Midway through this TV season, many of us who once salivated at the prospect of a Joss Whedon-helmed action/drama set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had thrown up our hands on ABC’s mostly-Jossless “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” We expected a spy saga of “Buffy”and “Firefly” caliber. Instead, we got a cripplingly-bland monster-of-the-week procedural wherein the protagonists periodically pause to remind the audience that they’ve met Iron Man.
That didn’t matter, because another show about superpower-less people trouncing the forces of darkness, and figuring their personal shit out, in a graphic novel-based reality more than picked up the slack. Following an iffy first year, season two of the CW’s “Arrow” may well go down as one of the best 22 episodes of non-animated, comic-spawned television of its generation.
But when lots of people said their show kind of sucked, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” show runners Jed (tragically, not Joss) Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen tried to resolve the issue. The much-ballyhooed transformation of Mike Peterson (played by the criminally underutilized J. August Richards) into Deathlok might’ve been more compelling if Deathlok wasn’t a forgettable holdover from the ‘90s when every new superhero had to look like Cable for some reason.
The real corner-turner for “S.H.I.E.I.D.” comes at the final moments of episode 17, when (spoiler) Ward murders Agent Hand, along with her nearby subordinates, and frees the captured traitor Agent Garrett. Whoa. Dude was a Hydra sleeper all along. It took long enough, but when Ward finally stopped being the most boring character on a show full of boring characters, he became S.H.I.E.L.D’s answer to Alex Krycek, and the swerve evoked a hearty “OH MY FUCK!” from at least one viewer.
Creeping up on Tuesday’s season finale – in which Agent Coulson and his friends figure out what to do about the Hydra super soldiers about to conquer the world – “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” almost feels worthy of its Whedonish pedigree. Meanwhile, the final 45 minutes of “Arrow” season 2 – in which Oliver Queen and his friends figure out what to do about a different army of super soldiers about to conquer Starling City – plays out Wednesday. If Marvel wants to continue the upward momentum for the next batch of “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” their best bet could be ripping off the Distinguished Competition. Here are two ways they could do that!
|1. Quit being stingy with intellectual properties|
Meanwhile, Oliver Queen can’t shoot a boxing glove arrow without it hitting five denizens of DC comics lore. His friends, frenemies, casual acquaintances, and bastards have included Black Canary, Red Arrow/Speedy, Brother Blood, Deathstroke, Clock King, Huntress, Count Vertigo, Solomon Grundy, Bronze Tiger, The Flash, China White, Amanda Waller, Merlin, Isabel Rochev, The League Of Assassins a.k.a The League of Shadows, Deadshot, Shrapnel, Professor Ivo, and I’m probably forgetting a few. Unless Warner Brothers ties the continuity of its TV shows into upcoming film projects, at some point, Oliver Queen could conceivably take a trip to Gotham City and do brunch with his old frat buddy Bruce Wayne. Wouldn’t that be more fun to watch than, well, anything Agent Coulson could possibly be up to? Speaking of….
|2. Move the focus away from Coulson and Skye|
Then we have S.H.I.E.L.D.’s primary protagonists, Agent Coulson and Skye. Coulson (Clark Gregg, who does more with less) is an agreeable, self-deprecating veteran spy and surrogate father figure to his squad. Skye is a novice agent who’s preternaturally swift with computers and enjoys good-natured ribbing. Left to their own devices, neither are compelling enough to anchor a TV series. Hence, the writers likely felt it necessary to give them backstories that could’ve been one of those subplots from “Lost” that never got resolved or went anywhere. While Coulson fretted over the implications and falling-outs of Project “T.A.H.I.T.I,” and Skye wondered what happened to her real parents, Simmons, Fitz, and Ward had nothing to do.
It’s called “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” not “Agent Coulson and his plucky protégée,” so maybe the next 22 episodes could hinge on brooding anti-hero Agent Melinda May and her quirky secret agents pals? ‘Cause I’d rather watch that.