is funny. But that isn’t happening. There have been a few good episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they weren’t very funny. And the weaker episodes (Episodes 2 and 5, in my opinion) show no wit whatsoever. Who’s to blame?

It depends on who’s overseeing the scripts. It should be this couple. Why did they let it get so bad? I don’t know. But I blame them, not Joss. He is very busy  hammering out the next Avenger’s movie, which I expect to be better than the first. He says that The Avengers wasn’t a “great” movie (which is true, it’s just a hugely profitable movie) and “why do it again if you can’t do it better?” So he’s off making the second one even better, which he will, and meanwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. flounders. Perhaps he is to blame for attaching his name to this show & then not being around to make sure it’s any good. But the show itself is the fault of many, many people..

People forget that Joss Whedon is much more than just a brilliant writer and director. He is also brilliant at encouraging other people to be brilliant. And apparently Jed and Maurissa, pretty good writers in their own right (see: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog; Dollhouse) are NOT so brilliant at getting the people around them to be brilliant.

When will Joss finally be called in to fix the episodes? And will it do any good if he’s not at the helm of the ship? It’s not all about the writing. It’s also about the delivery, the timing, the aesthetics. I think S.H.I.E.L.D. is doomed to be a tragedy akin to the original Buffy movie. It should make Joss cry. But hopefully he’ll jump the Marvel ship soon and get back to creating his own original content, because that’s what he’s best at. The more overall control he has, the better the TV show or movie is. Or the Dr. Horrible! That was the most pure form of art because there were no meddling investors.

I don’t think it’s Joss who has gotten suckier and suckier. I think he has taken on too much, bitten off more than he could chew. He is a known workaholic, and usually that’s a good thing, because it means he keeps creating brilliant new stuff for us to enjoy. But here, I think he’s made possibly a mistake. He just isn’t around to make this show all it could be. It’s not a bad Joss Whedon show, it’s a NON-Joss Whedon show.

Here are my overall gripes:

1) It’s not funny. The pilot episode was injected with Whedon Wit, but it was written and directed by Whedon. After that, the wit part of the equation got progressively erased from the board. The most recent episode had no wit at all, unless you want to count “Say it, Ward. SAY IT.” “You sank my battleship.” I don’t count it. If this was really a Joss Whedon show, it would be funny, as well as sad, scary, exciting and mysterious.

2)  Sucky Music. If this were a Joss Whedon show for real, the music would be great (see: Christophe Beck for Buffy.) But the music here is bland, repetetive, and obnoxious. It’s so repetetive that it’s really noticeable, and whenever the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. theme music plays, It stands out as being ridiculous. It makes me groan. This is the fault of Bear McCreary, who did a reasonably good job with Eureka. Battlestar Galactica didn’t have the best music either, but it wasn’t so bad as to be noticeable. I don’t think he was the best choice for scoring the show, and I’d like to know who’s to blame for hiring him. Still, he does have the skills to do better and he could do better. The question is, why isn’t he? Joss Whedon isn’t there to give him direction.

3) The cast. I do love Agent Coulson, but he’s the only one whose face has real character. The others are all beautiful in the most bland way, and ridiculously young to boot. This strains believability. I can believe that they auditioned and were actually the best for their roles. But that means the roles are bland to begin with. Not only that, but no one except me seems to like FitzSimmons. I like them, but I don’t know anything about them, and we need some major backstory there. How did this rocket scientist and double-Ph.D.-wielding Biochem specialist wind up completing each other’s sentences? How did they get involved with S.H.I.E.L.D.?  You can’t just dump a couple of characters like that on us and not explain anything. Ward is the blandest of the bland, but with the right directing he could be very funny. And Skye – I’m tired of the whole “Is she a traitor?” theme. It’s a boring way to use that character.

4) The plane. How can I be expected to be in favor of this team that spews carbon emissions everywhere they go?

5) Overall theme. If this was really a Joss show, it would be about family. It would be about Skye’s search for belonging. She is looking for her parents and is apparently using the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. to assist in her search, to no avail. If Joss were at the helm, Coulson and May would be the parents, and the rest of the cast would be the kids, with rivalries and such but really learning how to be a family in the sky. Not to compare it to Firefly, but it is a group of disparate characters who join on a flying vehicle for a common purpose. Skye should be finding that her adopted family means a lot more than the parents who gave her up. But for that we need her to interact with someone besides Ward.

6) Aesthetics. The latest episode was dark and dreary, and had no aesthetic sensibility at all. I could barely stand to watch it.  The episode that Joss directed was colorful and shiny! It was fun to watch and it made me want to buy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. action figures. But it’s just gotten worse and worse with each episode. Who is choosing the directors for this show?

The real tragedy of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it has the potential to be great, but that won’t happen until Joss gets more involved. And that won’t happen at least until Season Two. But the way things are going, there won’t be a Season Two for Joss to get involved with. Ratings are plummeting for good reason. How is it ever going to get renewed? I can only hope that I’ve witnessed the worst already, and that Joss’ rewrites are going to start showing up and this will turn into a watchable show again.