S.H.I.E.L.D: A Trail of Tears

SAM HARGRAVE, MING-NA WENThe series finales of cable mainstays Dexter and Breaking Bad made me wonder at the state of network television mystery/thrillers. Obviously there’s the slew of initialized procedurals (CSI, NCIS, SVU, etc.), remakes (Hawaii 5-0, Ironside), remakes of remakes (Elementary), postmodern schlock (Sleepy Hollow) and just plain old garbage (The Mentalist, Castle, Criminal Minds, Bones) but what’s new?

I gave Marvel/ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a chance to rope me in for regular viewing.

When Marvel comics was purchased by Disney a few years back, I voiced some mild concern that the Disney machine might suck titles into a cross promotion vortex of destruction that would make Dr. Doom blush. I was envisioning Dan Patrick and Stuart Scott announcing starting lineups of X-Men vs. Avengers in the Cos-playoffs on ESPN 3, while cartoon Dr. Strange splits duty doing the weather on Good Morning America and providing color commentary for Dancing with the Stars.

On second thought, that would be sort of amazing.

Instead what we get is this half-hearted tie-in to the cataclysmically profitable Avengers movie franchise. Agents could barely hold my attention through the opening credits.

It starts with them artlessly explaining that Agent Coulson, played by the criminally underrated Clark Gregg, didn’t really die in The Avengers. Fair enough. They have to anchor this spin off (about the agents of the shadowy government organization that make us feel better about big government information gathering) with a recognizable character, so in steps Coulson.

But what’s the excuse for the terrible writing the rest of the way?

The premier episode was a bland story of a factory worker hoodwinked into becoming a guinea pig for a nefarious experiment. It played like a pro government propaganda piece about the valuable nature of Big Brother.

And that was the part I actually didn’t hate that much.

Gregg is unable to recapture the likability from the Iron Man & Avengers movies. Ming Na Wen is just silly as Melinda May, the surly one in this otherwise goofy bunch. Relative newcomer Chloe Bennet is enraging and awful as Skye, the renegade “hacker” (a term which according to ABC means “magician who make computer dance”).

Despite rock solid source material and a pool of talented writers out there to bring it to the screen, this piece felt like a purely commercial exercise that even kids will see through. It debuted to 11.9 million viewers, the biggest debut of the year. In it’s second week, it had already shed 30% of its viewers. Hopefully a few weeks from now it will be gone.

Network TV is excellent at doing stuff like this, ruining things I love.

If you’re looking for comic-to-TV adaptation, the uneven and tweentastic Arrow, on the CW network, is far superior to this, and it is to be hoped we’ll still soon see Brian Michael Bendis’ wonderful Powers as a TV show in the next couple of years on FX.

By Ygal Kaufman