‘I’ ON CULTURE
As a confirmed science fiction fan, I was really excited when the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series was announced. Although there have been quite a few blockbuster movies based on the Marvel Comics universe, most of which were enjoyable, the idea of weekly ways to feed our desire to see it seemed irresistible. And the series is good, not even close to great, but enjoyable.
Based on the secret fictional (we can only hope) organization S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), it can mine the rich annals of the vaults of the strip. Joss Whedon, who directed the Avengers movie, heads up series production.
It is different from the movies in that it focuses on the human members of the group, not the superhuman ones. People don’t have superpowers; they are just smart with a lot of talent. There are advantages to that: The characters are fallible, and they can really grow. On the other hand, there is not a lot of difference between them and the cast of many TV police shows. They have top scientists, tough fighters and computer hackers. Of course, their enemies sometimes have superpowers, but the shows focus mostly on good vs. bad.
The lead character, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), actually was killed by villain Loki during the Avengers film. Clinically dead for eight seconds, everything has changed for him. The series spends more time than necessary discussing biologic and spiritual changes wrought by that. Actually, of course, many people have been “dead” for that long and have been brought back by doctors. But this death, and for want of a better word, resurrection, has created a rather useless diversion. Gregg is a good actor but lacks star quality. This is covered up by giving him a lot of fun “toys” to play with.
Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is the really tough agent, nicknamed “the Cavalry,” as in “the Cavalry comes to the rescue.” She is very tough and beautiful. According to the plot, she has previously been hurt by her experiences and had been an office worker before Coulson rescued her. She is often the person who ends the fights. Unfortunately, she seems not to have much of a personal life. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is the guy generally taking the lead in most of the physical operations. Very buff, very tough, very gruff, he usually plays the skeptic in the group.
There are two scientists who are part of this group. Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is a biologist, who not only is expert on humans but also aliens; and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), an engineer who focuses a lot on weapons. Both are Brits, both really cute, and both demonstrate a deep chemistry for each other, a chemistry that is constantly downplayed, or at least has been since the start of the series.
The key central character is Skye (Chloe Bennet), a computer hacker and member of a more or less secret hacking group called the “Rising Tide.” She starts out in the series as an opponent, is brought into the group, and is never quite trusted. Officially, she claims to be involved to learn more about her parents while the group treats her as a “0-8-4” — “an object of unknown origin.”
The villains are, as expected, on the surface even tougher than the team. But somehow, week after week, our agents find ways to hold their own and even occasionally win. In recent weeks, the series has focused on creating even stronger villains. There are rumors that Mike Peterson (J. August Richards), who got superpowers from the villainous Operation Centipede in the pilot program, will become cyborg Deathlok. Some film characters have dropped in as a way of promoting not only the series, but upcoming movies.
Some of the plots wind up as convoluted as the average soap opera, bringing in characters for a few scenes and then seeming to forget them. There is too much focus on Skye’s persona, with nothing determined yet, although as one of the characters with a more sympathetic point of view, it is unlikely she will become a villain.
I enjoy watching the show. It still has some challenges, especially in terms of plot and an enormous universe of characters who seem to come and go. The larger challenge is that it is on opposite NCIS, a better-written show that in many ways provided character types for S.H.I.E.L.D. So I watch this on DVR and enjoy it. Try it.