A fun show that falls flat

Dave Bartlett
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When I last wrote about “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” in the spring, I went on a bit of a rant about how I felt saturated by all things superhero, and how I was also not impressed with promotions suggesting you had to watch Marvel movies in the theatre in between TV episodes to get the full story.

S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, right) swoops in to save Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, left) and his team at the end of the first season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Fans likely loved it, but it’s lazy storytelling. — Submitted photo

By the way, you don’t. I didn’t and don’t feel I missed anything that important.

That being said, there are so many reasons why I wanted to watch, follow and fall in love with the Joss Whedon-helmed show, with Whedon’s involvement being on top of that list.

With the summer well underway, and my PVR almost bare of remaining shows from the last network season, I started to watch the second half of Season 1 a few weeks back. While I have enjoyed the show for what it is — harmless, entertaining fun — I’ve realized I’m fairly ambivalent about it overall, and that’s the biggest surprise.

I’ve never read S.H.I.E.L.D. comics and have no idea if the story here mirrors or is any way based on the existing Marvel dogma. But in general the story arc was a little cumbersome and ultimately not terribly satisfying. And while there are elements of Whedon’s stylistic fingerprints throughout the show, this is not “Firefly” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or anything even close when it comes to originality.

I wonder just how much Marvel, ABC and Disney are using his name as a promotional tool to sucker in rabid fans, as compared to the actual amount of direct involvement the screenwriter, director, producer has on the day-to-day set or in the writer’s room.

Clark Gregg and his character Phil Coulson are head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. I like him as an actor and really like the dedicated, even-keeled persona who is full of subtle wit and quick quips.

While some of the other characters are endearing like Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) or intriguing like Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), I’m not sure they are anything but comic book clichés.

In fact, I’m sure most fans forgive, or even cheer for, its comic-book style of storytelling including the corny dialogue, long action sequences and outrageous villainous plots peppered with childhood traumas, moral quandaries and mythical heroes not necessarily appearing in the main narrative.

But I was hoping “Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.” would have been something more; updating the story for the medium of television and moving beyond some of the expected, tried-and-true narrative devices and it simply wasn’t.

The season’s major plot twist — who the deeply hidden mole in the group really is — was certainly somewhat out of the ordinary because it is a main cast member, but I didn’t really care enough about that character to be that surprised.

Maybe that was the idea, so some fans wouldn’t be screaming for blood when the reveal happened. But if you can’t get your audience to that reveal, what’s the point?

In any case, Whedon fans expect this type of twist. In the past he hasn’t been afraid to kill off characters who you care for, and have some investment in, even if they ultimately play smaller parts in the plot.

And let’s face it. Since “Game of Thrones,” the sanctity-of-main-character-life isn’t what it used to be.

As I watched the 10 or 12 episodes I had left on my recorder over the last three weeks I had fun, but I never wanted to continue on to the next episode. In fact, there were times I had to force myself to watch the next chapter for the purpose of writing this column, when I likely would have rather been watching more “Hannibal” or even reruns of “The Big Bang Theory.”

But what really made me decide not to bother with the show when it resumes in the fall was how mythical S.H.I.E.L.D. leader, director Nick Fury (the once ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson) swoops in at the last minute and saves the team when all hope seems lost.

How very Deus ex machina. How very, very disappointing — much like Jackson’s shoulder-shrugging performance.

“The world is filled with evil and lies and pain and death and you can’t hide from it, you can only face it. The question is, when you do, how do you respond? Who do you become?” Coulson asks at a pivotal point in the plot. Well, TV is filled with mediocre shows, poor writing and predictable outcomes, with some really great storytelling mixed in. So the question really is, why stick with a show like “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” when there are much better ones out there to watch first?

Email Dave Bartlett at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.

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