Tag Archives: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 35-32

4 Feb

One first year show, two second year shows, and one extremely popular cable show now in its fifth season. Let’s take a look.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here.

35. Masters of Sex – 2013: 22

Masters of Sex

Masters of Sex, one of 2013’s most promising debuts, took a step back in its sophomore season. Still a generally enjoyable show, the delights rested even more heavily on the substantial acting talents of Michael Sheen and Lizzie Kaplan. Lack of focus was the critical issue; the plot darted back and forth and couldn’t make up its mind about any direction for the season. This included a bizarre several year time jump in the middle of the season that didn’t add a whole lot while being needlessly confusing and incongruous. Poor Caitlin Fitzgerald, as Masters’ long-neglected wife is stuck with will-intended side plots that don’t completely fail but also don’t work as well as the show wants them to. There are certainly positives to be found here; the pleasant surprise of the season was the coupling of Masters and Johnson cameraman Lester with an equally damaged new character Barbara played by Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt. Overall I don’t feel the same enthusiasm I felt after the first season and am not recommending the show as thoroughly. That said, there’s hope; there’s no plot or character bridge that’s been crossed that should irreparably damage the show going forwards. It’s time for the writers to sit back, take stock, and really think the next season through before moving forwards.

34. AMC’s The Walking Dead – 2013: 35

AMC's The Walking Dead

AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of the more inconsistent shows on television – so much so that it’s inconsistently inconsistent. There’s a good half season, then a terrible episode, then a good two episodes, then a bad six episodes, a good A plot, a terrible B plot, and then a great C plot. To their credit, after a predictably wildly uneven second half of the fourth season, which dedicated whole episodes to different groups of characters separated for a period of time after the destruction of their prison home, the first half of the fifth season may have been the best block of episodes in the show’s run. It’s, unsurprisingly, not perfect, but the characters are better developed. Early seasons featured Rick and a bunch of thinly drawn compatriots. Now, nearly a dozen characters feel like they have distinct personalities and motivations. Even when the messaging is occasionally mind-numbingly unsubtle, the characters have at least earned a greater sense of investment. You still never know when AMC’s The Walking Dead will lay an egg, and the midseason finale left something to be desired, but overall, I look forward to the show more than I have in a couple of years.

33. The Affair – 2013: Not eligible

The Affair

Showtime’s The Affair is a solid new entrant into the premium cable universe. It’s a show that I watch and will watch again when it comes back but which I’m not quite sold on enough going forwards to freely recommend it to others. The unusual format and lack of traditional genre are the show’s two strongest selling points. We get to see a series of events from both the male and female protagonists’ perspective. These are Noah and Alison, the two participating in the titular affair, and the show deftly plays with memory and point of view. Both recount the events of their summer affair on Long Island differently in sometimes small but telling ways. Smartly, it’s not just plot and dialogue that change between the two accounts, but rather the entire look and feel. The Affair is both a character study and a murder mystery. While I spent much of the first few episodes trying to pin down what the show was trying to be, I’m not sure I even know at this point, but the unusual genre combination actually works. The weaker points of The Affair are the characters themselves; they lack depth and their motivation is often murky and not always entirely believable. Ruth Wilson has that accent that no actually American person has that some foreigners put on. The Affair is intriguing and I enjoy it, but it’s a few steps from greatness.

32. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – 2013: 44

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

I was just about ready to give up on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last spring, especially when I had to take a sabbatical from the show because, in both an ingenious and an incredibly irritating bit of Marvel Cinematic Universe synergy, you had to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier to follow along past a certain point in the first season. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have come back to the show at all, which I was completely and thoroughly sick of, if not for the prodding of a couple of friends who assured me that the show picked up after the crossover. Calling me skeptical was an understatement. I was willing to believe the show got better, because that was a low bar, but I found it hard to believe the show could improve to the point I could be really interested in it again. I was wrong though. The events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier presaged a fundamental shift in the premise of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which basically changed the show in every way for the better. While it’s not Breaking Bad or The Wire level of quality, it’s surprisingly hard to overstate just how much better the show has been since that crossover. The show has finally become a fun watch, in the vein of the better Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, and I hope it continues to grow in this direction.

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Fall 2013 Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

27 Sep

Coulson is an Agent of Shield

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (pause to mention how absolutely obnoxious it is to have to type out S.H.I.E.L.D. every time) is Marvel’s first foray into television since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which started with Ironman and culminated in 2012’s supermegamonster smash The Avengers. The Avengers was written and directed by Joss Whedon, who has been up to then known best as the cult television writer behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. The show is set after the events of The Avengers, where basically (The Avengers SPOILERS to come) huge swaths of New York were destroyed by giant aliens.  The upshot from that event, known as The Battle of New York, is that everyone in the public now knows about the weird and creepy and supernatural that the government had been able to keep from them before.  People are confused and scared.  S.H.I.E.L.D. is an agency which, as a character notes within the first ten minutes of the show, acts as a layer between the superheroes and super-villains and aliens and the general population, trying to keep the scary out of sight when they can and at least keep people out of harm’s way when they can’t.

Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Thor, is back from being seriously injured in The Avengers and he’s putting together a special hand-picked team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who will get to run pretty much whatever missions he deems advisable without facing the usual bureaucracy. We don’t know how he got this authority but it’s not all that important. He starts the episode by recruiting an antisocial combat expert named Grant Ward and then convincing pilot Melinda May, who is implied to be some sort of legend, to be part of the team with the promise that she’ll avoid active duty.  They join the already recruited science duo of Leo Fitz, an engineer, and Jemma Simmons, a chemist, both British, who seem to love to squabble with one another about scientific gibberish.

In the first episode, our squad tracks the case of a man who was caught on camera saving a woman from a burning building and showed signs of super strength.  The show follows him and we find out he’s a factory worker who was laid off due to injury and that he’s struggling to survive and feed his kid.  In his time of hardship, he agreed to join an experimental program, called Centipede, in which he gets a device that hooks into his arm and gives him this super strength.  Unfortunately, it also makes him crazy, as he uses his strength to push around his old boss who won’t give him another shot.  It will also, we learn, eventually make him explode.  The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are tasked with stopping him without killing him and they have the help of a rebel hacker named Skye who initially sees the agents as bad guys until Coulson convinces her that they really are trying to help people after all.

The show is largely procedural, and though I’’m sure there will be some serial elements, it looks like it’s largely going to start on a one case-per-week basis. At its heart, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about the team. Group dynamics are at the heart of what Joss Whedon does best, which is why he was the perfect director to helm The Avengers (and why he wouldn’t have made nearly as much sense for any of the individual hero films).  Whedon manages the intricacies and interplay of a group better than anyone and it is what drives his shows and what drives Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The major villains on Buffy were often the weakest part of the show, as it was how the group worked together to deal with them that was so compelling.   We don’t get enough of the group working together and verbally sparring in this episode, partly due to all the necessary set up, but I can see the pieces coming together.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not as daring or new or revelatory as I would hope from a new premium cable show, but that’s not what this is. Joss Whedon doesn’t generally traffic in the completely novel.  What Whedon shines at is making standard genre shows that are a cut above. He turns obvious types into complicated characters that grow and change over time.  He takes the level of dialogue writing most procedurals employ and puts so much more care into each sentence and phrase, imbuing it with a signature witty style. This playful Whedon-esque tone (yes, I’m using the creator’s name as an adjective; he’s earned it) keeps what could easily be seen as occasionally corny or cheesy dialogue from sounding clunky and overwrought (it is vaguely cheesy; at one critical point, Coulson dramatically tells the scientists ” Don’t ever tell me there’s no way ” when they say they can’t stop the factory worker from exploding). Another specialty of Whedon’s is his brilliant balance of the dramatic and the comedic. He marries the serious and the silly better than anyone which keeps the episode fun and unstuffy.

Simply put, Whedon’s style makes what could easily be a color-by-numbers procedural vastly more interesting.  There’s the powers and superhero angle, and that’s great and provides a lot of material to work with, but it’s the quirky dialogue and character building that separate Whedon stories from their peers.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m a devotee to Whedon and all things Whedon-esque (though I shamefully still have not seen Dollhouse) so this kind of had me at hello.  It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, and while that doesn’t make the most interesting or captivating show on television, it’s still a good thing.

Fall 2013 Previews and Predictions: ABC

16 Sep

ABC

(In order to meld the spirit of futile sports predictions with the high stakes world of the who-will-be-cancelled-first fall television season, I’ve set up a very simple system of predictions for how long new shows will last.  Each day, I’ll (I’m aware I switched between we and I) lay out a network’s new shows scheduled to debut in the fall (reality shows not included – I’m already going to fail miserably on scripted shows, I don’t need to tackle a whole other animal) with my prediction of which of three categories it will fall into.

These categories are:

1.  Renewal – show gets renewed

2.  13+ – the show gets thirteen or more episodes, but not renewed

3.  12- – the show is cancelled before 13)

ABC is the last of the four major networks to get predictions and previews here (CW does not count).  They’ve also got the most new fall shows with 8 and I feel less confident about predictions their shows than any network I’ve done so far.  Still, I’ll have a got at it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – 9/24

Agents of Shield

Probably the most anticipated show of the fall season, Agents represents Marvel’s first foray into live television since the beginning of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man. Agents also represents Joss Whedon’s first return to television since Dollhouse. Though he won’t be working on this show day-to-day like he has on his other shows (Avengers 2 requires a lot of work), he co-created the show with his brother Jed Whedon and his brother’s wife, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Joss directs the first episode, which all three co-wrote.  Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg returns to lead a group of eccentric characters who try to solve weekly supernatural action mysteries.

Prediction: Renewal – my most confident renewal pick, along with The Blacklist, though since it’s network television, anything can happen – still it’s a pretty good bet, I think the Marvel name, shepherded by the Whedon writing and sensibility will carry the day.

The Goldbergs – 9/24

All Goldbergs

Television loves making trips to the past. In this case, The Goldbergs is the story of a family in the wacky and wild 1980s, complete with the fashions and music and everything else that comes to mind immediately when you think of the ’80s.  There’s the gruff and angry dad, played by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin, with his wife played by Bridesmaids and Rules of Engagement’s Wendi McLendon-Covey.  They have three kids, including a hot daughter, a goofy teenage son, and a younger son who videotapes all their exploits. They’re all joined by Grandpa, played by George Segal. It does not look promising, and the posters of the family dressed in matching striped shirts doesn’t help anything.

Prediction: 12- It’s getting a surprising amount of promotion; using my anecdotal ads-on-subway test, it’s among the most promoted shows in the ABC line up.  Still, I think it’s not going to work, and I think, looking at that poster, you probably think that too.

The Trophy Wife – 9/24

The Wife Trophy

Malin Akerman, a reformed party girl, marries older Bradley Whitford, who already had multiple kids with two separate ex-wives who both don’t care for her.  How will she navigate the difficulties of step-kids, ex-wifes, and a husband who might still be under the thumb of either?  ABC will hope she handles it hilariously and like Akerman and Whitford, but this looks fairly generic.  If The Goldbergs seems to be getting the most promotion, ,this seems to be getting the least. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays one of the ex-wives..

Prediction: 12- A few shows always go out early.  It’s a talented cast but when in doubt, bet against shows which the networks don’t seem to be promoting very heavily.

Lucky 7 – 9/24

Lucky 8 - Unlucky 1

A group of seven workers at a Queens gas station win the lottery, and their lives change, and not just for the better, or we’d have a pretty uninteresting television show.  It’s based off a similar British show, as most TV shows are nowadays. While the trailer was largely unmemorable, it’s actually a new idea, at least in America, which in and of itself is always impressive coming from a network. The cast features largely lesser known actors and actresses and I’m not sure how true to life or overdramatic it will be from the trailer, but it has a chance at being good, which is more than I can say about many network shows after watching the trailers.

Predictions: 13+ – It’s a legitimately interesting idea that could be good or bad depending on well writing, directing, and acting, and so forth.  I’ll take the middle position in lieu of any additional information.

Back in the Game – 9/25

Maggie Lawson's back is in the game

Psych’s Maggie Lawson dumps her terrible husband and returns to her hometown with her son, and moves in with her crotchety father played by James Caan.  When no one else steps up, she, a former softball player, decides to coach her son’s little league team which consists of a bunch of outcast kids. Caan and her are a two part Walter Matthau from Bad News Bears, as she does the baseball coaching and he does the grumpy old man act. Television “that guy” Ben Koldyke plays what I believe is the antagonist rival baseball coach; he was Don in How I Met Your Mother and one of the leads in Work It – I hope for your sake, you’re not familiar with the latter.

Predictions: 13+ It seems fairly generic and inoffensive which maybe will coast it along to half a season, but no more. I like Maggie Lawson in Psych, for what that’s worth.

Betrayal – 9/29

What is this poster about?

A beautiful married photographer begins an affair with a married lawyer, which leads to particular amounts of trouble when they turn out to be on opposite sides of a murder case.  I’m not sure about the tone for this show either, whether it’s over-dramatically sopay like Revenge, or maybe more series and emotional. I have no idea what to make of this show, but the leads are Hannah Ware, whose most famous role was as Kelsey Grammar’s daughter on the little-seen but fantastically over-the-top Boss, and Stuart Townsend who was in Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. James Cromwell also appears.

Prediction: 12- I have no idea what to make of this show.  I’m guessing, fairly arbitrarily, the public won’t either.

Super Fun Night – 10/2

Less Fun Day After

Rebel Wilson stars.  There’s a premise to the show, but that’s more or less all you need to know.  If you like her, there’s a good chance you’ll like the show, and if you don’t, well, you’ll probably hate it.  She stars as a young attorney who stays home with her friends every Friday night until she gets a promotion and a hot lawyer invites her out, and she invites her friends to come along and share the super fun times with her.  I’ve largely been in the anti-Rebel camp.  I’ll give the show a shot, because, well, I give all shows a shot, but I’m not hopeful from the trailer.

Prediction; 13+ – Rebel Wilson felt like she has had a TV show coming for some time. She definitely has a lot of fans but we’ll know in a few weeks exactly how many and how much they care.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland – 10/10

Once Upon a Time: Miami

Although I frequently do my best to forget about the existence of Once Upon a Time, the fairy tale drama has become a decent sized hit, with its share of critical fans as well.  The true sign of success on network television is the development of a spin off, and Once Upon a Time is getting that as it enters its third season.  Wonderland actually looks a bit darker than the original, and, despite my better instincts based on my dislike of Once Upon a Time, I’m actually kind of intrigued.  There’ll be plenty of crossover though it seems like, and it’ll be fairly tied in with the original, which means I’ll be cynical until convinced otherwise.

Prediction: Renewal – It’s a smart move and it’s set up well to succeed.  I’m not sure it will work, and spin-off fatigue happens all the time, but I this is a smart attempt by ABC even if it doesn’t work.