It's somewhat ironic: Marvel seems to have had more success, overall, bringing its superheroes to the big screen than rival DC Comics, but DC Comics is king of the small screen. Its latest TV show "Arrow," about vigilante archer Oliver Queen, just keeps getting better and better, while Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has struggled a bit to find its voice.
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." premiered last fall, an exciting experiment designed to bring the Marvel cinematic universe to the small screen. Rather than focusing on big-name superheroes like Iron Man or Captain America, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." promised to take viewers behind the scenes and show them what life is like for everyday agents without special powers. It was a great premise, and with Marvel's golden touch, the show seemed to be an all-but-guaranteed success.
However, fan reactions to the first half of season 1 were decidedly mixed, and the show dropped from 17 million viewers (including DVR) for the pilot to 9 million for the most recent episode. It isn't as clear cut a success as Marvel's "Avengers" tie-in films.
The show returns tonight (Jan. 7) after a holiday hiatus, and it will be interesting to see how many viewers will stick around for part 2. I've had fun watching the show so far, and I have seen improvements from week to week, but I do have to confess the show has yet to transcend to that "oh-my-gosh-I-can't-wait-to-see-the-next-episode" level of greatness — a level I think "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" rival "Arrow" has achieved. Although I plan to continue watching "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," here are several changes I'd like to see in part 2.
1. Character chemistry
Although fans seem to have given Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) a thumb's up, overall the main cast members haven't quite managed to click yet as a team. There isn't always a lot of chemistry between the characters (with the exception, perhaps, of Agents Fitz and Simmons, but more on that later). They don't function as cohesively, for example, as the ensemble casts for Joss Whedon's cult hit "Firefly," or PBS' lavish period drama "Downton Abbey."
I'd like to see "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." devote more time to really deep character development, delving into who these characters are and what they struggle with. The show has made some improvements in this area. Technology expert Agent Fitz and science expert Simmons started out as more one-dimensional, comic relief characters, but the show has added more layers to their friendship, and they're now my favorite characters on the show.
The show also could shake things up by shuffling the make-up of Coulson's team, trying out different guest actors as new team members until the show finds the right mix of personalities.
2. Overarching plot
There's nothing wrong, per se, with the show's current "monster of the week" format. However, I think the show also needs a compelling overarching plot line that ties all the adventures together — i.e. the concept of "Bad Wolf" in "Doctor Who" or "The Undertaking" in "Arrow." Although we've gotten some hints of possible plot lines in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." that could start tying everything together, I'd like to see the show up the ante.
Agent Coulson's supposed resurrection is an intriguing mystery, but I think the show still needs a really gripping, large-scale conspiracy or a continuing high-stakes mission to keep viewers tuning in. A really cool super villain would be fun too.
3. Play on the show's strengths
As the show runners continue to develop and explore the show's voice, I hope they do make changes — but I also hope they don't make TOO many changes. I like the grittier nature of DC Comics' "Arrow," but I don't think "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." needs to be gritty too in order to be successful. Marvel movies are fun, funny, and action-packed, and I'd love to see "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." develop into a lighthearted, exciting spy/superhero show.
It is challenging to meet "Avengers"-sized expectations on a TV budget, and I think "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has perhaps suffered a bit from its smaller scope. Still, shows like "Arrow" and "Doctor Who" have proven you can have cinema-like quality on the small screen.
I'm not sure how involved "Avengers" director Joss Whedon currently is in the series (from what I understand, he's more of a consultant). Perhaps more direct involvement from Whedon could give the show a boost; with the exception of the pilot, the show doesn't quite seem to have that "Whedon" touch that made "The Avengers" so much fun.
In short, I still think "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has plenty of potential, and the quality of the second half of season 1 will be key to the show's future. I hope viewers will tune in and give it a second chance.
So, what do you think? Do you enjoy "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."? Do you plan to keep watching? Do you think the show needs to be improved, and if so, how?