Thursday, May 29, 2014

TV Series Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Given how Marvel's superhero films are such big deals these days I doubt this show needs much in the way of introduction. I will note that it does cross over into the films in two places, in episode 8, The Well, we see the gang cleaning up after the effects of Thor: The Dark World and in episode 16, End of the Beginning, we see everything flip upside down as it takes place at the same time Captain America: The Winter Solider is happening. You can see the show without having seen Thor 2 (I saw the episode afterwards and was just fine) but I don't recommend it for the Cap 2 tie in so hopefully anyone interested in checking out the show has already seen it!


Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D



With great power comes… a ton of weird crap that you are not prepared to deal with. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division department may have been created decades earlier to deal with the strange and unusual but it's never had this much to do until billionaires started building themselves super-suits and gods started falling from the sky. With that in mind, Director Fury takes the newly revived Agent Coulson and has him assemble a special team to work around SHIELD's red tape and to help keep the world safe from the even weirder stuff out there.

Let me start with the beginning, SHIELD had some fairly bad first episodes and I know they made quite a few people drop the show, if I hadn't been so determined to see how it played into the larger scheme of things I would have as well. The characters were clunky and disconnected from one another, the only reason I cared about anyone was because the previous movies had made me care about Coulson, and the individual stories were dull, . I remember even seeing the writers berate the fans for not liking the show, saying that not everything could be dramatic all the time but fans argued back that they didn't want say an iron man cameo each time, they just wanted engaging stories. It became clear in the second half that this problem had two causes, one was that many shows take some time to find their ground, I know that after T.R.A.C.K.S. which was around the halfway point I found every episode gripping.The other reason was that they were waiting for Cap 2 and it's game changing twist.

Which then begs the question, why start a show in September if it's last third hinges on a movie out in April? The Thor 2 tie in wasn't that important in the show, I would argue that the episode with Sif in it was more of a crossover and that happened way later, and those early episodes certainly didn't feel like they were developing the cast and this is one of the few instances where you don't have to firmly establish your setting, the viewers already know it! The show had a really strange schedule to pull this off, I often complain that American shows have weird breaks that I can't understand but even other fans of serialized American shows said this was bizarre.  While writing this I decided to go back and look at the summaries for the various episodes to figure out which ones could be skipped since the early ones really were a bit of a slog. Unfortunately however, there aren't many you can skip, if you get really bored with episodes 2 and 5-7 you can turn them off and keep going more or less no problem (I also recommend Tor.com's summaries), there are only a few key bits of information dropped in each of those, but that's about it. Even though I didn't like the first half I must admit that they did a good job at cramming in little details that would either be plot relevant later or character interactions that would come to fruition by the finale.

Production-wise I don't have much to say, I think the show used it's budget pretty well more or less, the few odd shots that were clearly green-screened which brought an odd hilarity to them aside. I did really like this write-up I found of the music used in one of the episodes, The Only Light in the Darkness, where we see Coulson's old beau, a cellist, and the painstaking measures they went to creating a piece of music to match her gestures on screen and to intercut with the episodes other, even more tense, plotline which even when I was watching thought it was masterfully done, I can't even begin to imagine how long this entire process took. Also on that page you can see the comic book style poster which was done for the episode, I found out after the show was done that they had made such posters for the last six episodes and I really wish they had been doing them all along, the ones that were made all look pretty cool and, considering how many fan projects there are out there that revolve around making posters for every episode of a show, why not? I also did really like a few of the music pieces used in the last episode but nothing else stood out to me in the show, I feel as if I notice the background music much less in live action shows than animated ones and wonder if anime just uses more background music in general. Regardless, I'd love a chance to listen to those pieces again, do most tv shows do soundtrack releases or is that another anime thing?


So where did the show end up eventually succeeding? In the the last third the story became a very tight, focused spy story where you were fairly sure you knew who was good but not completely and each episode flowed smoothly into the next yet still felt like distinct little stories as well. Not all the character's secrets are revealed by the end of the series but I still felt like all of the cast was much more fleshed out than where they started and a number of them had matured in show as well (and yes, we do learn the secret behind Coulson's resurrection in this season, we still might not know that much about Skye but the show was determined that no one forget for a moment that Coulson had died). By the end I cared about the characters much more than I ever expected to and I am truly curious how they'll continue to develop in the show's second season (especially Fitz since the ending of the season was not kind to him and in an odd twist he's turned out to be the most innocent and naive member of the team, although because of that unexpected naivety and slightly less maturity he's actually one of my least favorite characters of the show). When the show ended I found myself caring about the characters much more than I expected to and I was also really invested in all of the inter-team relationships, I'm really going to miss the show until whenever it starts back up! For those who missed it I think you'll have to wait until it hits DVD or Netflix, the show has been streaming on hulu but only the five most recent episodes at a time, even if you're a plus member. 


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