So there’s that show on ABC set in the Marvel Universe about S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson and his handpicked team of Whedonesque archetypes learning to be a family.
But, two episodes in, it’s really quite … well, dull. Now, keep in mind that’s I’ve not seen the third episode, but it’s still fair to take a critical eye to the characters and style of the show thus far.
On the character front, the show relies a lot on the good will audiences have toward Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. So much so, I dare say it’s a crutch. His hand-picked team is unbalanced between overly eager science types and sour-pusses refusing the call to action. The science characters, collectively known as “Fitzsimmons” would almost be fresh if not for Pacific Rim beating them to the punch and doing it better with the unlikely pair of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman.
No, really. I thought I’d hate them when they first appeared, but both characters grew on me despite being broad archetypes throughout.
Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, have nothing to show for themselves, not even very strong archetypes. They’re nerdy, eager, but scared of being out in the field. It’s not a lot to go on and leads to short paragraphs when reviewing them.
On the other side, we have Melinda May and Ward as gruff sourpusses who don’t want to be there — granted, Ward’s is the slightly more nuanced version with his constant whining that he can do the job better by himself. May is the more interesting one as she has a competence that she’s running from. There’s something to build on there. Also, actress Ming Na is a likeable screen presence, so the Wolverine act is sort of charming coming from her.
Ward is a burnt piece of toast and should be excised as quickly as possible.
This leaves Skye, the rogue hacker Coulson recruits as a “consultant.” She might back-stab them at some point, but does that really matter? We have to live with her as a character and not her storyline. All she offers so far is a pretty face.
She’s also the laziest of the character types in the main cast: the hacker. The nice thing about computer nerd characters is that you can ultimately twist them anyway you need, which is why she doesn’t fit in with the science types or the sourpusses. In a smarter-run show, we’d already have a sense of who she. I don’t mean why she hid her identity, that’s plot stuff, but why she even cares about this crap. So, in the end, she’s currently as pulpy as Ward.
And I’m going to keep harping on this: if you have a bunch of characters questioning why they’re there, it’s going to make the audience ask the same thing.
Now to be far, plenty of shows have rough first seasons, Whedon shows amongst them. Angel didn’t hit its stride until it replaced one of its initial main characters, gave that character’s plot purpose to another character and doubled the size of the cast. Star Treks TNG and DS9 took two whole seasons to suss out they were not the preceding show in the franchise. Not everything gels as quickly as, say, The Shield or Mad Men. That’s asking the impossible in a TV world that depends on Law & Orders and N.C.I.S.s as the spine of primetime viewing.
Which somehow gets me to Firefly. While S.H.I.E.L.D. is teething at the moment, there’s an extra weight on it because of the Whedon connection. While Firefly is a contentious show around these parts, it did manage to assemble a character with a lot of charisma right from the get-go. I think people expect that now and that’s a really, really tough dynamic to replicate.
Point is, the show needs more time to hit its stride and once it finds it and Ward gets ejected, we’ll be able to decide on its longevity.
No, really, Ward’s the worst.