Yeah, I know, not very skeptical, but I think that this tells us a lot about our culture.
When I grew up, there were some shows I loved to watch. Knight Rider, AirWolf, the A-Team, Battlestar Galactica, and the like. Friday nights were like Christmas, because all the science fictiony, cool, male 12-44 demographics shows were on then. But even then, I was vaguely disappointed. If you remember Airwolf, then you remember the exct same flight and air battle scenes every single time. The A-Team, far from being the elite special forces units, never actually hit anything with a rifle. And KITT just kept getting faster and loaded down with more incomprehensible gadgets… go, go gadget frequency analyzer.
Even some of the modern shows that I think are great have that same “monster of the week”, “today’s episode has no effect ever again” kind of program. Rory Williams, called “The Centurian” in the Doctor Who universe, should be called “The Man Who Died”. I recently rewatched the Matt Smith series and I counted no fewer than five times Rory died. Yet that didn’t seem to affect him very much as he always reappeared, no worse for wear. How many times could Murdoch escape from mental institutions before Ph.D. level psychologists and psychiatrists realize that he’s playing them? Even Daniel Jackson in the SG-1 series died three or four times.
To me, who likes a rich story line and characters that change over time, it quickly became boring. One highlight was an American interpretation of a Japanese import called Robotech. But I guess when you have dozens of people writing the stories and you can’t do permanent harm to someone just in case someone else needs that character for their story… well, it gets kind of boring.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed a lot of that. It probably wasn’t the first really serial show and it wouldn’t be the last, but it remains one of the best… except for the last episode, Josh had a great chance there and missed it.* But we watched Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander grow and change… pretty radically. Just watch the first few episodes and then watch the episode where Xander and Anya almost get married.
Stargate SG-1 (and spin-offs) eventually got to this point. I really enjoyed the SG-1 Atlantis crossovers and the deep mythology that filled their universe. It was mostly consistent and made us want to know more and figure everything out.
Now we turn our attention to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This was given so many advantages right from the start that it should have been an instant success. Josh Whedon is involved (not very much and I hope his career survives this one). It takes place in the Marvel Shared Universe which has a massively devoted following, some of the absolute best actors and actresses in the business and some record breaking movies. It also has the greatest bit part character to ever appear in movies, Phil Coulson.
I want to love this show. But even with all those advantages, it feels like we’re back in the 80s watching one of those Friday night, Greg Larson specials… and not a particularly good one. Maybe Streethawk or Manimal.
We’re four episodes in and there’s been no power, no emotion, no real decent stories. There’s never been a situation that felt like there was any real danger or world changing events. These people live in a world with Thor, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, and Nick Fury (which, admittedly had a bit part in one episode). And it’s almost like no one cares. Several billion dollars worth of damage to NYC and no one ever mentions it.
The characters are wooden… the actors are fine. I like all of them (with the except of the male science geek… whoever plays him). But the only history in these characters (and the two most interesting points of the entire show) are the mystery of Coulson and why is May called “The Cavalry” and why does she hate it. Honestly, I couldn’t caare less about Ward or the geeks (and I am a geek…). Skye’s character would have been more surprising if she hadn’t been a ‘traitor’… which is taking the definition of traitor pretty loosely.
If this show just stopped, I can’t imagine anyone writing in to complain or say how it should be saved (like Firefly).
I really think that even US audiences are beginning to find series arcs interesting and fun, rather than the monster/planet/villian of the week type thing that we grew up with. Even when others write the episodes, it’s possible to unify them into a coherent long-term arc of character development and plot. It’s been done before… and done well. And it’s been done by someone who is ‘involved’ with Agents of SHIELD. I wish he would step back in.
This show could be awesome. But it’s not.
*If you need to know what I”m talking about, then read the comic book Fray: Future Slayer and then imagine if Willow had caused the events that resulted in Fray’s world.