If you've read anything about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. online, you've seen the scathing reviews. There's a growing consensus that the latest entry into the Marvel canon is a waste of time and just plain bad. You'll find comments sections littered with things like, "it's a show for elementary school boys" or "if any reviewer approached this show with anything like enthusiasm, I'd suspect he was being paid off." The tone being set by the conversation online is that it's not even possible to like this show.
Based on all this conversation, it'd be easy to understand how someone like me, someone who finds the show enjoyable, might start to wonder what the heck is wrong with him after reading heaps and heaps of vitrol about the show every week. You'd suspect they might start to question their sense of taste and sanity.
So don't think of this post as an argument for why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a good show, but rather, a journey of trying to figure out why I seem to be the only person that enjoys it.
1. Team Building Dynamics
Let's be clear. This is no Firefly. It's nowhere near the level of other Whedon-esque ensemble shows (so... all of them), but I genuinely enjoy watching this ensemble grow closer together week-to-week and function as a true team. There's moments in this series that really highlight this, like the end of the second episode, "0-8-4", where even though this bonding happens at breakneck speed, everyone on the Bus comes together as a cohesive unit and learns to enjoy the company of one another. And if I have to choose between watching a show about people making dumb decisions in the zombie apocalypse or genuine teamwork, I'm going to choose teamwork.
And it's not like the team building is as broken as everyone says it is. In the most recent episode, "Repairs", Agent May begins to shed her hard exterior shell due to the influence of the other members of her team. This would not have happened if she remained working at headquarters in an office where we met her in the pilot.
Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I like seeing people come together and influence each other for the better.
2. These Characters Are More Interesting Than You Think
One of the most common critiques I've read about the show is that these characters are boring, making it hard to invest into any of their backstories. While the show is slowly trying to figure out where to take these characters, you can tell they are gradually becoming more distinct personalities, due in part to the point above: they're being influenced by each other. It gives me hope where we could be by the end of this season (there's still 13 episodes left after all).
Agent Ward is the best example of this. When we meet Agent Ward in the pilot, he's a rough, no-nonsense guy who has one emotion (angry). But now, we see the show playing into this, having Ward make fun of his own one-dimensional emotional depth, and by doing this, we see a character who may be angry all the time, but is also self-aware that he's angry. He knows his anger hinders him from actually enjoying things. It's something he needs to let go of.
Which brings us back to team dynamics yet again. My hope is that over the course of the remaining 13 episodes, Agent Ward will confront and start to overcome those feelings thanks to the help of his team. It's not the most revolutionary story in the world, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't trying to redefine the genre. That said...
3. It's a Procedural, and that's okay
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a procedural with a Marvel coating. With something as beloved as the Marvel universe, there are exceptions that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be the new Breaking Bad of the TV world – not in tone, but in complexity and critical acclaim. And that's fair given Whedon's pedigree. Despite all those expectations, it's a procedural at heart, telling self-contained stories from week-to-week. But why is that such a bad thing?
One of the easiest accessible comparisons is that of the multi-cam sitcom. Besides The Big Bang Theory, it's hard to find a multi-cam that people would gush over (and even The Big Bang Theory has its fair share of critical detractors – myself included).
But this doesn't make all mutli-cams automatic pieces of shit. If we're going to be honest, I come to multi-cams with that baggage, that assumption. It's hard to get over that initial reaction. When I watch a new multi-cam show, the laugh track grates on me, and it's hard for meet the show on it's own terms. And that's okay, maybe multi-cams aren't meant for me. And maybe Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't for you.
This is where I think the extreme vitriol for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stems from. With the Marvel pedigree, it'd be easy to expect something like The Avengers from week-to-week instead of NCIS: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But if you approach the show as a procedural, I'd argue it's a pretty damn entertaining one. And it's not like each episode is a stand alone boring story.
I thought episode 6, "F.Z.Z.T.", was a pretty decent episode of television front-to-back because it focused on the personal story of Fitz and Simmons, amplified by the fact that Simmons was near death during the episode. We know she's not going to die (though, it is a Joss Whedon show, so...), but there's rich character moments in this episode that help elevate the show above a regular monster-of-the week story. It's about watching these characters grow closer together.
4. The Relationships Get Better Every Week
Every show can't be as lucky as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and have amazing cast chemistry right out of the gate. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ensemble chemistry mirrors the overall team dynamics on the show. As these agents continue to work together, they grow more comfortable around each other, which is also what seems to be happening with the cast as well. There's a growing chemistry that helps give weight to each week's contained stories.
Take the seventh episode of the season, "The Hub." In this episode, Agent Ward and Fitz go on a behind-enemy-lines type mission and towards the end of the mission, when they're in deep shit, they realize they need each other to get out of there alive. A large part of what makes this standard trope of jock/geek bonding work is because of the growing chemistry between the cast. And it can only get better from here.
5. Let's Give it Some Space
I'll grant you that 9 episodes is a decent amount of time, but let's remember that some shows take awhile to find their footing before they reach their full potential. This is very similar to how I felt about another sci-fi show, Fringe.
I gave Fringe a chance when it first came out and about 8 episodes in, I almost dropped it like a rock. I didn't like it because of a lot of the reasons that people cite for not liking Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The characters were dull. There's no cast chemistry. It's just a monster-of-the-week show.
But then Fringe turned into something amazing towards the end of it's first season run. It figured out its voice and leaned into it so hard that it became one of the best sci-fi shows on air during its run. But that was after an entire season that I pretty much despised.
In the best case scenario, there could be a very similar trajectory for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is a show that, once it really figures out its casts strengths and the tone it wants to tells stories in and leans into it, could become one of the better sci-fi/fantasy shows on air right now. The only difference is, I'm actually entertained by what I'm watching right now compared to the first season of Fringe.
It's Not Perfect, But that doesn't mean it's worthless
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has its fair share of problems. I'd have trouble trying to build a coherent case defending the existence of Skye. But it's a show some people still find entertaining (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still pulling in better numbers than a lot of shows this fall). And while it's totally valid and fair to critique a show you think has problems (that's why they're called opinions, man), let's not make people that like this show feel like they're juvenile children with no taste.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I genuinely like this show. You don't have to like it too. But you don't have to be a dick about it either.
Tone Hoeft is the editor-in-chief of Poweranks and the head writer of Hallmark Channel's Hero Dog Awards. He likes television, movies, video games, Minnesota sports teams, and daydreaming about how his life would be a million times better if he owned a dog. Follow him on Twitter!