Why Marvel’s ‘Agents of SHIELD’ Isn’t Totally Super

Why Agents of SHIELD Doesn't Look

The benefit of slapping Marvel's name on the ABC show has its limits

Just to get the fine print out of the way, plenty of people will doubtless catch up on the second episode of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” via delayed viewing, which shouldn’t make ABC any happier about the show’s fairly steep decline from its premiere.

The second hour, moreover, highlights a structural deficiency in the show that was vaguely apparent back when ABC screened it over the summer — namely, the connection to “The Avengers” universe, particularly for the casually acquainted, is extremely slim, which will force this team of crack government agents (let’s hope they’re getting paid during the shutdown, by the way) to sink or swim on their own.

Yes, Clark Gregg is oodles of fun as Agent Coulson, even if it’s still a little irritating not knowing why Loki didn’t actually kill him in “The Avengers.” Without him, “SHIELD” would offer virtually no bond with the Marvel universe other than the name.

Beyond that, though, the show is like any number of other programs of the past, with some gee-whiz gadgetry, to be sure, but mostly a lot of fight scenes and weapons fire. (Spoiler Alert if you didn’t watch yet: Throwing in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury for 30 seconds sure felt like a wasted opportunity.)

Obviously, if the numbers hold anywhere near Tuesday’s level “SHIELD” is still a winner for ABC, and based on some of its other development, probably the least of the network’s problems. (“Lucky 7,” for starters, looks like it will indeed be lucky to survive that many episodes.)

Thus far, though, “SHIELD” appears to underscore some of the limits of marketing, and the fact simply slapping the name “Marvel” on something isn’t necessarily going to be enough to bring audiences flocking in your direction, despite the Disney unit’s conspicuous success in theaters.

ABC is also affixing promos to “SHIELD” that urge viewers to “Watch it live!,” which seems somewhat misguided. Unlike “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones” — where audiences get hooked on serialized storylines — this is essentially a quest-of-the-week procedural, with modest mythological elements tossed in. By that measure, it’s less a show that demands to be watched live to avoid Twitter spoilsports than watched whenever you happen to get around to it.

No doubt, millions will get around to it over the next few days. But no matter how ABC spins the numbers, Tuesday’s drop-off suggests “Agents of SHIELD” might be a bit less super than the network hoped.

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  1. frank says:

    I HAD BIG HOPE’S FOR THIS SHOW BUT FOR TRUE COMIC BOOK FAN’S FOR ME IT IS TURNING OUT TO BE CRAP” JUST ANOTHER SOAP OPRA WHERE ARE THE REAL Superheroes and Super villains

  2. Tyler says:

    Seriously? It’s NOT THAT BAD! In fact, I think it’s pretty good. Why does everyone else except for me and friends seem to hate it.

  3. carlos says:

    i had high expectations from that show. Complete disappointment. Pull it off the air already. It’s painful to watch

  4. Captain Midnight says:

    They should dig up some of the comics from the politically incorrect 60s when DC & Marvel were fun and even Shield was worth buying and reading. This tepid rendering of an action/adventure series could profit by their example.

  5. By the way, I think the show is going to get really good. It just needs time to gets its legs going. Mad Men and Walking Dead took exactly three weeks to really get me on board. I stopped watching Game of Thrones after the writers swerved from the novels and it became the T & A show only.
    SHIELD will find itself. Regardless, I am enjoying it immensely. I love “Sleepy Hollow” too so if you haven’t seen it and you like horror, time travel, or demonology, watch it.

    • Marvelfanuk says:

      I agree, I think the show needs to be popular before it can give fans what they want, like all things in life starting something new is difficult as you need to invest in order to get the business. If families give this a chance then I’m sure that more powered people and cameos will occur. BUT it needs to remember who it’s audience is… If kids want to see Spider-Man and wolverine battling it out with the hulk then they are going to get bored and want to watch something else or go and play a computer games, leaving the remote in the hands of god forbid, sports loving dad, or reality tv loving mum, no for family entertainment to succeed it can’t reply of fanboys as torchwood and dr who have found out in the UK…. Look at the terrible Robin Hood and marlin series, they has awful effects terrible storylines, but are extreamly family friendly, after all kids don’t care as long as they are entertained constantly… So if ABC have a choice make something interesting and be happy with a smaller audience or make something punchy and get a bigger audience but but poor reviews from critics… Personally I’d stick plenty of T&A in for dad, a hot david boreanaz type who doesn’t know how to do up his shirt and hide his six pack, who’s a bit broody and needs a woman to fix him, for mum lots of shooting (preferably by women with plenty of T&A) for teenage boys, a dr who type brainy, skinny, hot, young metrosexual type for the teenage girls and loads of crap cgi fight scenes and crap cgi monsters for the kids…. It works in the UK and I’m sure it would go down ok in the states… Lol

  6. The reviewer once again is out of the demographics that the show is trying to captivate. Therefore, he has seen it all and everything isn’t big enough, or bold enough or Marvel enough. After all, he was around for all those procedurals that younger people do not watch so he doesn’t get that this may be fresh for us. These reviews of Lowrys is getting tedious. Please bring in someone who actually gives real reasons why the show isn’t good other than it isn’t exactly what anyone, everyone, someone had hoped for. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect with this show, but I knew it was not going to be Marvel central with the same scope as “The Avengers.” But, if ABC had not cashed in on the Marvel connection, they would have been idiots. Ugh!

  7. Kevin says:

    Anyone who knows anything about SHIELD knows that superheroes are secondary to the business and nature of the agency. Anyone who doesn’t know that is either ignorant or stupid. The former is tolerable, the latter is not. Get over it!

    • clark says:

      I’ve benn a comics fan for twenty years, and while SHIELD isn’t all about heroes it has always had a strong connection with them. Nick Fury, Dumb Dumb Duggan, Countess Valentina, Clay Quatremain all interacted with heroes or villains more often then not. Even if you avoid the Super powered element there’s nothing of the super-spy action/adventure either,in fact even The A-Team had better action 30 years ago.

  8. Anne Gibson says:

    The problem with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD? No SUPERHEROES. I don’t like the “agents” save for Coulson. it’s as if the producers thought the name MARVEL would make up for the bad scripts, bad acting and NO SUPERHEROES. These superheroes can be totally different than the ones already in the Marvel universe. There are plenty of “medical oddities” here on earth that Marvel can take advantage of for this series. I’m so disappointed. I was really looking forward to enjoying these series.

  9. Dave Banner says:

    I waded through the weak characters and “middle school” quality plot because I wanted it to be a good show. But the end of episode 2 has a laughable “jumping the shark” element that lost me for good. They plug a hole in a plane with a life raft and then ask us to come back next week for more .??????

  10. Erin says:

    Just tried to watch the second episode I could not get through it! The acting is so bad and the writing is very cheesy. I was waiting for this series to come out for so long and I was very disappointed. I find no depth to the characters at all. Frankly the characters and the show is forgettable. It’s too bad the show could of been really good too with the right actors and writers.

    • Rick Aneeda says:

      I agree, I keep trying to watch the 2nd episode and I just can’t do it. I turn it on, and I tune out like a few minutes in..look back, try to watch it…nope, nothing. It’s just poorly made and the actors are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Granted, I just finished enjoying Breaking Bad, so I expect quite a lot better quality from television but this is just a mess. I wish it was good, I’d love to have a Marvel show on TV that was solid each week but I can’t think of any other word to call this show but a disaster.

  11. Bob says:

    The most offensive show I’ve seen for a while, makes Arrow look like a work of pure genius. When Nick Fury shows up you realize how useless the rest of the cast are as actors. I have a solution, take the cast of firefly stick them in this “amazing plane” and bam, a better show.

    • Lamo says:

      firefly…oh god, more hammy actors. The answer is, nothing could save this show.

    • jedi77 says:

      Exactly. Finally someone gets it!
      Nobody expects an “Avengers” show, we just expect characters that are actually worth watching for 40 minutes. And these aren’t.
      Thank you Bob!

  12. Jacques Strappe says:

    OMG! Assuming the comments here are made by science fiction geeks, there is apparently nothing about SHIELD they like. First of all, other than the fact it is a Marvel production with Joss Whedon (and family) at the helm, ABC/Disney never said this was a clone of or the slightest bit related to the record breaking Avengers movie which cost about 100 times more than each television episode does (not including the millions paid for marketing the movie). Was the assumption made by Comic Con geeks that each SHIELD episode was going to be like watching the $200 million plus Avengers movie? I was expecting nearly exactly what the show is about: agents of SHIELD investigating unexplained phenomenon with some action, mystery and subtle humor thrown in the mix. Unlike Sleepy Hollow which looks like a rip-off of past seasons of Supernatural, SHIELD looks fresh and different to me compared to most of the science fiction/fantasy attempt over the last few years and the production values seem high. Yes, there are flourishes of Whedon-esque dialogue throughout the hour but it is toned down and used more judiciously than in some of his previous shows–all good since too much Whedon becomes cloyingly annoying. Each of the first two hours passed very quickly for me and I felt highly satisfied after each, leaving me wanting more.

    Overall, in one of the most mediocre new broadcast television seasons of recent memory, I think SHIELD represents the best of the lot. I hope it has a long life.

    • Rick Aneeda says:

      We just expect a quality TV show with some decent actors and a well written story. We’ve gotten none of that in this show. Shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad have proven that shows can feel intelligent and well made without spending a fortune. It’s not the lack of funds, it’s the lack of talent.

  13. Dynamas says:

    I disagree with this mentality. I think the show has actually done a pretty good job of introducing all the characters and setting up a few different plot lines. Honestly, what do you guys expect from 40 min of a show.
    If anyone missed any of the episodes and wants to watch them for free come check out my website
    http://www.agentsofshieldhq.com/agents-of-shield-season-1-episode-2-0-8-4/

    • jedi77 says:

      Nobody expects an “Avengers” show. Just a decent show with interesting characters. SHIELD has 1½ interesting characters. And about 3 annoying ones. Not good.
      Like Bob says above, throw the crew from Firefly in there, and you have e really good show. As it is, this isn’t not an “avengers” show, it isn’t even a Magnum P.I. show. Hell, even Stargate SG1 had more compelling characters than this.

    • Frank W says:

      Pretty ballsy to promote pirated episodes on an industry website.

  14. Ali says:

    I dont really understand why everyone is expecting a tv show to have the same standard as a Marvel big budget movie. “throw in a few super heros” how much money can they make out of a series, they cant afford to bring in the avengers here, besides its called agents of shield not Avengers.

    I understand that this show is no game of thrones, you cant expect it to be as well written as game of thrones (which was based on a book but has deviated from the original plot, big mistake IMO). But Agents of shield is certainly not below the mentalist or Lost ( lost was all over the place the writers didnt know what they were doing till the end where they had no choice but to end the show without tieing up dozens of loose plot holes). Two episodes here have laid a sufficient base for decent plots to develop. characters are not as strong as some other shows, but you cant judge a book by skimming through the index. I would watch the show to see if they do bring out the shows potential. First two episodes had their own weaknesses but are only disappointing to those people who expect a avenger movie experience from a tv show.

    I also read a reference to megashark and some other B rated movies saying that those movies were master pieces compared to this. I shudder to think what twisted taste you would have to say such a think. I know a lot of people who have watched the two episodes, none of them would rate this show as badly. The show is not totally super, yes, i agree… but if you actually expected it to be you have missed out the entire point. its not supposed to be about super powers and special effects, its supposed to potray another angle of the marvel universe, a perspective on how normal people within the marvel universe play their part. the show was never meant to be “super”, so all those disappointed, you’ve been expecting an apple tree to grow peaches. but the show could have definitely had better characters. overall its an decent watch, not an awesome one, but it has potential.

  15. Proto says:

    Jumping Stan Lee on a pogo stick!

    As a huge geek, a lover of all things sci-fi and comic book related, and one who worships the ground that Joss Whedon walks on; this show should be exactly what I’m looking for in television entertainment. Unfortunately that is not the case. I couldn’t even make it all the way through the second episode. This show is utterly unwatchable. There is no redeeming quality to it. The acting is wooden, the characters stretch stereotype to the limits, the dialogue…you will never for one second make me believe this dialogue came from Joss Whedon, the stories are predictable, the production value has no value.

    It’s beyond bad. A made-for-syfy movie mashup like Mansquito or Sharknado looks like Masterpiece Theatre by contrast. They need to end this before it irrevocably taints the name of Marvel and its characters. It’s a television abomination that should be killed…killed with fire!

  16. Asashii Fustazi says:

    network tv at its finest, i guess!!!!

  17. Ed Vaira says:

    This episode was almost SHOCKINGLY bad!! What happened?!! God, if these characters all end up so whiny/irritating/one dimensional, in a Joss Whedon show, no less….Then I guess Broadcast TV, or at least ABC, might be just about doomed…

  18. AvatarIII says:

    “even if it’s still a little irritating not knowing why Loki didn’t actually kill him in “The Avengers.” ”

    Loki did kill him, the mystery is how he came back. As stated relatively unequivocally during a conversation between Maria Hill and the Scientist played by Ron Glass at the beginning of the pilot episode.

  19. jedi77 says:

    I really looked forward to this, but I am so disapointed. It has lamost zero character lovability. The scientists are annoying in the extreme, and the rest are just bland.
    I am not saying it should be Breaking Bad quality, but at least be The Mentalist quality.
    It’s actually how I feel about Castle opposite The Mentalist. Very similar shows, but the supporting cast in the Mentalist is so much better written, fleshed out, and acted.
    That was what I expected Agents of SHIELD to be as well. It isn’t, and I won’t be staying unless they assure med that things are going to change.

  20. Drew says:

    Brian Lowry,
    You are a blade of grass in the movement of why ‘good’ shows that hit their target(s) do not survive. You gave a horrible review for the show Quick Draw and almost every comment that followed on your “Editorial” forecast/diagnosis was in stark contrast – the only one missing the mark is YOU. How you have a job where you are an entertainment critic is baffling. I would bet considerable assets you also thought Family Guy was horrible and would not last, either. Am I close? If Variety had any sense, you would be MIA for damage control. Of course, if Variety was run by most thoughtful viewers, you would have never been hired. Good day, Sir.

  21. But it isn’t a Quest of the week show; there may be episodes that don’t heavily focus on “the big bad picture” (as with say Deep Space 9 or Fringe) but there is a bigger picture as was clearly defined by the Extremis plot from Iron Man 3 and episode 1, as well as the Coulson Mystery you yourself alluded to.Which reminds me, there may be more references noticeably to comic book fans; as well as several noticeable to people who actually paid attention to the films, than you seem to realise. You don’t have to have Maria Hill or Nick Fury in your episode to be “connected” to the MCU

  22. Also not knowing what is going on with Coulson (“It’s a MAGICAL Place” seems to suggest that magic, i.e Dr. Strange has been used to bring him back to life) if he is an Android replacement, or some kind of clone, isn’t irritating, it s intriguing; it’s a cool mystery hat you hope will have a satisfying reveal at the end of the series, or in Captain America.

  23. Well they are not US government agents, so getting paid shouldn’t be a problem. :)

  24. Chris says:

    The biggest problem with the show is the two science guys. The problem isn’t that they don’t have personalities, it’s that they serve as, “Oh and going to say a lot of complicated stuff which makes no sense, and ta da, we have a flimsy explanation for something which points us where to go.”

    But I’m still liking the show. It feels a lot like the early firefly episodes, which while not bad, did require a bit of effort to get into.

  25. Mister D says:

    Obviously this is very early, but as a fan of both Marvel and Whedon, this feels off. It lacks the Jossiness that were clear in Buffy, Angel, Firefly and even Dollhouse. It feels like Imitation Joss. The cast isn’t doing much for me either – after 2 shows I’d have a hard time noticing if they replaced half the actors next week. Lastly it looks cheap. It feels cheap. It feels TV. I know that they can’t do Avengers each week, and Lord knows I don’t want them to. But shows like LOST, Breaking Bad, even Sleepy Hollow can pull off more theatrical cinematography. Everything here looks flat, every effect looks obvious,every prop looks fake.

  26. it seems unfair to say the show isn’t developing an arc just yet. in just two episodes, they’ve hinted towards at least 3 larger arcs:

    1. the centipede project: just who are these people and what are there overall plans?
    2. skye’s allegiances: is she merely playing the agents for the rising tide or is playing rising tide for the agents? where does her loyalty truly lie?
    3. just how did coulson come back? of course they aren’t going to reveal that immediately, and something shadowy is definitely going on. now, marvel fanboys are quick to point out that coulson is probably a LMD but watching that discovery could be a fun and interesting journey depending on how they play it out. it has echoes of philip k dick in the subtext…what would finding out about his history do to the character? how would it affect him? would it cause a loyalty shift?

    there’s plenty of potential in this show and, for as much as they’ve thus far followed the “monster of the week” formula, there’s more going on here than has been let on so far. let whedon do his thing and reveal his plans over time…people said the same thing about buffy when it was on the air and over time there fears were proven wrong by whedon’s brilliant plans.

  27. Walter says:

    Watch out, Variety. Be VERY careful. You’ll make a whole bunch of Whedon fan-bois and -grlz super weepy. They might cry all over you. Fair warning.

  28. CLOUDCITY says:

    Maybe if the show was actually good? Maybe if Marvel wasn’t so cheap all the time? Maybe it would be doing better…. just saying. I wanted to like the show but it was very generic. I don’t even mind that it doesn’t tie into the movies too much… I just wish it was better. Huge missed opportunities at every turn.

  29. ***Spoilers***

    Now wait a minute. You are saying it is not super, even after Sam Jackson showed up in the past episode. I thought the second episode was better than the cheesy and corny pilot.

  30. danny says:

    Its been proven time and time again if u take a character or in this case an organization out of a movie and make a show or movie it doesn’t work. For example catwoman bomb,Electra bomb,cleavland show bomb. There’s just not enough back story to do it. So shield is the same way. I don’t know why Hollywood does this. I guess for the money but bad idea. Oh another one the show about Sarah Connor from terminator bomb. I just don’t get it

    • Terrance says:

      Catwoman and Elektra bombed because they were terrible not because you took them away from Batman or Daredevil – they’re both popular in their own right.

      Sarah Connor wasn’t a bomb it’s first season – it failed because the writing declined sharply after it’s first seaosn.

  31. Gene says:

    The show is amateurish and boring. I expected more. It isconfusing and if it was supposed to be a comedy of sorts, it has failed miserably. I am done with it.

  32. Rik Deskin says:

    I love this show and hope that ABC is smart and does not move it or anything else. 2 hours. Give the show a chance to actually grow. Star Trek TNG did not hit it’s stride until the 3rd season.

  33. Xybernauts says:

    Like the article says, what the show needs to do is make relavent stories that are intricately linked to the Marvel Cinematic universe. Star Wars: The Clone Wars did an excellent job of doing this for the 2nd Star Wars Trilogy. If Disney keeps on playing it safe and choses to keep this shows universe too distant from the actual cinematic universe this show won’t last the season. Instead of starting from scratch telling the stories of a bunch of characters who no one seems to care about for the most part, continue the stories of the characters from the movies.

    • Xybernauts says:

      I should point out that I was refering to the Star Wars Clone Wars cgi tv show and the animated movies, not the actual movie.

  34. EK says:

    Was sampled and found wanting. Viewers aren’t stupid and know when they are being misled, especially in the fanboy universe that supports the Marvel menagerie. May do okay but will be no equivalent to a Marvel movie blockbuster.

  35. Frank says:

    If you slap the name of MARVEL on something you just HAVE TO add some of the characters from the MARVEL UNIVERSE on this show. Granted I know you cant use the bigger names because of licensing but some of those characters like a Misty Knight or Iron Fist would have been a perfect addition. Names like them aren’t big enough for a film but they would have fit in perfectly in this show; they would have been great as they are already action heroes and the show wouldn’t have to create new characters because the fans would have already known who they were instead of the soap stars with no chemistry that they are trying to push down our throats now. Just a thought.

  36. Neal Adams says:

    Turn the stupid plane into a mini heli-carrier, (it’s just a model anyway). Kick-out half the dialogue, and add in the Heroes show in nice chunky doses, and we we’d have a winner. (Add a few Neal Adams plots. Just saying’).
    Neal Adams

  37. Andy Nystrom says:

    Funny, I made the same point about the lack of Marvel ties on Facebook right before reading this. I realize that some characters are tricky due to Avengers-related movies, and other characters are completely unavailable due to licensing deals with other studios, but surely, say, Zodiac or ULTIMATUM could be used without interfering with anything?

  38. Steve says:

    After two episodes, SHIELD feels very cookie cutter. The most novel idea is played for a joke when they take the well-worn foreign scientist character and split that into two science characters, Fitz & Simmons (whose names together sounds like one character) — OH, WE HAVE FUN! Joss probably has enough pitch outlines lying around that he just does a find and replace with the names at this point. Overall, it’s fine (but violent) fare for children, but it’s neither as sophisticated nor as grand as older fanboys would dream. And personally, the cast all look like soap actors to me.

  39. KC says:

    Having not seen Thor or Capt America, I went in with no expectation other than wanting to see a fun show. And while it would be fun, it is the casting that is lacking. The only character that I find interesting in the least is Ming-Na Wen’s character, Melinda May. The rest have no chemistry with each other and are uninteresting / boring.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Our morally conflicted hacker just doesn’t cut it for me. While instant chemistry is hard that between Melinda May and Coulson really does work. Some things need to be tweaked but I like the show overall.

  40. Living the Geek Life says:

    I would prefer the show actually focus on finding its own voice and strength rather than going for cheap parlor tricks like movie cameos and name-dropping the Avengers. A couple of the characters are dragging down the show, as is an uncertainty regarding what it really wants to be. And scheduling it against NCIS was always a mistake. A particularly big one this week.

  41. Cathy M. says:

    Your article is spot on, in my opinion. For some reason, I want to blame it on the casting. It just doesn’t draw me in the way I wanted it to. I watched the first two episodes, but I really don’t care if I watch the third. It seems so contrived and formulaic. And, they want to make them seem so global, (going to Peru, talking about Tahiti, the ethnic diversity of the characters), but the connections feel forced. The story lines don’t really add up either. That’s my two sense…

  42. Testy Besttester says:

    All that from 2 episodes. Whatever happened to reviewing based on seasonal merit and not knee-jerk “instant” feelings?

    • Rick Aneeda says:

      Watch the first two episodes of Breaking Bad and try not to get hooked on it. You’ll come back during season 4 saying HOLY SH**!. Agents of SHIELD is just bad television. Bad actors, bad story so far, and good god how bad can it look. It’s so fake looking I feel like I’m watching Sharknado.

    • Joshua Davis says:

      Well, because…if you don’t like what you’re watching, you won’t continue to watch until the end of the season.

    • Terrance says:

      It’s the job of any new show to start pulling people in from jump. That doesn’t mean going balls to wall in the early episodes but showing promise with the characters and inventive new storytelling and character arcs. There’s far too many GREAT television shows out there for people to waste time on one that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere new or exciting.

      I’ll be giving the show a few for chances but the first outing have left a alot to be desired from the writing and acting.

      • skarbd says:

        Well we are two episodes in and the characters really aren’t that interesting, that’s the problem, no one is going to hang around to see the plots develop. Ming-Na Wen and Greg Clark have potential, but the rest, really is that the best they could come up with? Really very one dimensional, someone got the casting very wrong. Ask John Noble to give the scientists some tips on being engaging.

        I have spoken with 4 people and 3 are very disappointed and 1 likes it. That’s not a good ratio, especially when they consider they all like sci-fi. I will be really intrigued by the viewing numbers, because someone will stick with it, praying for it to get better, but by mid season I would expect the numbers to indicate a downward trend.

        However, I said the same about Revolution, and the best thing that happened to that was the big break, because it came back a lot better program, and weren’t afraid to get rid of the annoying characters, though that has a stronger cast than Agents Of Shield.

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