When it comes to comic-book tv shows in recent years, for the most part, I am the first to be singing praises. I love that nerd-dom has come so far that there are multiple comic-book-based shows (and not animated ones!). This fall season has seen a huge increase in the number of shows, with Gotham, Constantine and the Flash added to the mix (and Agent Carter joining them soon), and thus far, they are all fantastic in their own ways...with one exception.
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, a show that had me so excited when it was first announced, now leaves me cold, I'm sad to say. I came to the show a little late (life got in the way when it was first on air), and usually the ability to binge-watch a show leads to me loving it even more. In this case, I doubt I would have made it through the first few episodes without it. I soldiered on, having been told that "it gets better at the end", and it did. Sadly, the bar wasn't set high enough in the first place, and better just wasn't good enough.
So why is it that I feel that Agents of SHIELD is such a disappointment, and why am I still watching at all?
I think it all boils down to one major issue; that the connection to the MCU simply does more harm than good.
The idea of connecting a TV show and the cinematic universe certainly has it's charms; not least of which is the idea of seeing storylines and characters more frequently than every few years when the next movie comes out. I definitely got my little nerd-girl thrills at seeing Nick Fury and Agent Hill pop up on the small screen, but the cameos aren't enough to carry the show, and the bigger stars are just too expensive (not to mention busy) to appear as well. In effect, what the connection does is force the show to keep stride with the movie releases, which means that the writers don't have the control over pacing that they really should.
This was hugely evident in the first season, where the show crawled forward waiting for The Winter Solider to make it's debut, allowing them to reveal the big storyline as SHIELD exploded and the agents were up against Hydra. The first half felt too heavy on the character-building and incredibly slow, but the second half sped past at such a rate that at times I felt that interesting points were just skimmed over in order to cram everything in before the end of the season. It would have been much better if the plot could have moved at an even pace throughout, instead of this ridiculous snail-to-cheetah apeed. It would be nice to think that now that problem has been dealt with, but the tv and cinematic universes are still connected, and unless there are some scheduling geniuses and some really useful strokes of luck going on, something similar will happen again.
We may have to slow down again to wait for the next big movie reveal, or perhaps the opposite will happen; plot points or side stories may be rushed through in order to get to something at the same time that Age of Ultron does. Either way, timing is essential to a great series, and a show that isn't in control of it's own pacing is going to have problems. Even if the brilliant minds at Marvel plan out this season to coincide perfectly, accidents can befall filming schedules, problems can arise, and then it all goes wrong.
There are some smaller issues to the show, but I'm willing to admit that if the pacing wasn't so violently off, they may have been something that I would have overlooked. Still, for the sake of argument, I'll include them here.
The score is a surprisingly big issue for me. At various points in the show so far, I've found the soundtrack to be extremely heavy handed; rather than echoing the feelings of the viewer, it attempts to force a mood on them. It's the kind of OTT musical accompaniment that pulls me away from the stories and characters and reminds me that I'm very much watching a TV show. I like to get a little lost in my viewing (and reading, for that matter), but the score ruins that for me here.
The name-dropping is another irritant (and another one that is part of the MCU-connectedness-issue as well). Especially at the start of season one, I often felt that Coulson mentioned Thor every chance he got (which was really a little surprising, given his Captain America obsession, but never mind), and The Avengers were name-dropped left, right, and center. The thing that made this truly bizarre was that with such a huge range of Marvel characters at their fingertips, there wasn't a whole lot of title-dropping that wasn't Avengers-related. Personally, it felt to me like a blatant attempt at capitalizing on the success of the Avengers, and really hammered home the show's status as a spin-off (which is rarely a good feeling).
So why am I still watching, if all of this bothers me quite so much? Well, the greatest downfall of the show is also what keeps Marvel fans like myself watching.
I love the MCU. I'm there at opening night most of the time, geared up, full of fan theories and itching to see the whole thing. I'm there at the end, drooling over post-credits scenes, and happily debating their meaning for days (and even weeks) after I see them. It's safe to say that where the Marvel cinematic universe is concerned, I'm all in.
So when a show like this is connected, even one that I find dull, a little boring, and plagued with pacing and soundtrack issues, I feel obligated to watch. I cannot bear the idea that something may happen in the show that has an impact on an upcoming movie, and I might miss it. I continue to watch (and to hope that it keeps following that upward trajectory), and until it is cancelled or officially announced as separate from the big-screen world, I will keep going.
Which is really the genius of connecting the show to the movies, isn't it? It seems that when it comes to grand schemes, Marvel can do no wrong, and I know that I am not the only one who is less-than-impressed with the show, but watching it anyway. Those marketing geniuses know that when it comes to comic-book adaptations, there are enough die-hard fans to keep something afloat for a while even if nobody really likes it. (And there are definitely those people who do just like the show for what it is, I'm simply not one of them.)
So as I sit down to watch the newest episode of Agents of SHIELD, I have to tip my hat to Marvel. Well played.