Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD Season 2

Rating: 2 ½ Out of 5 Stars (after three episodes)

Bottom Line: This show is still in search of a direction and it has unwisely decided to go dark rather than mine the comic book source material.

Last season, ABC's Agents of SHIELD was one of the most anticipated sci fi shows on the Fall schedule, and its monster debut in the ratings reflected that.  But after its premiere, the show's numbers started to slide largely because it did not quite meet up to expectations, and even a reboot of sorts (tied in with the Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie) toward the end of the season could not quite bring viewers back.  Still, the show earned a second season renewal, but debuted a few weeks ago to find itself still struggling in the ratings.  So why is this once highly anticipated series having trouble keeping its audience?  There are a few reasons that I can see for that.  For one, I'm sure plenty tuned in last year expecting to see a Marvel blockbuster on their screen each week.  However, television works on a much smaller budget and the series could not afford to deliver that level of spectacle on an ongoing basis.  That could be compensated for, though, if the series had a close enough tie to its comic book source material, but that instead has been a second major problem with the show. The main characters of the series are mostly new names except for Agent Coulson who appeared in several of the Marvel movies.  And apart from that, there has been little crossover with the comics.  Unlike The CW's successful Arrow which has made a concerted effort to bring in as many familiar names from the comics, Agents of SHIELD has mostly plotted its own course.  And for the second season, the show has decided to adopt a darker, grittier tone while still keeping the comic book universe it came from at arm's reach.  I realize this latter issue is because Marvel is targeting the big screen for many of its major and not-so-major superheros (and Netflix also scored a coup with the upcoming Defenders multi-part series that will team up Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones).  But still, Marvel has a LOT of characters (and good stories) out there that could be merged into Agents of SHIELD to help it find that spark it needs.  And the dark tone just doesn't fit well with it either.  That's the way the DC prefers to go, but one of the keys to the success of the Marvel Avengers films which the series is so closely tied to is that they have a spirit of fun.  We saw that to an extent early on with Agents of SHIELD as Season 1 started with some witty and fun scripts, but by mid-season it just seemed to have lost steam.  I'm guessing that's because the corporate suits at Disney and Marvel wanted the show to have broad appeal and they dialed back the trademark quirkiness of the Whedon clan who have been helming the show.  But then we have a show that falls short of the superheroics comic book fans are looking for, lacks the cult feel that the Whedon fans prefer, cannot deliver the spectacle that the wider audience demands, and now its going dark which is a different direction than the Marvel movies usually follow.  This is a show that has been in search of an identity and just hasn't quite found it yet while the audience is in the process of tuning out in favor of options that have better appeal to comics fans like Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham.  And personally, my interest in the show has waned as well.  I may tune in to check up on it as its second season progresses, but it is no longer on my must-watch list.  And I think that's true of the general sci fi audience which means this one may be done by the end of the season.

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