I want to like SHIELD, for a number of different reasons. I really do. I think a lot of people want to like it and just… don’t. Or at least not enough.
If you think about it, it should be great. I mean, it’s Joss! Not really but at some level he was in on it. And it’s Marvel – who has great characters and makes great movies. It’s Jed and Maurissa – who wrote some of the best episodes of Dollhouse. How could it go wrong?
Kel and I came across a half way interesting interview with Jeph Loeb last week and started talking about big stories and small stories. Which led to SHIELD which is a fascinating conflict between the two.
SHIELD, as the bridge between the Marvel movies, has been tasked with telling big stories on the small screen.
The problem is, we already have big stories on the big screen with big budgets. SHIELD is working with 8% of the resources of the movies. There’s no way it can compare.
The producers have also expressed that their intent is to tell the stories of “normal” people caught up in this superhero universe. But it really kind of missed that mark too. Colson is an awesome character. Part of his awesomeness is being the straight man in the big universe – the normal guy – the one who stands as a comparison to these extraordinary people. But in SHIELD, they’ve turned him into the super spy that everyone loves and respects, totally badass, more capable than anyone else, top dog. It’s the same character but looking from the bottom up instead of the top down. Totally makes sense. But it doesn’t work.
Because he’s a much less interesting badass than Thor, or Cap or any of the others. He’s most interesting as the normal guy in comparison, not the other way around. And the other normal people he works alongside? They aren’t that interesting either.
Both Ward and May are written as stoic characters even though they’re super awesome spies. Because, not to be snide but, emotionless and personality-less worked so well for characters on Dollhouse. ok, that was a little snide. I’ve also never found Ming-Na interesting in anything – she’s not dynamic or fascinating but she keeps working. And Ward was supposed to be the hot guy on the show but that pretty much didn’t play out. There was one episode where he was scruffy and cocky and for that one moment it worked. I’m everyone’s type. So for s2 they’ve brought in Lance Hunter who is scruffy and cocky and British and therefore is the hot guy on the show.
Skye is miss personality but it’s fairly generic hacker-girl-with-mysterious-past personality. Chloe Bennett isn’t interesting enough to pull it off. And I can’t stand the way everyone just loves her. automatically. for no reason at all. I mean, I understand why. She’s the onscreen version of Maurissa Tancheroen who is friendly and dynamic and fun and very easy to like immediately but for all sorts of great reasons. They always put Maurissa onscreen (consciously or not) because they love her. She’s easy to love. Skye… not so much.
These are all tv actors who are believable but not really interesting at all. A better cast would have served the show better.
The third issue, is really the key, though and it’s the one Jeph Loeb articulated (and Ron Moore has also expressed). TV shows need to be personal stories. The small stories about people’s desires and fears and the things they love. SHIELD is trying to mix the small stories in with the big – Skye’s family and Colson’s torment. But it’s such a small piece in characters we care so little for, they get run over by the big stories that don’t work on the small screen.
Some tv shows can pull off big stories on the small screen. 24 springs to mind. That’s actually the only one I’ve been able to come up with and I’ve been thinking about it for days. Battlestar Galactica. But the thing with both of those shows is that, as much as they were about giant problems, they were also about very personal stories. Jack Bauer’s family is the driving force through so many of the seasons. Battlestar is all about the characters caught in these machinations.
The episodes of SHIELD that I’ve really enjoyed are the ones that really matter to the characters. The Well and Yes Men.
And the characters everyone loves most? Are Fitz and Simmons who are actually unique and fun and well cast. The reason they’re such fun characters? Because they’re the ones the writers identify with most and are easy and fun to write. They need to mix up the writer’s room and bring in some people who can write super spies really well so Ward and May and even Colson can be interesting. And someone with some practical distance who can write Skye as her own character and not an onscreen avatar of Maurissa.
And they need to tell personal stories about these characters – make an entire episode about the things they’re afraid of or want but can’t have or long for but can’t speak or need but deny themselves. The way they hurt each other and the way they hurt themselves and then the way they heal. Then wrap the big story around the small story so HYDRA is only a magnification of the intimate story they’re really telling.
Then it’d be a really interesting show.