Don’t Blame S.H.I.E.L.D. on Joss!

I just watched episode five of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it was horrible, and not good-Horrible either. It was just as bad as most of the other crap that’s on TV, except for the super-heroesque plot which of course makes it more interesting. But it was boring. And there was absolutely no Whedon Wit. It wasn’t even pretty to look at. I could go on.  This is reminding me of a troubling story I came across in September 2013, about how the S.H.I.E.L.D. scripts that were coming in were so bad that Joss himself had to be called in to do “major rewrites.”

I expect a lot from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because Joss Whedon is supposedly at the helm, and it’s his name that’s on the line. He has never let me down before. But I really shouldn’t critique this as a Joss Whedon show, because he’s not really running it. It’s his brother Jed, and Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen. They have proven themselves in the field (they co-wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and worked on Dollhouse as well) so they should be able to at least make sure the show is funny. But that isn’t happening. There have been a few good episodes of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they weren’t very funny. And the weaker episodes (Episodes 2 and 5, in my opinion) show no wit whatsoever. Who’s to blame?

It depends on who’s overseeing the scripts. It should be this couple. Why did they let it get so bad? I don’t know. But I blame them, not Joss. He is very busy  hammering out the next Avenger’s movie, which I expect to be better than the first. He says that The Avengers wasn’t a “great” movie (which is true, it’s just a hugely profitable movie) and “why do it again if you can’t do it better?” So he’s off making the second one even better, which he will, and meanwhile S.H.I.E.L.D. flounders. Perhaps he is to blame for attaching his name to this show & then not being around to make sure it’s any good. But the show itself is the fault of many, many people..

People forget that Joss Whedon is much more than just a brilliant writer and director. He is also brilliant at encouraging other people to be brilliant. And apparently Jed and Maurissa, pretty good writers in their own right (see: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog; Dollhouse) are NOT so brilliant at getting the people around them to be brilliant.

When will Joss finally be called in to fix the episodes? And will it do any good if he’s not at the helm of the ship? It’s not all about the writing. It’s also about the delivery, the timing, the aesthetics. I think S.H.I.E.L.D. is doomed to be a tragedy akin to the original Buffy movie. It should make Joss cry. But hopefully he’ll jump the Marvel ship soon and get back to creating his own original content, because that’s what he’s best at. The more overall control he has, the better the TV show or movie is. Or the Dr. Horrible! That was the most pure form of art because there were no meddling investors.

I don’t think it’s Joss who has gotten suckier and suckier. I think he has taken on too much, bitten off more than he could chew. He is a known workaholic, and usually that’s a good thing, because it means he keeps creating brilliant new stuff for us to enjoy. But here, I think he’s made possibly a mistake. He just isn’t around to make this show all it could be. It’s not a bad Joss Whedon show, it’s a NON-Joss Whedon show.

Here are my overall gripes:

1) It’s not funny. The pilot episode was injected with Whedon Wit, but it was written and directed by Whedon. After that, the wit part of the equation got progressively erased from the board. The most recent episode had no wit at all, unless you want to count “Say it, Ward. SAY IT.” “You sank my battleship.” I don’t count it. If this was really a Joss Whedon show, it would be funny, as well as sad, scary, exciting and mysterious.

2)  Sucky Music. If this were a Joss Whedon show for real, the music would be great (see: Christophe Beck for Buffy.) But the music here is bland, repetetive, and obnoxious. It’s so repetetive that it’s really noticeable, and whenever the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. theme music plays, It stands out as being ridiculous. It makes me groan. This is the fault of Bear McCreary, who did a reasonably good job with Eureka. Battlestar Galactica didn’t have the best music either, but it wasn’t so bad as to be noticeable. I don’t think he was the best choice for scoring the show, and I’d like to know who’s to blame for hiring him. Still, he does have the skills to do better and he could do better. The question is, why isn’t he? Joss Whedon isn’t there to give him direction.

3) The cast. I do love Agent Coulson, but he’s the only one whose face has real character. The others are all beautiful in the most bland way, and ridiculously young to boot. This strains believability. I can believe that they auditioned and were actually the best for their roles. But that means the roles are bland to begin with. Not only that, but no one except me seems to like FitzSimmons. I like them, but I don’t know anything about them, and we need some major backstory there. How did this rocket scientist and double-Ph.D.-wielding Biochem specialist wind up completing each other’s sentences? How did they get involved with S.H.I.E.L.D.?  You can’t just dump a couple of characters like that on us and not explain anything. Ward is the blandest of the bland, but with the right directing he could be very funny. And Skye – I’m tired of the whole “Is she a traitor?” theme. It’s a boring way to use that character.

4) The plane. How can I be expected to be in favor of this team that spews carbon emissions everywhere they go?

5) Overall theme. If this was really a Joss show, it would be about family. It would be about Skye’s search for belonging. She is looking for her parents and is apparently using the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. to assist in her search, to no avail. If Joss were at the helm, Coulson and May would be the parents, and the rest of the cast would be the kids, with rivalries and such but really learning how to be a family in the sky. Not to compare it to Firefly, but it is a group of disparate characters who join on a flying vehicle for a common purpose. Skye should be finding that her adopted family means a lot more than the parents who gave her up. But for that we need her to interact with someone besides Ward.

6) Aesthetics. The latest episode was dark and dreary, and had no aesthetic sensibility at all. I could barely stand to watch it.  The episode that Joss directed was colorful and shiny! It was fun to watch and it made me want to buy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. action figures. But it’s just gotten worse and worse with each episode. Who is choosing the directors for this show?

The real tragedy of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that it has the potential to be great, but that won’t happen until Joss gets more involved. And that won’t happen at least until Season Two. But the way things are going, there won’t be a Season Two for Joss to get involved with. Ratings are plummeting for good reason. How is it ever going to get renewed? I can only hope that I’ve witnessed the worst already, and that Joss’ rewrites are going to start showing up and this will turn into a watchable show again.

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