It’s not an easy task to translate vibrant comic book stories to motion picture. Many studios have tried in the past but very few found immense success. For every Superman quality film, there were many more up to the standard of Supergirl or Howard the Duck, so to speak. Making a single comic book movie that is fun, exciting, appeals to both the long-time fans and casual viewers, and can turn a huge profit is a daunting task in itself. Keeping it going as a series is even harder. Attempting to craft a massive, interconnecting cinematic universe is a concept so impossible sounding that it’s easy to laugh it off as folly.
With over six billion in revenue and a cushy place as the number two movie franchise in history (and still climbing), Marvel Studios has proven that the impossible can be reached. They have set a standard that DC is just now desperately trying to meet by cramming the still untitled Man of Steel sequel with its biggest heroes. With so much success under its belt, the Disney owned company is permitted to take some impressive risks. Perhaps the biggest gamble of all was bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to living rooms by creating a serialized program based on the mysterious global protector known as S.H.I.E.L.D. The aptly titled Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was created to enhance the experience of fans while also not involving itself with the big properties too much to become derivative. It had to both use and not use the material available to it, while simultaneously creating an independent program that can stand on its own accord.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a really bumpy start when it first rolled out last September. The unstoppable hypetrain gave the premiere very high ratings and a ton of buzz. Then the numbers started dropping at a steady pace, finally plateauing with a viewership that wasn’t even half of what it had at the start. For many, the show lacked the depth it needed to keep them interested. Most of the episodes in the early months focused on disparate plots that were seemingly tied to one episode at a time. Whatever was the big issue one episode was practically forgotten the next for another “enemy of the week.” Throughout this early period, the show danced around the mystery of Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) survival to the point of frustration. The main characters, specifically Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), weren’t particularly engaging when left to their own devices either.
There were also some heavy growing pains in the show’s infancy. It really wanted to be something huge but it bumbled on its means to do so. Most of the early episodes lived in The Avengers’ shadow with references to Marvel’s most profitable film dropped repeatedly throughout. You couldn’t go a single moment without hearing someone say “New York changed things” or “That battle was especially tough on this person.” It’s easy to see why writers felt the need to do this. The Avengers went on to become the third highest-grossing movie in history. Obviously the general public would understand the references. Yet it happened so often it actually held the show back. Even “The Well,” an episode intended to tie into Thor: The Dark World, was a failure. Similarly, the show was exceptionally light on any references to the available decades worth of source material. It created entirely original villains and conflicts, which were all well and good for television, but it’s merely a fraction of what the show could do. This was most likely done to prevent the show from becoming one glorified, hour long easter egg for comic aficionados while the general public is kept in the dust.
It’s truly a testament to the writers, producers, creators, and actors that this show was able to turn around so handily once a brief winter hiatus ended. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that returned on January 7th with “The Magical Place” was huge improvement over the S.H.I.E.L.D. that ended on December 10th with “The Bridge.” Providing solid revelations into Coulson’s mystery was the beginning, and it set into motion a continued string of episodes filled with guest spots from lesser-known comic villains, characters from the films that actually enhanced the show, and a ton of dimension with the main cast. The program itself evolved enough that major characters coming in, like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), simply added to the natural excitement. It honestly became what everyone wanted it to be in 2013. In an unsurprising move, every unique story and villain was eventually connected under one single banner of evil for our the protagonists to fight. This significantly streamlined the story and made the program that much easier to become invested in.
Quite honestly, the biggest complaint once 2014 rolled around wasn’t the story or the characters. It was the show’s schedule. From January 7th to April 1st, only five episodes aired as several week breaks were interspersed throughout for no obvious reason. Even this paid off though as we quickly learned it was done to premiere “Turn, Turn, Turn” right after Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 8th. With a story heavily focused on Hydra’s uprising within S.H.I.E.L.D., The Winter Soldier changed the entire dynamic of the show for the better. It turned John Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Ward into villains. It deeply explored Melinda May’s (Ming-Na Wen) motivations for being on the team. It put Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and Skye (Chloe Bennet) into positions that completely revamped their initial characteristics. Ian Quinn (David Conrad), Raina (Ruth Negga) and Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) regularly appeared in much stronger roles. Most importantly, the team actually developed a greater cause to exist too. 2014 saw S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly grow into one of the most exciting hours on television.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was easily one of my most anticipated shows of the year. I watched the premiere with as much excitement as one of the films. Not even my rampant fandom blinded me from the glaring issues though. There was a moment when this show’s future was in question and I can completely understand why. I picked this as one of the best new shows of 2013, more for its potential greatness and less for what it was actually presenting. Thankfully the show lived up to my lofty initial expectations once 2014 came around. It became that “great” program it should have been from the start. The possibility of a second season rapidly became a surefire guarantee than a big question mark. People who tuned out in the early stages should absolutely take the summer to catch up on what they missed. This is a fun, smart, exciting, and even humorous show that has carved quite a little section for itself in the Marvel mythos. It’s a must watch.
Season 1 Rating: 8.7/10