AN UNCONVENTIONAL SPOILER NOTICE: Not only should I warn you the reader that I the author may be about to reveal spoilers for Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD up to episode 19. However, I should also warn that as episodes are shown several weeks later in the UK than in the US, anyone whose watching in the States could wind up spoiling the final three episodes for me!
The central character of Agents of SHIELD is a man who returns from the dead. This turns out to be rather fitting because the show itself has demonstrated a rather Lazarus like quality.
ABC has commissioned a second series of Agents. A couple of months ago this would have seemed about as believable as Anthony Hopkins performance in Thor. After the first episode, I blogged that it had “hit the ground strolling” and I wasn’t alone in thinking it was a dud. Critics turned on it and audiences fled. Episode after episode delivered formulaic stories populated by bland characters speaking clunking dialogue. In fact, there was much head scratching as to how the failure proof combination of the massively popular Marvel franchise and Joss Whedon (the genius behind Buffy and Firefly) – which had already produced the Avengers – had indeed failed.
Then what looked like the nail in the show’s coffin arrived. At the conclusion of Captain America: the Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D is dismantled. This left the shows characters as in the words of its lead actor “Agents of NOTHING.” But rather than killing the show, this has revived it. Dealing with these developments has given it fresh impetus and it has at long last become engaging TV. So much to my surprise I am pleased to hear it will be back.
Even more remarkably ABC has doubled down and commissioned a companion series: Agent Carter. This actually sounds more interesting than the main series mostly because of the talent involved: it stars the luminous Hayley Atwell and the writing team behind the excellent Winter Soldier will be serving as executive producers. Plus there is a nice symmetry in having a series that will deal the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D and one covering the aftermath of its dissolution.
All this said, it’s not a forgone conclusion that a second season of Agents will be a success. It could lapse back into the bad habits that made the majority of the first season such a snooze. Here’s what I would like to see happen to avoid this:
Keep it as a serial
Inherent in my writing a wishlist is that I still think the show has its share of weaknesses. These are broadly the same as they were earlier in the series. What’s made the difference is that rather than being a sequence of broadly freestanding episodes it is now essentially a serial. This has given plots more space to develop, left me keen to come back and see how they pan out, and crucially for the first time given the show a sense that it knows where it is heading. As this is what the show is now doing well, it really ought to keep doing it.*
Cull the main cast
I mentioned continuing problems: this is the main one.
The configuration of the core team was always rather odd. Why were there two stoical, damaged frankly rather humourless warrior-types? And did the show really need three different characters whose main function was to look at computer screens and deliver exposition? On these grounds alone a rejig could be amply justified. However, the more serious problem is that many of the regular cast are pretty mediocre actors.
I’d be disappointed to see Clark Gregg (Coulson) or Chloe Bennett (Skye) leave: they are charismatic actors playing interesting characters. Besides that all the regulars feel expendable. The worst offender, the epically bland Ward, has already been dealt with by making him a traitor. However, it could stand to lose at least one more regular.
A taciturn character is hard but not impossible trick to pull off. Oz in Buffy is a good example of this working: he might be consistently monosyllabic but Seth Green still managed to play him as a multifaceted (and frequently hilarious) character. Sadly May is the opposite. Ming-Na Wen doesn’t have the screen presence or acting ability to make her anything than a void into which the drama and comedy of scenes disappears. She was briefly interesting when there was some mystery about what she was up to. Now that’s been resolved, she’s back to being boring.
Likewise, Fitz and Simmons have their moments but are generally defined by their kooky annoyance.
Whedon is notorious for killing of characters. Agents could do with some of that.
And you never know, now How I Met Your Mother is over maybe Cobie Smulders (AKA Robyn) could Maria Hill as a regular character.
Stop using such crap CGI
They should either use it properly or not use it all! There is no excuse for say those little floating drone things Fitz uses to search buildings. They look silly and that’s distracting.
CGI should either be used properly or not at all!
Link it up with Agent Carter
This surely has to be a no brainer. As I’ve already noted there’s a thematic link between the two series and it seems Agent Carter will fill the gap while Agents takes its mid-season break. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too hard to have the plots of the two shows cast light on each other.
Make it matter for the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe
One of the things I like about the way Marvel handles its various franchises is that it rewards your investment in them. Stories develop across multiple films (and now TV shows) therefore you appreciate them better if you watch the set. However, this hasn’t really applied to Agents because it has tended to react to developments elsewhere in the MCU rather than containing its own ones. It would be good if like the films it moved the story forward.
Keep the UK showings in sync with the US
Since Christmas viewers in the UK have been 3 or 4 episodes behind what’s been going on in America.
Now it’s got good, I’d really like to be able to follow the discussion around this series rather than hiding from it for fear of bumping into spoilers.
*Whedon fans may have a sense of déjà vu: this is precisely the shift Dollhouse had to make