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Published: Friday, 11/1/2013

CULTURE SHOCK

Angst of ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was, by many — including myself — the most anticipated program among the new crop of network TV shows. A spinoff of the successful Marvel superhero movie brand, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was set in the Avengers' universe, and executive produced by Joss Whedon. Whedon is the writer-director of the billion-dollar-plus blockbuster The Avengers and its 2015 sequel. He also directed and co-wrote the series' 90-minute pilot.

The ABC series, seen locally at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on WTVG-TV, Channel 13, is about a Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division team of non-superhero super agents and their nerdy science support staff that travels the world in search of people with emerging super powers — to protect them, and us, from their uber abilities.

The numerous commercials for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. teased a weekly drama that was smart, funny, full of action and comic-book fun.

So what went wrong?

Just about everything. Acting. Writing. Pacing. Dull storylines. Clumsy humor. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a M.E.S.S.

"I stopped watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. after two episodes," said Maria Shaink, a 35-year-old "total dork" from West Toledo who loves superhero movies. "It was just so far away from what I wanted it to be, I couldn't watch any more.

"I guess I just got the wrong impression of what it was going to be."

The ratings suggest she's one of millions who have given up on the show.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted to terrific numbers — it was the highest-rated drama premiere in nearly four years — and ABC has already ordered a full season for S.H.I.E.L.D. Yet, the ratings have shown a steady decline — in the 18-49 adult demo it's gone from a 4.7 rating to 2.6 for its Oct. 22 episode.

Can S.H.I.E.L.D. be saved?

Yes. For starters, it's time to scale back. The show wants to be big. But it's not.

Compared to its big-screen brothers, the series feels TV-size small, with a budget and special effects to match.

Go real world — ala the Daniel Craig James Bond films — with less phony sets and gadgets. Live by the axiom, less CGI is more.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the kind of show that may have found success in the 1980s or '90s, but is now hopelessly out of place with intelligent, sophisticated, and industry-pushing fare like Breaking Bad, The Soprano's, and Dexter, a trio of shows that celebrate the antihero, as well as the current trend of angst-y superhero films. Make the series X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon's first TV series) dark with bigger stakes; less mad scientists and more of the human complex. For example, What does living with a super power do to you? How does it impact a family and friends? Think the first two X-Men films and the first season of Heroes.

Another significant problem with the show is with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents themselves. They're vapid, cartoonish cliches, and the actors who play them aren't much better. The only exception is Agent Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg. Not coincidentally, Coulson is the only carryover from the films. Time to bring in new characters (and actors). And in a show about agents tracking down superheroes, how about having a superhero on their side? Anything's better than the Wonder Twins of IT each week, whose sole superpower is annoyance.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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