'Agents of SHIELD' Season 1 DVD Review: A Mediocre Debut Season Doesn't Impress
Admittedly, I gave Agents of SHIELD a chance when it first started airing. The pilot was reasonable enough, even if it bore many of Marvel’s writing flaws — too much humor, not enough tension. The second episode, “0-8-4” was also decent and featured an absolutely worthless cameo by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. This actually sums up much of the series’ problems — good idea, good opportunity, poor execution. I was asked to review the season, so I decided to watch it the whole way through this time. Now that I’ve seen it full, I’d upgrade Agents of SHIELD from awful to meh.
The strange thing is that reviewing this season is really like reviewing two different seasons. One of them is god awful, while the other certainly has potential. If you haven’t seen the season, here’s a suggestion. Watch the pilot. If you like it well enough and want to continue, hop scotch to later on in the season. Did you like Thor: The Dark World? No, you probably didn’t, but in case you did you can check out episode 8, “The Well,” directed by the excellent Jonathan Frakes. The episode concerns the cleanup of England following Thor’s trashing the place. It’s not a particularly good episode. Do you like Lady Sif (or at least the actress Jaimie Alexander)? Then watch episode 15, “Yes Men.” Alexander clearly struggles here because the material given to her isn’t much, but the episode is worth it for some of the developments between Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen). Though, honestly, all the sidetracking aside, if you were to watch the pilot and then skip to episode 17, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” nobody would blame you.
“Turn, Turn, Turn” marks the series’ noted uptick, and it’s no surprise considering it ties largely into Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was one of the few good superhero movies released over the last ten years. The plot is strong from here on out, though some eye-rolling dialogue and developments remain. Ward’s story in particular makes him suddenly very interesting and, by the end of the season, markedly less so because his arc is made very obvious. However, episodes 17 through 23 are still a good amount of fun, and lead us to wonder two things: “Why doesn’t this show just have 13 episodes a season?” and “Why couldn’t the show premiere after the second Cap movie?” God knows, nothing happened between episodes 2-16; you could go from the pilot to “Turn, Turn, Turn” without missing a beat. Some would argue that they were necessary for setting up the characters and the story. Well, the characters are only given minor tics and catch phrases for comedy’s sake and you don’t need 16 episodes to set up what really was essentially a mid-season series reboot.
Take the pilot, use three or four more episodes to actually build characters and carefully set the season’s plot with clever teases, then by episode seven, give us “Turn, Turn, Turn” and see how tight the series actually looks. We’ve long been in an age of television where thirteen episodes a season are more than enough to tell a good, clear, clean, concise story. At this point, 22 or 23 episode seasons are exhausting and fatty and Agents of Shield is the perfect example of it. (So is Parks and Recreation, but that’s another story).
As far as special features are concerned, this is the standard fare. A good amount of deleted scenes, a long blooper video (with footage that wasn’t screened at Comic-Con) some featurettes about the effects and stunt work and general making-of stuff, as well some behind the scenes footage and interviews. Of the 23 episodes, only three have commentary (“F.Z.Z.T.,” “The Magical Place,” and “T.R.A.C.K.S”). This is unfortunate because the commentary is fun but the episodes are boring; it would have been a much better use of time — and more insightful — to see how the cast and crew viewed the season’s watershed episodes.