Thursday, August 21, 2014

TV Show Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Effects, action, and an outstanding final run of episodes
Cons: Uneven beginning to the season.
The Bottom Line:
Movie connections
Overcomes a slow start to
Finish with a bang

"They Could be Torturing Him or Worse - Making Him Do Strength Training."

It’s taken a little bit of time, but I have gotten pulled into the Marvel cinematic universe.  I’ve especially enjoyed how all the movies are connected in some way.  So when ABC announced the creation of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for this last TV season, I knew I’d be watching.  It had some rough spots, but in the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Set in the world of the movies, the TV show follows a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who travel around the world on a souped-up plane protecting the rest of the humans from super natural threats.  The team is lead by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).  Yes, that Agent Coulson, and how he survived what appeared to be a fatal incident in The Avengers provides one of the season’s long mystery arcs.  Also on the team are Agents Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), two top notch agents at fighting and tactics.  Then there are Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), two super smart scientists who are also good friends.  And then there’s Skye (Chloe Bennett), a hacker with an unknown past the team meets in the first episode who Coulson invites along and proves to provide a little help as well as cause some problems.

So just what kind of things to they encounter?  Well, there are the people found dead in the forest with nothing around them.  There’s a bus that starts floating.  Simmons contacts an alien virus.  Ward starts reliving his worst memories.  And they must help Lady Sif track down an escaped Asgardian prisoner.

The show started out with monster ratings, which slowly declined as the season wore on.  Part of that was justified since the show had some freshman year struggles as they found their way and their characters.  Personally, I thought they focused too much on Skye early on and left the rest of the characters underdeveloped until late in the season.

But the other part of people’s frustration with the show is the fault of expectations and producer Joss Whedon.  Yes, he’s highly involved in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe right now since he wrote and directed The Avengers and is working on all the films since then.  And his TV credits include the much loved Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.  However, it’s been over a decade since those hits were on TV, and the landscape has changed.  Back when they were on the air, story arcs were rarer and not as driving to TV shows as they are today.  His own shows are often pointed out as having pioneered it.  Yet if you look at them, each season featured a villain (the "Big Bad"), but we often went weeks without seeing or hearing much from them until the final third of the season.  Then they take center stage and become all consuming.  That is the style of storytelling employed here.  Much of the early season features stand alone stories with just hints at the bigger pieces and mysteries that will be tackled later.  I think people got tired of waiting for more to come and started to leave the show.

Remember I mentioned earlier how all the films are connected?  This show fits perfectly in that universe.  Early in the season, we get minor references to the Thor sequel and even a couple of guest stars from the movies, including Samuel L. Jackson.

Then something interesting happens about the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out.  The show changed dramatically as a result of that film.  Suddenly, it was like they were in full gear and each episode became outstanding.  In some ways, it’s a shame they had to wait so long to get going, but the end result was definitely worth it.

This does make me wonder where they will be going with season two and how it will tie in to the Avengers sequel.  It sounds like they are all working together, so only time will tell.

I do know some of the villains who show up in the show are villains from the comic books.  Since I never read them as a kid, I had to catch the references on line, but I still find that very fun.

This show certainly never skimped on the effects or action budget.  While never quite movie awesome, they certainly had their fair of great fights and chases and outstanding effects.

Likewise, the acting was good.  The characters are definite Whedon tropes, but I warmed up to them once I finally got to know all of them.

This season is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray and will feature all 22 episodes in their native wide screen and full surround.  Extras will include audio commentaries on some of the episodes, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.  Additionally, there's a look at the comic con panel that introduced the show before season one aired, and two looks behind the scenes, one at the sets for some of their stunts, and another for a special effects.  Finally, they included the TV special look at the Marvel movie universe that aired part way through the season.

So if you never gave the show a chance or wrote it off part way through, now’s the time to go back and catch up on season one of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..  Once you get through the enjoyable but slow early episodes, you’ll be rewarded with an outstanding final run of episodes.

Season 1 Episodes:
1. Pilot
2. 0-8-4
3. The Asset
4. Eye Spy
5. Girl in the Flower Dress
7. The Hub
8. The Well
9. Repairs
10. The Bridge
11. The Magical Place
12. Seeds
13. T.R.A.C.K.S.
14. T.A.H.I.T.I.
15. Yes Men
16. The End of the Beginning
17. Turn, Turn, Turn
18. Providence
19. The Only Light in the Darkness
20. Nothing Personal
21. Ragtag
22. Beginning of the End

This review is part of the 2014 Funny Pages Write-Off.

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