Fall TV 2nd Look: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

  • Publish Date: November 14, 2013
  • Comments: ↓ 9 user comments

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Drama | Tuesdays at 8p on ABC | 7 episodes aired to date

The most hyped new show of the fall television season, the Joss Whedon-created Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted in September to massive ratings (for a new series) and fairly strong initial reviews. However, the show has failed to cash in on its promising start. Reviews of subsequent episodes grew increasingly negative, and Agents has been bleeding viewers, to the point where its 18-49 rating is less than half of what it was initially and total viewership has fallen from 11.9 million to about 6.6 million (placing it far behind NCIS in its timeslot). ABC did order a full season, however, so there's little danger of cancellation before the end of the season.

What exactly is wrong with the first live-action television series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and can it be fixed? (Or are critics merely bitter from having to type out all those p.e.r.i.o.d.s.?) Below, we sample some of the critics' assessments made over the past month. When possible, we have also included reviews of the pilot and this week's most recent episode from the same critics, for purposes of comparison.

The Atlantic Wire / Esther Zuckerman

assessment after 5 episodes:

The way we see it is that problem with SHIELD has been that there hasn't been one specific thing — one villain, one underlying mystery — to propel viewers to watch the next episode. The show has been mildly enjoyable episode to episode, but has been operating on a procedural model for the most part.

A.V. Club / David Sims

original pilot review:

The potential is right there for this to be must-watch show. Yes, the pilot is a bit of a dull plod, but so was Fringe's, or Whedon's last effort, Dollhouse.

reassessment after 5 episodes:

I think Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D needs to realize that it can't coast by on action alone. ... It's definitely not an unwatchably bad show—there are little visual flourishes and jokes that sustain interest, and Clark Gregg is doing the best he can to hold everything together. But we need more plotting, more craziness, less monster-of-the-week stuff that advances the season arcs very slowly. In short: don't be shy, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Show us what you can do.

most recent comments after episode 7:

I am so in the bag for this show and what Marvel is trying to do with it. I am so in the bag for any show created by Joss Whedon, even one he doesn't have much of a hand in running. But I am near the end of my tether with this show. ... The missions of the week are the reason people are complaining about this show. You can do whatever you want with world-building and have the cutest, most charming cast on television but the episodes have to be watchable. Increasingly, they are not.

BuzzFeed / Jace Lacob

original pilot review:

It masterfully blends together the high stakes action, quivering emotion, and deft humor we've come to expect from Joss and Co.

reassessment after 4 episodes:

I've found the subsequent episodes of ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ... to be rather lackluster. ... I had believed that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be a street-level look at the Marvel universe (well, as street-level as you can get when the team is flying around in a souped-up jet), but instead, it largely plays as a generic 1980s actioner where bad guys get their butts kicked on a weekly basis and everything reverts to the status quo at the end of the episode.

Comicbook.com / Russ Burlingame

assessment after 6 episodes:

After an underwhelming premiere, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has improved every week–but it's done so in steps so small, it was hard to imagine the show having the kind of dramatic turnaround that made Arrow a must-watch show after a shaky start last year. ... This week's episode, by actually taking on The Avengers headlong instead of trying to cleverly imply that the film happened with some offhand reference that feels forced, managed to feel like it belonged in the Marvel Universe. Couple that with the Coulson stuff, and this felt like the first episode that really did come after The Avengers in a meaningful way.

Entertainment Weekly / Darren Franich

assessment after 5 episodes:

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a resolutely okay TV show. It's neither great nor terrible, neither inspired nor boring. ... SHIELD seems at times like an attempt to create a network procedural set in the Marvel universe. This is not a bad idea — though it's not particularly interesting — but could it at least stop being a lazy network procedural?

Film School Rejects / Inkoo Kang

original pilot review:

If the characterization and stakes are lacking, though, the world-building seems set up to provide lots of interesting stories.

reassessment after 4 episodes:

Its first solid episode ... Agents of SHIELD set out to tell human-scale stories in a world full of super-powered beings. The series' first three episodes directly tackled that idea, but the contours of this world are still so amorphous that the characters seem to exist in a plot-convenient vacuum. "Eye-Spy" grounded the characters in a more recognizable universe by hewing the A-plot closer to sci-fi than fantasy and setting down a rule: ESP doesn't exist.

most recent comments after episode 7:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the kind of show you'd suspect of insulting your intelligence, except you're pretty sure it's just that dumb.

HitFix / Alan Sepinwall

original pilot review:

It's... okay — quippy in that pleasingly distinctive Joss Whedon way, with a few intriguing ideas about life in a superhero world, but with a cheap look and mostly bland supporting characters.

reassessment after 5 episodes:

Obviously, "SHIELD" can't have the scope of the Marvel films, but there has to be some kind of intensity to what's happening here. The members of the team rarely seem like they care all that much about their latest mission — or about bigger arcs like an evil organization trying to master a formula for superpowers — which makes it hard for the rest of us to.

most recent comments after episode 6:

At least there was effort here, and an awareness that repeating the same rudimentary character dynamics in every episode couldn't cut it.

HitFix / Drew McWeeny

assessment after 4 episodes:

One of the main complaints so far is that it feels like a TV show from the '80s, before the recent push towards a greater sense of realism and character writing ... So far, it is a conventional TV show with just a bit of sass to it, and if they can turn it into something even better than that, I'll be excited. So far, it doesn't transcend that description at all, but I'm not sure I expected it would.

most recent comments after episode 7:

Hell, I'll say it. I was impressed this week. This episode and last week's episode are starting to look like the show I hoped this could be. It's not great yet, but that thing that you hope will happen as a show starts to pick up steam appears to be happening. It's getting a voice. The characters are starting to become characters and not just types.

The Hollywood Reporter (Heat Vision blog) / Jim Steranko

original pilot review:

One of the pitfalls of multicharacter epics with multiple storylines is juggling each to dramatic satisfaction, and Whedon has been successful at it. But AoS's four major focuses -- the Coulson story, the Agent Grant Ward story, the Skye story, the Hooded Hero story -- result in a lack of unified focus that seriously undercuts the series' opener.

reassessment after 5 episodes:

We may be discovering a compromise between what I imagined the series could be and what I'll settle for. ... While some ongoing irritations continue (dark scenes that obscure vital action, SHIELD's impossibly Lilliputian staff, the lack of Marvel super-guest cameos), the show seems to have found its mutant-hunting groove ... The sometimes-manic, sometimes-plodding quality of the previous eps has settled into a pragmatic, if sometimes predictable comfort zone.

most recent comments after episode 7:

So, as we approach mid-point, does anyone know where SHIELD is going, besides a multitude of directions that lack conceptual unity? ... The result is choppy and unsatisfying at best. Irritating at worst.

Huffington Post / Laura Prudom

assessment after 4 episodes:

It's fair to say that the first three episodes of ABC's high-concept action series have been a little uneven. ... Thankfully, the fourth episode of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is exactly what most of us likely envisioned when we heard the words "Joss Whedon, Marvel universe, TV show" in one sentence, making good on the promises put forth in the pilot.

io9 / Rob Bricken

assessment after 6 episodes:

I'm not sure "F.Z.Z.T." is a sign of greater things to come — for the first half of the episode, I was muttering "Worst. Episode. Ever" in my best Comic Book Guy voice — I find the fact that the show can be this dramatic at all gives me hope that the show can evolve into something greater. ... But this episode also revealed the show has the potential to be great. "F.Z.Z.T." may not be a sign of greater things to come, but I certainly hope it is.

most recent comments after episode 7:

What this episode does do exceptionally well is illustrate Agents of SHIELD's biggest problems. ... The writing team is playing it safe — using all the old hour-long action-drama tropes with virtually no deviation. ... If I had one complaint about this show, it's that despite the team ostensibly saving the world every week, it still feels small. We're firmly in case-of-the-week territory here, not unusual for a season one of any TV show, but it's hard to feel like these guys are doing any real good when they're relegated to investigating floating firefighters or sneaking into warehouses each week. The show needs an overarching plot, and most of all, it needs some real bad guys.

Nerdist / Dan Casey

original pilot review:

Last night's episode was a solid foundation upon which a television empire can be built.

reassessment after 6 episodes:

Last night's episode may have been the most dramatic, tense hour of television we've seen from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, but whether the show can continue to wrap things up nicely in a tidy little package each week is a question that looms large on the horizon. ... If they can keep this up, they'll really have earned that full season pick-up of theirs.

Screen Rant / Anthony Ocasio

assessment after 5 episodes:

Everything is but a hint or a nod to a great tale that will eventually come – a tale that has, so far, gone nowhere. ... This, of course, leads to an important question: Is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being held back by the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

most recent comments after episode 7:

Now 7 episodes in – and on a bit of an upswing – Agent Coulson and his elite S.H.I.E.L.D. team finally receive the pilot that they, as well as all the fans, deserve. ... That said, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still has many obstacles ahead of it.

Time / James Poniewozik

original pilot review:

The first episode is zippy, slick-looking, and Whedonistically funny. It also seems much more limited in its ambitions than Whedon's past TV shows. ... Maybe Whedon, ABC, and Marvel just want the show to be a fun, movie-like weekly escape. But it also has the potential, at the same time, to take a look at the double-sided nature of powers–even ones that are not super.

reassessment after 3 episodes:

I find myself watching so far more because I want to see what the show becomes than because the show has made me care what happens next.

Time / Graeme McMillan

assessment after 3 episodes:

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that it's ultimately doomed to failure. My feelings go beyond how dull the series has been since its pilot episode. ... Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [is] a show that exists within the Avengers world, tries to appeal to the Avengers audience, but is unable to tell stories with the same scope or same kind of stakes for fear of upsetting the more lucrative movies. Unless everyone involved works out a way to suddenly and reliably offer up Whedon-esque zingers with more ease than they've managed so far, it's only a matter of time before S.H.I.E.L.D. finds itself facing the ultimate threat: Cancellation.

TV.com / Kaitlin Thomas

original pilot review:

The pilot had everything you could ask for from a Whedon production: heart, witty dialogue, and enough action to keep even the most ADD viewers interested.

reassessment after 5 episodes:

With each passing week, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is becoming a more fully developed series.

most recent comments after episode 7:

I am happy the series is moving forward on the Coulson front. And I'm also happy the series is moving forward on Skye's season-long arc, too.

Vulture / Scott Meslow

original pilot review:

If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actually manages to do everything that it's trying to do, there's no reason it can't end up as one of the crown jewels of the increasingly sprawling Marvel universe.

reassessment after 5 episodes:

If you'll allow me to make a belabored metaphor, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a little in common with the bracelet Coulson uses to restrict Skye at the end of the [fifth] episode: Technologically impressive, but shackled in a way that prevents it from what it should be doing best. I'm hoping the show will take the cuffs off when it returns.

most recent comments after episode 7:

I'm worried that Skye represents an insurmountable problem for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. going forward. If the show isn't going to take S.H.I.E.L.D. seriously, why should its viewers? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't need to be Breaking Bad, but there do need to be consequences when a character does something like, say, hacking the database of the most powerful and well-funded quasi-governmental organization in the world.

Zap2it / Terri Schwartz

original pilot review:

While "Agents of SHIELD" is definitely fun with all the tech and Whedon quips, it will be truly excellent if it can put a face to everyone else that's a part of a world gone super.

reassessment after 6 episodes:

There's just been something lacking in the weekly almost-fail-but-then-suddenly-succeed antics of the show: a point. ... Some shows work perfectly fine just spending time with their characters or resolving a case of the week, and that's great. But "Agents of SHIELD" has the promise and potential to be so much more than just another procedural, albeit a comic book-inspired one. While we've been enjoying "SHIELD" just fine as it is, it's hard to not be frustrated with the show not living up to what it's capable of.

most recent comments after episode 7:

Maybe it's because the show is starting to pull out all the stops for November sweeps or maybe it's just hitting its stride, but the Marvel series has finally managed to get its characters to the place they need to be.

What do you think?

Are you enjoying Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? If not, how would you change the show? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (9)

  • timjordan  

    What if you had a indiana jones movie that chronicled the adventures of his university writing assistant with only a cameo of Indiana Jones from time to time. Well the answer is pretty easy to understand why this series is loosing its fan base. They are in a universe filled with incredibly interesting super heroes. Spiderman, Thor, the vision, DR.strange, the list is almost endless. Instead they roll out the same old plots about spys, etc with no sight of any of the heroes that populate their universe. Just another spy show. Who cares. The writing is poor sometimes, the plots are boring and formulaic and the one thing it brings to the table that separates the viewer from the other shows (the super heroes) it leaves out. The super heroes have a built in fan base and they sort of remind us of our child hood. Even in the comics nick fury and his crew were just scenery for the super heroes in most of the comics. Now they are front and center, the stars of the show and nick fury is never there except for a cameo. Its just another spy show. Boring, NEXT!

  • filmfan1990  

    This show is a waste of time and money. The "Thor crossover" was nothing more than a cheap, misleading marketing ploy, and this latest episode was the most laughably bad hour of scripted drama I've seen... since Episode 4 of Agents of SHIELD.

    And Clark Gregg is a subpar actor.

  • Glen  

    Okay, so the show could increase its viewership by strengthening its dramatic plot threads and deepening its characters. I think I get it. But, and take this question rhetorically: Does anyone remember the type of TV series where each episode was self-contained? What's wrong with that? I like those types of series and I get more than enough of the "novella" type of series where you can't watch a single episode out of context and get what's going on. Never saw "Lost" for that reason. Haven't tuned into "Once upon a whatever..." for that reason as well.

    And there were a ton of successful series whose episodes were self-contained but sustained interest due to running character-conflicts and themes. "Law and Order Criminal Intent"... "Star Trek, Next Generation"...

    Yes, this show could do better. But don't pooh pooh the merits of self-contained episodes.

  • BBviewer  

    SHIELD is increasingly achieving what it is intended to do for its fan base.

    It is delivering on both the graphic novel/comic book and long-arc plot genres. It has action, tech, emotions and romantic overtures that other programs can only hope for. It can appeal to a range of demographics. From a arc perspective, each week pulls back the curtain on tech gee wiz (the plane hover!), character back-story and undercurrents (internal SHIELD intrigue and villains).

    Balance is difficult. Unfolding too fast and superficial would disappoint core fans hungering for depth. Too slow will make it more difficult to engage new-comers. Some criticize for insufficient tie from episode to episode. Yet, how many times have series failed by being so serialized, new-comers can't easily join in?

    Stress is on the strengths. As the storyline unfolds it's generally getting better and planting seeds for a rich list of future episodes. While I have my favorite episodes (6 & 7 were especially strong in many ways compared to the pilot), mostly would be delighted to be a fly on the wall in the writing room to see the chemistry that produces the scripts and inspired the casting. Recall, it was the writing team and Clark Gregg that breathed life into Phil Coulson a character not in the the Marvel canon. That's a fan accomplishment.

    Consider the business model. ABC's, really Disney's, commitment to the franchise and excellent track record in managing such franchises, gives SHIELD runway to unfold in this balanced way that could weave together the movies and games for years to come. Too many reviewers emphasize the number drop without realizing numbers are still respectable and the integrated business model might be quite respectable including the Verizon tag-on. SHIELD's demographics also are pleasing buyers for key advertisers.

  • TheQuietGamer  

    I really enjoy the show. There might not be an overall plot thread, but I'm still loving it.

  • jack2059  

    Almost zero story. I cant see it ever really getting success because of the universe its based on. They cant add Marvel characters because they would have to deal with superpowers, and the affect on the avengers universe/future. Its the reason Arrow has been so so good, that has its own world and its own rules.

    Without actual Marvel content, this show is just Hawaii Five 0 with future tech.

  • mrmonster  

    Shield was good, but it's slowly been getting more boring, harder to follow, and has no characters. The only reason it's so successful is because of The Avengers movie.

  • djbluntmagic  

    Glad you brought these articles back

  • MarcDoyle  

    I'm enjoying the show, but I wish there were more of a thread, a mythology tying the episodes together. The Blacklist, to name one from this year, is doing that well. And what was with Saffron Burrows' American accent in this "Hub" episode? Otherwise, it was a fun outing.

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