Agents of SHIELD

Agents of SHIELD Cast

While doing press for the Fargo series, Billy Bob Thornton was asked over and over again why he decided to give TV a try. His answers tend to sum up two main thoughts that he has about the small screen right now: this new wave of great television mirrors the 1990s independent film movement, and currently this is really the only place for adult dramas and comedies. He’s right, and he’s certainly not the first person to say it. Movies for grown-ups are hard to come by at the multiplex, and when they do arrive they don’t do very well  (a lot of them don’t deserve to do well, either). Meanwhile, we’ve got smart and sexy programming up the wazoo on cable and occasionally network TV. Fargo is yet another in the pile that has included True Detective, Top of the Lake, Game of Thrones, Louie, Veep, House of Cards, Girls, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc. Everyone knows all about all that. Even though they’re nothing new, Thornton’s comments had me thinking about why those kinds of movies for adults disappeared from theaters. The easy answer is that fewer adults were going to the movies and the lack of a large audience made those kinds of releases unprofitable. And that’s made more room for superhero movies, which are all over the place these days. I don’t think the superheroes chased out the serious drama stuff, which hasn’t completely left movie theaters, and of course each type still has its own season — superheroes in the summertime; awards fodder in […]

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Agents of SHIELD Repairs

“Repairs” gave me a huge bout of wisher’s remorse. Last night’s stinker of an episode did three things I’d wanted from the show — to reveal May’s backstory and the origins of her very cool but unwanted nickname, to acknowledge that May and Ward had sex, and to show how the existence of supernatural forces affects real-life people And it bungled all three of them. “Repairs” was supposed to be the episode that differentiated Melinda May from a catatonic psychiatric patient with a pilot’s license and a black belt in kicking ass, or at least explain how she got that way.  On this front, showrunners Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon’s underdeveloped script absolutely failed. After a couple of false starts (she killed a hundred people on horseback; no, it was just twenty), Coulson puts an end to the mystery (kind of) with a deflating tale about how May performed the soul-destroying task of being good at her job of rescuing people, and has been haunted by the memory of it ever since. Um, okay.

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CLARK GREGG, CHLOE BENNET, MING-NA WEN

“The Well” was the most anticipated episode of Agents of SHIELD since the pilot, with Star Trek: TNG actor Jonathan Frakes behind the camera, guest star Peter MacNicol, and, of course, the cross-promotion with Thor 2. Fortunately for ABC and the series’ steadily falling ratings, “The Well” was also the SHIELD‘s best hour by a large margin. The Thor 2 insertions, while unnecessary, didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and actually worked with the main story of Dr. Elliot Randolph’s (MacNicol) Asgardian identity. The B-story of Ward’s Tragic Past was more of a promise than the fulfillment of one, but it also led to the nice surprise of him taking up Melinda’s invitation for some sexual healing. (Please don’t let this be a fake-out.) All in all, “The Well” fired on all cylinders: character development, plot, humor, and illustrating the ways crazy people become even crazier once they discover the existence of supernatural beings. Coulson, too, returned from the naive robot version of himself in last week’s “The Hub” to reclaim his role as every white-bread middle-aged dude’s slightly more badass version of himself. Through his wits, his famous friends (he’s such a name-dropper), and his apparent obsession with expensive pens, Coulson saved the day by performing some improvisational heart surgery.

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FZZT

There are too many universes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Once upon a time, by which I mean the pilot six weeks ago, that was supposed to be a strength of the show. The “Battle of New York” had laid bare to the world the existence of gods, aliens, super-powered mutants, and half-robot kajillionaires, and the normies peed their pants in response. They became afraid, or jealous, or both. It was a scared new world. I want those people back, because they were smart enough to be frightened. Instead, we got a bunch of dum-dums this week in “FZZT” (W.T.F.?) who should know better than to bring back souvenirs from an alien invasion but didn’t, so they died. The highlight of last night’s hour was the cold open, which ended in the kind of semi-cheesy ironic reversal The X-Files loved to indulged in. A Boy Scout leader fails to scare his young troops with an ineptly told scary story, then inadvertently traumatizes them for life by turning up dead just a few moments later. His glowing corpse lies peacefully a few feet above the ground, looking like he’s undergoing the universe’s slowest UFO abduction.

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The-Avengers-Thor-and-Agent-Coulson

In this day and age, it’s hard to tell if a movie/TV series crossover is more beneficial to theatrical attendance for the former or ratings for the latter. Perhaps it’s to work both ways in the Marvel Cinematic Universe announcement that Thor: The Dark World is going to connect pretty directly with events in NBC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This isn’t a surprise nor is it that new for the series to feature references to the Marvel movies. Agent Coulson’s story arc has been connected to what happened to him in The Avengers since the start and will continue until we’re given more details of how the character was resurrected following “The Battle of New York.” And a couple episodes have involved the Extremis serum first seen in Iron Man 3. I haven’t seen the new Thor sequel yet, so I have no speculation to offer regarding the plot connection, but I can’t imagine it being too significant. The movie won’t be ending with a “To be continued on television in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” that’s for sure. We’re being given two weeks from the opening of The Dark World to the airing of the episode in question (“The Well”), but will the show actually depend on us seeing the movie in that time? That could potentially alienate some viewers who might want or need to wait for the movie to hit video to see it. And with ratings for the show continuing to decline in both the U.S. and UK, […]

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CHLOE BENNET

I suppose there was always only the slimmest of chances that Agents of SHIELD would give a fair shake to the freedom of information movement. After all, disruptive, potentially anarchic institutions like Wikileaks and Anonymous strike fear into the hearts of governments and giant corporations (like Disney, which owns Marvel and ABC). I’m no apologist for self-righteous hackers, but I’d hoped that the show would tease out that particular ethical ambiguity of SHIELD, particularly its extensive surveillance activities and extralegal existence, a little longer, if only to give the audience a little intellectual meat to chew on. Sadly, “Girl in the Flower Dress” was a bare-bones affair, as well as a big drop-off in quality after last week’s high benchmark. It was also a hit job on the free information movement, half-heartedly represented by Miles, a selfish goon who sells his hacking wares for a measly million bucks, as well as a weepy Skye who confesses to Coulson, “It’s [why] I learned to crack systems, why I joined the Rising Tide. To find any details I could about my parents.” By reducing Miles and Skye’s motivations for hacking to greedy and/or personal reasons, the show deprives from the Wikileakers of the world any philosophical or ethical authority — the effect of which is to take the show further from a recognizable human world toward a good-versus-bad cardboard universe.

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PASCALE ARMAND, MING-NA WEN

Agents of SHIELD finally delivers its first solid episode, courtesy of writer Jeffrey Bell, who cut his teeth on The X-Files and Angel. Though it concerned a former SHIELD agent, “Eye-Spy” is also the first episode that feels far enough removed from the ins and outs of the superhero world that it could conceivably take place in any number of fictional universes, or even ours. (On The X-Files, Mulder would have tried to sell Scully on the sixth-sense angle before eventually abandoning it himself; on Angel, a harder-hearted sidekick like Wesley or Gunn would have tried to talk their redemption-loving vampire-friend from offering Akela a second chance.) Agents of SHIELD set out to tell human-scale stories in a world full of super-powered beings. The series’ first three episodes directly tackled that idea, but the contours of this world are still so amorphous that the characters seem to exist in a plot-convenient vacuum. “Eye-Spy” grounded the characters in a more recognizable universe by hewing the A-plot closer to sci-fi than fantasy and setting down a rule: ESP doesn’t exist. That world-building tidbit is accompanied by a few more details about the show’s mythology: Coulson used to be a jerk-boss and may have received a personality transplant during/after his near-death encounter, Melinda May is far from the only traumatized spy who’s had to retire from the field, an eye-exploiting mastermind is still lurking out there somewhere. At last, the show feels like it has a history.

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Agents of SHIELD The Asset

There’s an old theory by the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel that I’ve always been fond of: tragedy doesn’t arise from a battle between good versus evil, but from good versus good. That wrenching feeling the audience experiences having to choose between two noble actions is essential to the tragic. Though the end of “The Asset” wasn’t framed as a particularly tragic one, Coulson and Hall’s (Ian Hart) debate between the immediate versus the future-oriented plans to neutralize gravitonium lends credence to the power of Hegel’s definition. Hall, taking the long view, wanted to sink the island of Malta, along with everyone on it, so that the potent element would be out of reach, and thus couldn’t be exploited. But Coulson (seemingly) destroyed Hall to save himself and his team, opting to contain the gravitonium (ugh, that name) and lock it away forever in a vault. Which, in a superhero universe, means twiddling one’s thumbs until the villain breaks out of his cage or one of his allies launches a rescue mission to retrieve him at some future date. (Also, I know SHIELD doesn’t yet know that Hall is still alive, but how do prisoners in glass cages go to the bathroom? Do the guards just politely look away?)

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Agents of SHIELD 084

I’m willing to be patient with Joss Whedon’s shows. The first seasons of Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse were each series’ worst. (Firefly, of course, only had the one season.) But Whedon’s intended pilots for his two most recent shows, Firefly and Dollhouse, were confident introductions to characters and a universe that we were joining in medias res, not still being sketched out from scratch. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s second episode, however, taught me to lower my expectations for this series. Written by Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeffrey Bell, “0-8-4″ was nothing short of embarrassing — from the hammy, cliched dialogue and the obvious plot twists to the forced, programmatic story arc and the paper-thin, never-not-yammering characters. The one improvement from the pilot is that the show looks slightly less cheap; unlike last week’s installment, this episode actually seemed to have a budget. (What is it about Whedon’s shows that they all have that bargain-basement look?)

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I can’t be the only one stricken with flashbacks to the 90s by the Agents of SHIELD pilot. When gruff G-man Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) self-seriously intones, “We protect people from the news they aren’t ready to hear,” I half-wondered whether he would grow up to be the Cigarette-Smoking Man in The X-Files. SHIELD dredges up the same debates between secretiveness, effectiveness, and safety on the one hand, and transparency and freedom on the other, that its paranoia-fueled predecessor fostered and thrived in. Those debates, which are more topical than ever, are framed in a whole new way, though: it’s the “good guys” who justify cover-ups and their antagonist, a bouncy hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet), who fights for exposure. More than anything else, the pilot of Agents of SHIELD is a mission statement: there’s a battle between “the truth” versus “world peace.” (We can hash out in the comments how necessary or artificial this dichotomy is; I sure hope the show will address it at some point.) Also borrowed from The X-Files is a fear of government omnipotence and omniscience. Skye’s broadcasted questions — “How will you come at us? From the air? From the ground? How will you silence us this time?” — are legitimately scary, though the goofy-serious delivery softens the impact. Perhaps even more creepy, though, is SHIELD’s obsession with surveillance and identification, as when Mike (J. August Richards) is categorized as “an unregistered gifted.” And there are layers of secrets within SHIELD itself: though Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is the leader of his team, he himself suffers from […]

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Agents of SHIELD

Footage being released online a day after a panel is one thing. The entire panel, in a way that appears to be sanctioned and not done on someone’s flip phone camera, is another thing entirely. That’s what we have with this version of the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel that took place yesterday at Comic-Con. Thanks to the folks at Emergency Awesome, we’ve got a great look at the entire panel, save for the pilot that was shown. Get a look at what Joss Whedon, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na and others had to say about the upcoming ABC show.

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shield01

Nobody was surprised to learn this week that ABC officially picked up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the TV series spun-off from the Avengers movie franchise. After all, it’s a Disney-owned property and the network is also a Disney-owned company. And, well, it’s a tie-in to some of the highest grossing films of all time. Even if Iron Man 3 had somehow been a box office disappointment (fat chance), the main source of the series is last year’s enormously successful The Avengers. As we learned last fall, the popular character Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) would even be the lead, meaning he somehow didn’t actually die at the hands of Loki in that movie. Within days of the confirmed pick up for a full season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC has now unveiled the first look with a teaser trailer that premiered on the air during prime time this evening. Coulson is definitely at the center of the thing (marketing hashtag is #coulsonlives) as head of an elite yet not super powered team of agents who investigate cases involving the “strange” and “unknown,” stuff that hasn’t been classified by the agency yet. Sounds like an action-packed mix of X-Files and Heroes. It kinda looks more like the (best of the) latter in this promo, which you can watch after the jump.

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