S.H.I.E.L.D, Underperforming on the Biggest Stage Possible

If Sleepy Hollow is the kid in the 2013 Freshman Class you thought would drop out of college on Day 3 but has cleared that bar and then some, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is its exact inverse: the kid who by all accounts should be rocking this, what with that phenomenal movie pedigree and that name in the showrunner seat (Whedon, even if it’s not THAT Whedon, it’s his brother); but who, in spite of all that, is struggling immensely out of the gate.

Every professor’s coming up to you and telling you this kid is doing… okay, but it’s clear some coasting is going on. There is concern is what I’m saying. “It’s okay,” you say sheepishly in reply, “it’s early, and it can take a while to adjust with these things,” but you worry that, while Daddy (Disney) will keep the kid here and trying and chugging along as long as possible, it’s going to be more of a struggle than anyone expected.

The struggle: S.H.I.E.L.D is remarkably inconsistent considering all that ABC has riding on its success. If this show fails, the unstoppable force that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe can brush the misstep off like a flake of dead skin, but ABC the flailing television network wants desperately to make procedural shows set in all those shiny new Disney assets (especially the Star Wars universe) “a thing.” And right now, S.H.I.E.L.D, against every prediction I might have laid down a month ago, is most decidedly not “a thing.”

It is highly rated. It is competent. But for something set in the infinitely interesting world of Marvel superheroes, it is decidedly pedestrian, showing glimmers of extraordinary progress (especially in fourth installment “Eye Spy”) amidst an ocean of sub-NCIS spycraft and case-solving peppered with clichéd banter and dull, underserved characters.

To be clear, this can be fixed. A Whedon show can take a while to get off the ground if it is given the opportunity (Firefly, why?!?), and boy howdy will ABC give this show that opportunity. But after a paternalistic, hacker-bashing, superhero-naming dud like this past week’s outing, my optimism that this show will take advantage of that opportunity is waning. I like Skye’s style and think Fitz and Simmons are adorbs, but I have yet to think all but one of these episode’s is even half as inspired as episode’s written for brilliant Marvel animated series like Spectacular Spiderman, Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, or X-Men: Evolution. Considering the budgetary discrepancies (I’m certain the budget for one episode of S.H.I.E.L.D could have funded entire seasons of the brilliant shows I just mentioned), that should not be a promising sign for Disney. At this point, if you’re not already on board with this show due to a preexisting obsession with the Cult of Coulson, I’d recommend waiting this one out until it gets better, as one can only hope it will, or sit it out as it lets out a low, mournful seven-season death rattle of mediocrity.

Next Page: Dissing S.H.I.E.L.D bums me out, so let’s talk comedies