Remember way back in September, when Marvel’s first modern-era TV production, “Agents of SHIELD,” seemed so exciting?
Sure we were all worried about how Marvel and show creator Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers”) would be able to translate the excitement of the big-screen world onto ABC’s small screen. That ABC was showing it at 8 p.m. Tuesdays was also a concern. Nobody expected tough-and-gritty stories and atmosphere anyway, although we might see that with “Daredevil” and the other shows Marvel is doing for Netflix. An 8 p.m. timeslot all but guaranteed a fairly family-friendly aura.
But we were genuinely excited at the thought of everything that might happen. “SHIELD” would be a weekly dose of the greater Marvel universe, filled with characters we love, characters that have never been portrayed in live action before. Luke Cage! Moon Knight!
At first, “Agents of SHIELD” seemed like a sure-fire hit. The pilot got very good ratings.
But as the first nine episodes continued to air, audience numbers dropped – and so did our expectations of and faith in the show.
Too many episodes, although they seem “thisclose” to really taking off, somehow fail to. The core team of SHIELD operatives isn’t that interesting. Too much time has been spent teasing the audience about what happened to Phil Coulson after Loki “killed” him. And the roster of comic book characters that have been allowed to make an appearance is lackluster. Graviton? Really?
So here’s what the producers of “Agents of SHIELD” need to do before it’s too late. If it isn’t already too late.
Give us some well-known characters. When Whedon said a while back that “Agents of SHIELD” gave him a few dozen opportunities to make “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” a little less special when it came out in 2015, he wasn’t joking. Obviously nobody at Marvel or Disney or ABC wants to sate the audience’s interest in Marvel heroes before the movie comes out. And obviously Marvel wants to save some characters for big-screen movies, which is why you won’t see Dr. Strange, I’m guessing. But stop with the one-and-done, wannabes and third-raters. There ware many, many Marvel characters the show could introduce.
Retool the cast. Each of the supporting characters is fine, really, but they’re the type of characters that Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson was in the Marvel movies. In other words, just that: Supporting. I loved episodes of “Buffy” that revolved around that show’s “supporting” cast. Remember “The Zeppo” and Xander as below-the-radar hero? “Agents of SHIELD” hasn’t, so far, been able to do that kind of thing with Fitz or Simmons or May or Skye.
Resolve Phil Coulson’s status now. Or at least take it to the next level. Remember in the final season of “Buffy” when Buffy would make a different version of the “this is gonna be a tough battle” speech what seemed like every week? Jeez, that got old. It seemed like the series was treading water. “SHIELD” seems to have fallen into the same trap with its near-weekly reminder that something is different with Agent Coulson. A while back I suggested they needed to let Coulson – who is blocked from viewing his own medical records – find out he’s a clone or Life Model Decoy or whatever, break ranks with SHIELD and go at least a little rogue. “The good guys versus SHIELD” angle appears to be at least part of the plot of next April’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” so it wouldn’t be totally out of character for the Marvel universe.
Bring on the bad guys. SHIELD’s adversaries in the show so far have been weak to only mildly intriguing. I’m not sure I care a whit about Centipede unless it morphs into HYDRA. How about AIM? Advanced Idea Mechanics was referenced in “Iron Man 3.” In the comics, they were guys in crazy yellow hazmat/beekkeeper outfits. I’m sure the show could come up with an updated uniform.
Give us some star power. Samuel L. Jackson’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in an early episode was fine. But we want more meat. Remember Mark Ruffalo’s appearance at the end of “Iron Man 3?” We want that in “SHIELD,” magnified.
Maybe “Agents of SHIELD” will resolve its problems quickly and, by February, be the kick-ass Marvel TV experience we all want. A couple of upcoming episodes hold promise.
But if not, it’s hard to imagine many of us sticking around.