Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E05 – The Girl in the Flower Dress

AoS_Girl_In_The_Flower_DressThe Girl in the Flower Dress is an insipid title for a TV episode, and that’s exactly what you can expect the fifth episode of Agents of SHIELD to be – insipid.

I found The Girl in the Flower Dress to be boring and a struggle to get through without becoming distracted, and when I was fully paying attention, I was rolling my eyes or groaning a majority of the time.  The script buckles under the weight of the corny dialogue that often breaks the elementary rule of ‘show don’t tell’. While it has potential to be a fun, fast paced, romp through Hong Kong, sadly the heavy handed cliches and scenery-chewing acting tip it over the edge from okay, to the wrong side of passable.

To get one thing straight though, I think it’s important to point out that before I write my reviews, I always ensure I’ve watched the episode at least twice. Often I can be affected by having a bad day (or the opposite), or I might just not be in the mood for the show when it’s straight out of the box. I watched the pilot three times before I realised I genuinely disliked it, and The Girl in the Flower Dress has had a similar treatment.

That’s not to say that everything about this episode is awful. There are some good moments, and some decent dialogue. Unfortunately the good points are all but drowned out by the bad.

Opening with a sweeping shot of Chinese lanterns, with a background of generic Asian music, isn’t a great start. The freak of the week is Chan Ho Yin, a street performer with the power of pyrokinesis. Considering the dynamic nature of his profession, an opening like last week’s Eye Spy would have been far more appropriate. A background of some C-Pop rather than the tired Oriental Riff would have grabbed my attention, instead of inducing the first eye roll of the episode.

This is also the moment where the titular ‘Girl in the Flower Dress’ appears. I think it’s clear from the get-go that, while the creative team was aiming for the potential romantic interest vibe, they missed the mark, instead hitting sinister a little prematurely. This means a moment which is clearly supposed to be a jump-scare loses its impact. Once again, Project Centipede is the main baddie, and they’re tinkering with Extremis again, gasp! Could they be a new incarnation of AIM? Ehhh seeing as a bunch of people have suggested this on tumblr, it’s probably likely. If it’s one thing this show consistently is, it’s predictable – not that that’s necessarily always a bad thing.

In regards to the team, there are some insights into Coulson and May’s relationship pre-stabbing, but otherwise there’s not really anything new here.

aos5Skye and Ward’s dynamic as SO and trainee is awkward and filled with all the wrong kind of tension. As you would expect, seeing as they start out playing battleship and snarking at each other at the beginning of the episode, one of them is going to do something to screw up the tentative friendship. That’s in the form of Skye doing something stupid with an old hacker buddy (you can guess what that is already, can’t you?) without seemingly considering the super-spy nature of her colleagues. There’s also some gratuitous and unnecessary underwear shots, that would be okay if they were somehow tasteful.

Fitz and Simmons finally make the leap from being a bit of light relief in a team of serious operators, to irritating. So far no writer has really made an attempt at separating the two characters, instead continuing to play on the idea that they’re two halves of a whole. I’m sure one of these days we’ll get an episode that suggests they may have their own brains, but this is not it.

Writer Brent Fletcher crams this episode with Whedonisms that drop like a sack of bricks. He also seems to forgo any sense of logic in many places – a world renowned hacker who honestly doesn’t consider someone having nefarious purposes, travel seeming to happen in the blink of an eye, Agent Cardboard acting like the most obvious spy on the planet (do I need to go back to that line about Black Widow from the pilot to express my disbelief here?) – those kind of plot points that have you shouting come on, how could you be so stupid? at your screen. While the silly suspension of disbelief moments were fine in previous episodes, I really grew tired of them here.

The development of Chan’s story is pretty predictable, his anger and disillusionment feeding his ego. The climax involves some laughable CG, and some extreme overacting on just about everyone’s part. Ruth Negga’s character Raina (flower dress girl), is clearly being set up as a big bad for the show, and this is reinforced with the after credits scene. If we’re going to see more of Raina, I hope she tones down the acting a bit, because while she certainly succeeds in being sinister, she’s also brilliant at laying it on so thick I’m afraid she’s going to suffocate herself.

While over all I disliked this episode, I really did enjoy some parts. May’s role was once again expanded, and I enjoy seeing her in action whether it’s physical or not. Despite Skye being written pretty horribly, Chloe Bennet’s acting is improving every week, and I’m actually starting to enjoy watching her on screen. She also has an important moment of character development at the end that had me breathing a sigh of relief, although it could be a big fake out. There are some interesting themes in the story, mostly surrounding doing things for the greater good – the lives of one over the lives of many, that kind of thing – but they are handled in such a heavy-handed way that it doesn’t really work.

The Girl in the Flower Dress is the kind of episode I can see being enjoyed by many, but for me, it fell pretty flat.

Rating: 4/10

The Walking Dead Season 4 – Episode 2 – “Infected”

Careful with that, you'll have an eye out

Careful with that, you’ll have an eye out

Warning: full spoilers for the episode follow

In the world of The Walking Dead, the zombies aren’t your biggest problem – it’s empathy. Caring for others will get you hurt, will get you killed, and considering the entirety of last season was dealing with the ramifications of not caring enough, “Infected” begins to answer the question of what happens when people care too much.

“Infected” picks up right where the last episode left off, with another decent horror film-like sequence continuing the trend from last week. Zombie-Patrick is let loose upon the group, and while it does force the audience to have a certain sense of disbelief, it does highlight how much of a false sense of security the survivors have gained in their new home. The apocalypse is still happening outside, and the people inside just got reminded of that.

Rick was also forced to take a reality check this week, as he was pulled out of his farming retirement to begin making decisions again. It’s great to see Rick finally having to deal with the fact that this world is suited to how he handles things, and that Farmer Rick is merely a fantasy that he will never really be allowed to live during the zombie apocalypse. Yes, it does look like he may be walking back down the path he walked last season, with all the close ups of Rick looking suitably wild and angry as he puts down the zombie horde, but it was also nice to see the sadness in his realization that was who he needed to be, as he sacrificed his pigs for the greater good.

Carol, however, seems to be the only one in the apocalypse who actually has her head screwed on the right way. Her tough love act with the two girls is the standout moment of the episode, especially when she tells them very bluntly that they are weak. She understands through the loss of both her abusive husband and her child that empathy doesn’t work for the dead, or the dying, and the best way to deal with them is a swift death. Carol’s acceptance of the way things are is only augmented by Mellisa McBride’s delivery , as she scolds the children with the same intensity a mother would when her child runs with scissors.

But Carol’s not the only one dealing with loss. This episode also gave us the biggest hint into Michonne’s life before the infection began. I was worried that this plot line would devolve into Michonne sulking for the remainder of the episode, but her reaction to the baby crying was a welcome surprise, as it gave depth without destroying her mysterious persona. A daughter? Niece? We probably won’t find out and I hope we never will.

Outside of character moments, we once again were treated to more disgustingly amazing blood and gore. The zombie dragging its intestines around was suitably gross and it’s surprising it wasn’t done earlier. Karen, who I was certain was going to get killed in the pre-credits sequence, ended up completely immolated, which was incredibly disturbing. It’s bad enough that the survivors were split between infected and uninfected, but for one of the only people to show symptoms to be burnt alive? That does not help with the already rock bottom morale, and it is sure to create a split in future episodes. It seems directly tied to the person who was feeding the zombies rats at the beginning of the episode, and is beginning to sow the seeds of mistrust throughout the group.

In the end “Infected” continues to show the viewers what happens when the group dynamic of last season is completely reversed, and while it continues to strain on audience acceptance of how these events occur, it still manages to maintain the solid start to the season.

Couple of observations

  • Maggie and Glen have been relegated to the background for these first few episodes, but their small sub-plot is providing the much needed levity to the main events so far this season. Hopefully it gets expanded in future episodes
  • I know I said it last week, but Carl is really shaping up to become a more solid addition to the cast. Chandler Riggs has really grown into his role. His adversity to using the gun felt believable, and it genuinely felt like he was acting like Rick’s son.
  • I find it incredibly hard to believe they went thirty days without an incident, considering how bad it has been over the last two.
  • No matter how many times they show that blonde woman crying over her husband, I’m just not going to be able to care. I cared more about the death of the piggies than that woman’s plight.
  • Why aren’t there internal guards/ precautions against this kind of incident? Especially considering they took on the Governor’s people, and he’s still out there. This show strains too much on believability sometimes, and can really pull the viewer out of the experience.
  • The girl upset over the death of Nick the Zombie was creepy, if a little over-acted. Hopefully the girl’s state of mind is brought back in later episodes.
  • Biting the man’s neck so he wouldn’t scream? C’mon.

The Walking Dead Season 4 – Episode 1 – “30 Days Without Accident”

Not even the zombie apocalypse stops Workplace Health & Safety

Not even the zombie apocalypse stops Workplace Health & Safety

Warning: full spoilers for the episode follow

For the first time that I can remember, Michonne smiled. She probably has smiled before in the series – but not like this. As Daryl is being grilled by one of the red-shirts (Brad?) about his past life, surrounded by the corpses of hundreds of dead, hunting for supplies, Michonne allows herself a laugh and a smile, which sets the tone for “30 Days Without Accident”. Yes it’s the end of the world, but not everything is all that bad. Until it is.

Lets get to the biggest plot point, which is the inclusion of the “big bad” that the producers had been teasing. A deadly disease has come to the prison, and as one would expect, probably will be around for a while. Patrick, one of the many red-shirts the Woodbury citizens will provide, falls ill, gets a fever, and promptly dies within the course of a single day. It is a bit far fetched that this would (a) not be noticed, and (b) be able to kill him as quickly as it has, so it does ask for a certain sense of disbelief. What is interesting about this whole ordeal is how the episode provides multiple “Patient Zero” for audiences to question: was it the sick pigs? The fact the children hung out with Nick the zombie all day? Or was it because of the wonderfully meta moment where Patrick has a fanboy geek-out over Daryl? Providing multiple explanations only helps to deepen mistrust within the prison ranks, and could potentially lead to a great The Thing--like standoff.

The episode otherwise splits neatly into two separate story threads. Daryl and the gang’s expedition to the supermarket was definitely the highlight of the episode, as we were treated to a particularly awesome sequence with zombies crashing from the ceiling, providing a definite horror movie moment. It also gave us another of the more memorable zombies in a long time, as one of the poor things was hung from the ceiling by its guts. As mentioned before, the scene where the gang were guessing Daryl’s previous occupation was a nice touch, and will do well for building up to the moments where things aren’t going quite to plan.

The other story, Rick’s encounter with the crazy lady, felt a bit too familiar. While it’s always nice to catch up with the world outside the prison, it felt too reminiscent of his excellent re-encounter with Morgan last season. Coming across a character who reminds Rick of what he could become is a bit stale right now, especially considering this is a woman who we have zero investment in, and really only serves to highlight the three questions that Rick asks new survivors.

“30 Days Without Accident” sets up the season well. While times have been okay for a month now, it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead if everything didn’t go wrong all at once. Now all we need is a hint at what the Governor is up to. Then everyone would be in trouble.

Couple of observations

  • Carol has enjoyed an excellent arc throughout the series, and the tough mum act really suits her well. I hope they expand on this in further episodes.
  • Speaking on Carol – are her and Daryl a thing now? I really hope not, as I have always read their relationship more as a familial one.
  • This episode also has the introduction of Bob Stookey, who people will remember from the comics. His battle with the alcohol was a nice touch, considering it was the choice not to fall back into that hole which almost got him killed.
  • Fans of the comics will know to keep an eye on Stookey. Fans of the show should do so too.
  • Carl is definitely much better than where he was in season two. It’s interesting to see how these events are really messing with his childhood.
  • The council eh? I wonder of Rick’s a part of it, or whether he wants to sit out considering the Ricktatorship.
  • Finally, sorry about the late review. This week got busy outside of the site, and I plan on being more prompt with the reviews in the future. Look for episode two’s review real soon

The Walking Dead – What I Think So Far

michonne-walking deadWarning: Spoilers for The Walking Dead TV series, as well as minor spoilers for the comic series follow

Starting this week, The Comics Herald will be reviewing the new episodes of The Walking Dead television series. Being a fan of the series, throughout its iterations in comics, games and of course the television show, I thought it be best to bring readers up to speed with my thoughts on AMC’s zombie hit before I began reviewing the latest season. This will include spoilers of course, as will all my reviews for the series, so you have been warned. Twice.

What I Like:

The Zombies

Yes. It’s a show about zombies. On cable television. I continue to be amazed that this show even exists, and pulls massive numbers in the ratings, prompting it to have the largest cable audience ever. But I digress.

The creative team really have come into their own in the overall aesthetic of the show. The zombies have their own look, which is masterfully created through continually impressive prosthetic make-up, and there always manages to be a few standout individual zombies that really set the tone. From the little girl and the bicycle girl in the premiere, to the creepy Governors Daughter, the show has continued to outdo itself in creative ways to show the living dead. Spattered with a healthy dose of blood and gore of course.

It takes liberties with the comics

This is a major problem I have with other shows that decide to stick closely to the source material. Game Of Thrones did not hold my interest for purely because people who were watching it with me knew exactly what was going to happen and when. It takes the fun out of watching a show week-by-week when there are people who will know how it is going to end. The Walking Dead overcomes this problem by using the source as a basis, rather than a bible. It allows for expectations to be subverted – characters who were alive in the comics are dead, and vice-versa. It’s having the cake and eating it too, having the pure fan service of seeing these characters on screen, while at the same time being legitimately worried for them. It keeps it both familiar and fresh.

The Characters

In taking liberties with the source material, some of The Walking Dead’s best characters have spawned from the deviations. Norman Reedus is obviously excellent as Daryl, and this newer, more charming version of the Governor, is handled excellently by David Morrissey. Other standouts include Carol (who has enjoyed a really intriguing character arc), Hershel and of course Glen, each of which have enjoyed some of the more consistent characterizations throughout the series. As for the deceased, I was a huge fan of Shane too, especially considering he too outlived his comics counterpart. On occasion The Walking Dead gets its characters right, and when it does it’s a treat.

What I Don’t Like:

The Characters

You did notice the “on occasion” didn’t you? When The Walking Dead’s characters are firing on all cylinders, it does so excellently. When it isn’t, the engine begins to stutter and act in ways it really shouldn’t. Andrea and Lori are the main offenders here, despite the former beginning promisingly, and the latter offering a small amount of redemption in the end. I’m willing to include Dale here too, especially as towards the end he began grating on my nerves. At times it’s a small niggle, with characters making small mistakes that make me raise an eyebrow, but other times it is downright infuriating. It also doesn’t help that when a character becomes unlikeable enough (Andrea, Lori), or when the writers really don’t know what to do with them (T-Dog), they tend to be killed off. It’s the fact that there seems to be a large disconnect between these and the well written ones that often makes me scratch my head.

It often gets stuck

See the entire middle section of the second season. Too often the show finds itself spinning its wheels, as characters meander about repeating the same mistakes over and over again. This could be a problem with the genre, as consistent tension and action can be too overwhelming, but the moments where characters sit around moping about the end of the world, however realistic, get old quickly. I also imagine staying in the same place for too long perpetuates this,  which is a worry going into the fourth season when they remain at the prison. Hopefully this changes, and the writers manage to squeeze more life from their home.

What I’d Like To See

A Deeper Rick

While Rick Grimes doesn’t fall under the “bad character” category, he exactly doesn’t fit under the good one either. Rick is incredibly flat, often reacting to events around him, rather than truly taking charge. I’d like to see more of the Rick we saw at the beginning of season three, where the “Ricktatorship” took point, but eventually fell apart anyway. No matter how many times the other characters tell us how important he is, we really need to see it. Take him out of the equation for a while, and show us how important he is.

Bigger Threats

While we already know the producers have teased something big coming to the survivors, I’d like to see a better defined antagonist. The Governor is definitely set to return, but I felt the whole Woodbury army was underused, and considering how quickly the remaining members of that community defected to our heroes, I would love to see some good old fashioned deceit and sabotage from these new members.

Bigger Smiles

I know this is a show about the end of the world, but having characters regularly hitting just the one note (read: depressed) gets old quickly. Michonne is the biggest offender here, as her brooding has gotten old quickly – crack a smile, tell a joke. They may be surrounded by zombies at every turn, but for their own sanity, and ours, just act a little lighter. The more upsetting events will have more impact if the lighter moments are just that little bit lighter.

As I am writing this, the premiere has aired already, having snuck up on me without me realising, so the review will be up not long after this post has. Otherwise reviews for the episode should be up on the site the following day.


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ep.3: The Asset

ustv-marvel-agents-of-shield-the-asset-1So, we have reached episode three. If my life were an episode of Friends right now, it would probably be titled ‘The one where Kim decides whether or not she gives a shit’.

And I do. Give a shit, that is. After a shaky start, I think this show is starting to figure out what it is, and where it needs to be heading. Even if it’s not exactly what I had hoped for in an MCU based show, it’s fun, silly and unpretentious. The in-universe name drops are beginning to abate, and it’s becoming self aware in a way that’s amusing, rather than grating.

I didn’t enjoy The Asset quite as much as 0-8-4, but that’s probably thanks to – following the pilot. The sudden upturn in the acting and writing cast a rose coloured tint on 0-8-4, rather than it being a particularly successful episode of a television series in its own right. Where 0-8-4 was a sharp U-turn as far as my enjoyment is concerned, The Asset holds steady despite a few speed bumps, but ultimately succeeds in being an entertaining episode.

The Asset has one huge plus on its side, and that’s the introduction of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first new character from comics canon. I really love seeing the interpretations of both the heroes and the villains’ origin stories, and while I kind of wish Franklin Hall’s plot here was a bit less cliché, it’s a decent take on Graviton’s beginnings.

The show’s core characters are still finding their feet here, but Agent Cardboard does seem to be a bit less… stiff. Not an overwhelming shift, just more going from 5mm solid board down to the double sided corrugated stuff they use for boxes. Everyone else is largely the same as in 0-8-4 – Coulson is still solid and in character, Skye is still a bit annoying but mostly pretty okay, Fitz and Simmons are still adorable motormouths, and Melinda May still doesn’t say much while continuing to be the most interesting character on the screen. Here’s hoping for a bit more development in the next episode, now that all the introductions are over.

There are hints on what’s to come here, from Coulson’s unexplained and frustrating difficulty with a gun, through to the teaser after the final scene. I’m really thrilled that AoS is continuing with the end credits idea from the MCU films. It’s a great way to build anticipation, without relying on the obligatory next week on…

As with any show of this type, there are a bunch of plotholes, convenient coincidences, and just as many things that just don’t make any sense at all. The opening sequence shows Dr. Hall being transported in the back of a truck, driven by someone who appears to be just your run-of-the-mill truckie, but (of course) turns out to be a SHIELD agent. Skye gets an invite to a private party held by a power crazed billionaire after a few taps on her smartphone. There’s an incredibly rare element called gravitonium. Hall just happened to be FitzSimmon’s favourite teacher. Needless to say, there’s some pretty serious suspension of disbelief required, but it’s okay because The Asset is fun and entertaining.

The focus is once again mostly on our audience surrogate Skye. I get it, she’s pretty and cute, and it’s a neat thing to have a computer nerd who is a hot chick (they exist, who knew?). I really want to like her, and enjoy her story, but she’s still not quite interesting enough. I also really don’t like the forced tension being created between her and Agent Cardboard. Not only is it unnecessary, it also feels a bit condescending towards the audience.

There’s some neat scenes in the back half of the episode which feature the gravitonium (I’m sorry, I can’t not put that in italics, it’s just too funny) causing things to go haywire, while Skye is talking her way into Quinn’s (the power hungry billionaire dude) trust, and gets to have a moment where she successfully acts like an agent of SHIELD, followed by the sudden skill development being thankfully subverted. We also get a welcome character moment for Melinda May right at the end of the episode, which should mean plenty of action from her in episodes to come.

Part of the reason I was hoping for something a bit less gimmicky, and more political from this show, was because I enjoy the idea of exploring a more realistic side of the Marvel universe. Now that a precedent has been set for something a bit more OTT and less grounded, I’m happy enough to be along for the ride, but I think I’m still going to be hoping for something with a little more substance.

Rating: 7/10

Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 ep. 2: 0-8-4

SHIELD-6After the cliché laden clunker that was the pilot episode of SHIELD, you can imagine my trepidation going into the second episode. Despite my concern, however, I do like to give every new series three episodes before deciding whether or not I’ll continue watching on a week-by-week basis. As I also mentioned in last week’s review, I had a hope that without Joss’ direct input, the series could improve past the snark and heavy handed references.

The bad news is, the episode doesn’t start off on the right foot, with some VFX that just don’t quite look right – even for a TV show – and a fairly stereotypical ‘hero has to get out of impossible’ situation, followed by ‘[insert arbitrary timeframe here] hours earlier’. So far, so average. In addition, the further we get into the episode, the more obvious it becomes that Agent Cardboard Cutout isn’t going to become any more animated any time soon.

The good news, is that while the production values are still mediocre when compared to high budget cable series (which is where the pilot episode should have been sitting, considering its reported $14m budget), the show looks far more polished this week, and looks great for a network TV show. Sets look less studio backlot, and more like they were shot on location. The visual effects are still a bit iffy in places, but are generally pretty good, and the acting has improved vastly.

The great news, is that this episode is engaging. It’s clever, witty, and self referential in a way that doesn’t whack you over the head with an embarrassing desperation to please all the fanboys (and girls) this side of Jupiter. While many will look at the script and see huge similarities between the pilot and 0-8-4, the major difference here is subtlety. Lines are delivered in a far more low key manner, rather than with a comical, over the top facial expression, and a tone dripping with irony. While the writing team was hanging lampshades all over this episode (particularly in reference to Skye’s place on the team), rather than expecting to hear a ba-da-boom-tsssch drum punchline, they garner a chuckle, and a smile.

This episode is fast paced, fun, and a little silly in places, but not so much that it becomes tiresome. Last week, I bemoaned the likelihood of getting something like Burn Notice or Covert Affairs, with a bit more grittiness thrown in. This week, we got the next best thing – something that resembled a cross between Burn Notice and Covert Affairs. Enjoyable, episodic but with the undercurrent of a longer plot, and with a slight feel of guilty pleasure about it.

Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell have done a great job of the script. There are still a few moments where I could have struggled to suspend my disbelief, but the whole episode is so nicely put together that I found myself not caring. I was particularly impressed with the dramatic shift in the quality of the acting, and if this is down to David Straiton’s direction, then I applaud him. Where most of the actors felt like they were reading from an autocue during the pilot, in 0-8-4 they actually feel like they’ve learned their lines sooner than two minutes before walking on set. Agent Cardboard Cutout is still a weak link, but at least he sounds like his accent isn’t something I put on after a few too many drinks on a Saturday night.

One real revelation for me was Skye. While in the pilot, she felt like an attempted replacement for Darcy Lewis (who, if you’ve read the Thor: The Dark World prelude comics, you will know managed to hack SHIELD without much preamble), in 0-8-4 she’s really settling in to her character. Her place on the team is called into question a number of times, including by herself, and at the end of the episode we start to get an inkling of her real motivations.

The rest of the team (apart from Cardboard), are also well characterised and acted. Melinda May’s woman of few words personality is reinforced, and I’m really excited to see more about how she came to be who she is. Fitz and Simmons are more of the same high speed talking over the top of one another, and despite Skye being the clear attempt at an audience surrogate, I can’t help but relate to these two far more.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the obvious attempt at creating sexual tension between Skye and Cardboard, when there’s very little chemistry between the actors. Suggesting that Cardboard will become her trainer towards the end of the episode doesn’t help with those reservations. I just have my fingers crossed that they’ll subvert this somehow and move on. Or more to the point, I hope my theory on the conversation between Agent May and Agent Cardboard is correct, but you’ll have to wait to find out what that is.

Coulson is firmly back in character, benign expression in place, dropping the odd terrifyingly efficient threat. It’s great to see him get a bit of history, with Leonor Varela guest starring as Peruvian Commandante Camilla Reyes, with whom Phil has an history of not much working. Go Phil, you dog!

It’s a relief to see the name drops and references delivered with far less of a feeling that the actors are winking at the camera. While a bunch of existing MCU characters and ideas get nods in this episode – the device they’re recovering is supposedly based off the HYDRA WWII weapons from CA:TFS – they fit nicely into the flow of dialogue, and actually got my brain ticking over with ideas, rather than being the basis of an eye roll.

I have a few theories on some of the carrots that are continually being left dangling in front of the audience’s noses, like Coulson’s magical time in Tahiti, and this episode has me actually excited to find out what the reveals are going to be.

Fast paced, enthralling, and excited for more. The plot is still predictable, but not irritatingly so, and the characters are no longer all one dimensional caricatures. I’m so thrilled to see such a dramatic turnaround after such a disappointing pilot. If it werent for Cardboard, 0-8-4 would be getting a solid 9/10, but as it stands…

Rating: 8.5/10 – the .5 is for the cameo at the end

Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Pilot

agents of shieldWhen I first saw the teaser trailer for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (which will from here on be referred to as SHIELD), I wasn’t impressed. While the internet was going crazy over it, I was sitting in my own little bubble of dislike, hoping what I saw as dreadful clunky dialogue wouldn’t be an indication of the entire script.

Despite my misgivings, I was excited for SHIELD. I was hopeful that the trailer was simply a ploy to get those who enjoy Joss Whedon’s trademark pop culture saturated dialogue, delivered by a mismatched team of Whedon box-tickers, to tune in. That in the actual pilot, the clichés would be kept to a minimum, and instead the show would be a taught, tense, action-drama.

Suffice to say, SHIELD lived up to the wrong expectations. Not only is the entire pilot an endless string of [supposedly clever] one-liners, barely managing to hold together the melodrama and paper thin plot, the acting is sub-par, and it doesn’t work as an introduction for those not already well versed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe – believe it or not, the entire world hasn’t seen every instalment of the cinematic behemoth. Viewing this show without favour is tough, but if you ignore the good faith of the MCU, and don’t let the Whedon fans sway your opinion, the writing is on the wall. SHIELD Isn’t great. I’m not even sure I can stretch to call it mediocre.

What I wanted from SHIELD was something like Burn Notice or Covert Affairs, with a bit of Breaking Bad grittiness, but this is network TV, so I would have been more than thrilled with an Alias vibe  (the TV show, rather than the comic). What we got, was NCIS crossed with Eureka (thanks to @myleftkidney for this analogy). There was also an underlying sensation that this show could have been a failed nineties attempt to compete with Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.


Don’t lie, you remember it fondly.

SHIELD opens with narration, which is common for a pilot episode . The narration is also an indication of the quality of acting throughout. I’m not sure how to describe Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) opening monologue, other than dire. Not only is it badly written, it’s overacted, and doesn’t at all have the tone you would expect of underground journalism, which is what this is supposed to read as. It does however, inform us that SHIELD has been made. There are people who know about the organisation, even if they aren’t aware of their exact operating capacity, and that conspiracy theorists are keen to get their claws into any leads they can dig up.

We’re introduced to the pilot’s main plot point straight away, just like any other procedural. The plot point is Michael – a juiced up black dude who isn’t Luke Cage, played by J. August Richards.

No seriously, that’s all this guy is. A  inner city black guy cliché with little to no personality other than he’s an angry factory worker single father, who got fired and is now enhanced by something called Project Centipede. He’s also the only character in the whole pilot that doesn’t look like they stepped straight out of a fashion catalogue – clothes, makeup and all. He’s basically the worst kind of vaguely racist black guy trope there is, and this continues right to the end of the episode.

Everyone else is impossibly pretty, and well put together. Even Skye who is supposed to be living out of a van, exposing the conspiracies of the world, has perfect hair, and even more perfectly pressed clothes. Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) has the personality of a brick, and the scientific team of Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), are clearly a product of Whedon’s fandom awareness – a pre-loaded ship complete with it’s own portmanteau (FitzSimmons), and brain-twin style dialogue. The only shining light of the team is Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, despite the large hints of an interesting, if cliché, back story.

joss-whedon-strong-female-charactersConsidering Whedon’s championing of strong female characters, I find it surprising that he has apparently chosen Agent Ward as the secondary main character after Coulson (Clark Gregg), rather than Melinda May. I can’t help but feel they’re keeping things open for Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill to come to the show full time once How I Met Your Mother has finished.

Joss has taken an idea right out of about fifty percent of MCU fanfic, and explained Phil Coulson’s survival (after he was callously stabbed in the chest by Loki) as a way to motivate the Avengers. Yawn. If I wanted that explanation I’d just head on over to AO3 and read any one of a few thousand stories with this same idea. They’d probably be better written and more interesting, too.

Continuing with Coulson,  I couldn’t help but feel that he was out of character during the whole show. We know him as a man with a singular expression, occasionally making a wry observation, or coming out with a memorably clever quote. A man with a slightly sick sense of humour, that delivers his lines with a benign, bland, almost vacant look. In SHIELD, he cracks wise every second line, smiles often, gets a bit shouty, and talks down bad guys without a megaphone in hand. Overall, temporary death seems to have changed Phil into an entirely different person. Even if he is an LMD, it’s still a bit weird.

shield-coulsonSo character wise, it’s a misfire. I can only hope the actors grow more into their roles over coming episodes, but thus far, even their accents feel fake. It’s not all bad – there are some moments where Skye is genuinely charming and a bit goofy, and Fitz and Simmons are pretty funny with their cute brand of talking over each other humour, but the good moments are unfortunately outweighed by the not so great. Is it too much to ask to have one single character that gets through an episode without snark?

Most of what I’m presuming was a huge budget, has clearly been spent on Joss Whedon’s creative input, with what was left over used to create Lola and her groan inducing reveal at the end of the episode. The visual effects are on par with, or below what we were seeing in TV shows like 24, Alias, and Dark Angel, back in the early 2000s (shows that SHIELD should be looking to for more than just visual cues).

While I have issues with the acting and visual effects, my main gripe is the writing. Like most of Whedon’s shows, SHIELD is trying very hard to be self aware. So hard, that it manages to come full circle, and lose itself in what it’s trying to be. The episode felt like little more than a bunch of snarky dialogue and in-universe name drops, strung together with various instances of lampshade hanging to get through forty-three minutes, in the hopes of snagging viewers with references to various parts of the Marvel Multiverse. There is little here to grab the interest of someone completely new to both Marvel, and Joss Whedon’s style of storytelling. I feel like the team of Whedon/Whedon/Tancharoen have forgotten that a shows success isn’t just about generating approval from an existing fanbase. It’s about gaining new viewers, introducing them to this universe, and keeping everyone interested.

Lesson #1: Don't piss off a huge part of your fanbase

Lesson #1: Don’t piss off a huge part of your fanbase

The one liners not only become tiresome, but some are downright offensive. One in particular, which I think may have been aimed at taking a dig at how we treat celebrity here in the real world, instead came across as derogatory towards female cosplayers, a problem that could have been easily rectified by having Skye call out Agent Ward’s attitude. Instead, she shrunk away and admitted in a small voice, that she was one of the fangirls he was referring to. Considering the prevalence of negativity towards women involved in geekdom, this is not at all a good message to send.

Over all, ABC has missed a golden opportunity to deliver a gritty, interesting spy drama, and has instead given us something that would have worked just as well as a cartoon. Part of the MCUs appeal, is the way it has managed to ground itself in the real world, instead of being a direct adaptation of the comics. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels like it has forgotten this in its very first episode, but it’s not until the final scene that the ability to suspend your disbelief goes from wavering to shattered.

Despite these misgivings, I am going to continue watching, if only to keep up with MCU continuity. I sincerely hope the show improves, and with the showrunning being handled by Whedon’s younger brother Jed, and his wife Maurissa Tancharoen, there may be scope for something new and compelling to come from a pilot that had more failures than successes.

Rating: 3/10

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Trailer Released

It’s 30 seconds, it doesn’t give much at all away, but it’s still a lot of fun. Check it out:

It raises a couple of nice questions: how is Agent Coulson alive? Who’s the super-dude in the dressing gown?

Of course, that’s the ABC in the US that it’s going to be screened on – who knows when we’ll see it down here and if it’ll be available legally on a streaming service?

What’s your take – does it appeal?