Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. // Easy, Breezy, Beautiful, Firefly

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much begs for the Firefly comparison. The cast is similar; the set is similar. It is, in plain sight, a spiritual successor to Joss Whedon’s short-lived masterpiece. But it’s weaker. Like, a lot weaker.

The big problem is how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has formatted itself. It’s a monster-of-the-week semi-serial where the characters are given an assignment, which they do in a neat 42 minutes. And while it and Firefly share many similarities, one worked and the other (so far) hasn’t really.

What made Firefly‘s narrative so effective was that its drama was primarily within the ship Serenity itself. Mal had a problem with Simon’s handling of his volatile sister, so he went and warned him about consequences while showing compassion. When Wash and Zoe encountered friction in their marriage, they hashed it out on the bridge or at the dinner table. The main dramas played out within the confines of their home. There are entire episodes set only within the ship that feel just as, if not more important, than the outside adventures.

On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. however, the drama is external. The only time we see the team react is when they are on assignment. Characters are really only tested by action scenes, superficial technobabble puzzles, and adventures. There is little human drama to be had within their airplane.

First, it’s partly the fault of the setting itself. The production team made the decision to furbish a home-away-from-home like a cocktail bar at a swanky hotel. It’s pristine and impersonal. I don’t feel at home here. Where’s the kitchen? Who’s feeding everybody? Are they just going to leave that Nazi super weapon on the counter like that? Doesn’t a large airplane have all kinds of storage space? As an audience member I need to feel like “home base” is familiar and comfortable. I can’t do that when the surroundings are stark and we’re jetting off to other locations every ten minutes. They introduced the plane through the on-board detention cell, too. Which was unsettling. Seriously, what? Serenity never had a brig! It had a lovely kitchen and bunks with posters and artwork and clothes on the floor. That’s how you signal “home.” You make it feel like a home.

Secondly, it’s the characters. Firefly had the sense to take its nine very different personalities and coop them up in a space that compelled them to interact. By nature of being an adventure-of-the-week show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does the opposite, to its detriment. Relationships develop more naturally if your characters have to exist within a relatively static narrative construct. It’s why the neighbors always come over in a sitcom versus just calling on the phone. If your people are always going off somewhere, you can’t get to know who they are in their quieter moments.

But importantly, the agents of Shield are BOOORING with a capital “B’. Characterization means dick when everyone’s been drawn thin as a piece of paper. Half the main cast are completely interchangeable. Really, three beautiful nerds? And did they name two of them “Fitz” and “Simmons” just to make that joke? They cashed that joke in super early and now we’re stuck with mediocre Peggy Sues in a feeble attempt at “being relevant in a digital world.” And I can see the “Jayne” character’s turncoat from a mile away. They’ve been keeping him too generic to be anything less than a wildcard. And which one’s going to die first? This is a Joss Whedon joint after all. The problem is that I couldn’t care less who because they’re all nothing people, a complete waste of an ensemble.

And enough with the quipping crap. Everyone in this show talks like they’re in an action movie. “Let’s blow this popcorn stand!” “I thought you’d never ask!” People don’t talk like that. And I can’t get to know you as a person if everything you say comes out like a catchphrase. Imagine that person? You’d invite them out for drinks once and after realizing your mistake never return their texts because they suck.

I will say that Phil Coulson is a bright spot. Clark Gregg’s very likable and it’s fun to watch him pull the strings of a rouges gallery of prima donnas. You get the sense that he’s an adventurer but tired of the song and dance.

Anyway. We’ll see how it plays out. If it’s going to continue the monster-of-the-week format I have a feeling it’ll grow stale pretty quickly. An episodic setup was not how I pictured a show connected to so many other narrative threads to go. How all these incidental NPC’s fit into the larger Cinematic Universe is a stumbling block for me, too. I don’t know if it takes some of the punch away from the Avengers or what. I can’t put my finger on it.

In conclusion: “Blah, blah, blah, The Winter Soldier, Hydra infiltrates.” “It’s all connected!”

Give me a break. In order to justify it’s existence the show’s got to be more than just a daisy chain of scattered wow moments that “connect the dots.” I’d like to think Marvel’s raised the bar high enough to not have to sink to that kind of amateurism. And I see you, Joss Whedon! Hiding over there behind that pile of cash and your brother, who keeps getting jobs. This is the kind of crap you pull for shoot-from-the-hip web series, not billion-dollar mega franchises. The bones aren’t in place here and I’m underwhelmed.

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