High off the globe-shattering success of Marvel’s The Avengers, the Marvel Cinematic Universe made its first real move into the landscape of network television through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There was a lot of hype in the lead-up to the show’s debut and even more backlash when early episodes failed to perform. With the show’s first season not behind us and its second coming at us later in the year, there’s never been a better time to go back and see if the show was ever any good.
The general premise of the show follows Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson who, after his near-death experience in The Avengers, recruits a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to hunt down new threats emerging from the chaos left by the 2012 blockbuster.
As compelling as getting to explore Marvel’s Cinematic Universe in small weekly installments sounds, the show’s biggest weakness is that mostly uses this premise to enable monster-of-the-week episodes. While Agents of SHIELD can occasionally strike true on this formula, there are plenty of other shows that do it better and it weakens the espionage-drama feel that characterises the show at its best.
The casting for Agents of SHIELD is a bit over the place. For the most part it feels like the same quirky brand as the rest of Marvel’s movies but for a lot of the first season is unable to maintain any strong character developments apart from giving each member of the team their ‘moment-to-shine’.
If the series could be said to have any standouts props would have to go to Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen. Although he takes a dozen or so episodes to really find the balance between his own quirky character and his role as the leader of the team, Coulson does a job being the heart of the show. On the other side of things, Wen plays one of the team’s certified badass assassin’s and while the show clearly likes the brag about this, it’s never tiring to watch her give Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a run for her money.
Agents of SHIELD is at its best when it feels like a part of the Marvel universe and the number of Marvel universe cameos it features – from Thor’s Lady Sif to Nick Fury himself – really bring the show to life for both fans and casual viewers. Other casting commendations on the cast have to go to Brett Dalton, who really comes into his own towards the end of the season and Bill Paxton makes a recurring guest on the show.
As I said before, the show had a pretty uneven reception in spite of Joss Whedon’s involvement and Marvel’s own box office track record. Early episodes failed to catch on with characters sounding wooden, sets feeling cheap and special effect cheaper even more so. To be blunt, the show felt like a cheap cash-in at times.
In the face of these scathing criticisms, Agents of SHIELD underwent an incredible course-correction in the second half of its first season. From its tie-in episode for Thor 2: The Dark World onwards, the show began to find its feet and build towards its final big story arc – which tied in with the events and fallout from Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier – and became something that was definitely worth tuning in to watch each week.
So Marvel’s: Agents of SHIELD – is it a good show?
I’m gonna go with yes. It’s far from the best thing on TV and, like all pilot seasons, the show still has a lot of kinks to work out. The way that the series finally managed to build some dramatic momentum in that second half of the season is hopefully an indicator of the level of quality to expect from the show’s next season.