Marvel's Agents of SHIELD Needs to Fix These 3 Big Mistakes

Back in September, I discussed Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, an ambitious attempt by Disney to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- dominated by Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America -- onto the small screen.

It was the first time that a movie franchise and a television one co-existed in the same universe, and I initially believed that it would eventually tap into the creative richness of the Marvel comic universe on which it was based.


Unfortunately, I've been dead wrong so far. After watching nine episodes of this show, I'm disappointed that Joss Whedon -- the writer and director of The Avengers -- still hasn't breathed any of his trademark magic into this once promising new franchise.

The good news is that the show hasn't completely tanked -- its ratings recently climbed 4% week-over-week to a Nielsen rating of 2.5 -- a steep drop from the rating of 4.7 for its premiere, but a major improvement from the low of 2.2 it hit earlier this month.

However, fans might not be as forgiving if the show doesn't make some big changes soon. Let's take a look at three of Agents of SHIELD's biggest mistakes, and how Joss Whedon's team can rectify them before this show suffers the same fate as Whedon's Firefly, which was cancelled in 2002 by Fox before the first season even completed.

Mistake #1: Built on faulty 1990s logic

Whedon is one of those directors who has done well on the big screen (The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods) but has produced mixed results on television.

Agents of SHIELD suffers from dated storytelling techniques that Whedon carries over from his previous shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the successful 1997 reboot of a mediocre 1992 film, and Dollhouse, the 2009 series that featured people turned into programmable "dolls" to assume any identity.

Dollhouse. Source:

Agents of SHIELD uses the same "monster of the week" formula as Buffy, the fights are choreographed in a similar manner, and special effects -- such as lasers, flames, and superpowers -- aren't terribly convincing. Like Dollhouse, Agents of SHIELD is scripted with plenty of unconvincing pseudo "geek speak" -- Skye, Agents Fitz, and Agent Simmons constantly prattle on about "TCP/IP" and "firmware and hardware" -- terms that were apparently copied off the settings of a Wi-Fi router.

Due to these influences, Agents of SHIELD feels like a show trapped in the 1990s -- an age when shows like Buffy, Angel, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Hercules were passable forms of entertainment.

Back then, photogenic two-dimensional characters were acceptable -- but today, in the age of Lost, 24, Breaking Bad, and The Dark Knight, audiences expect deeper, more flawed characters being driven by more than an innate desire to save the world.

Mistake #2: Not "Marvelous" enough

That leads into Agents of SHIELD's second major flaw -- it is losing its connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show occasionally uses plot devices from the films, such as the Extremis virus from Iron Man 3 and the Tesseract from Thor, to remind viewers that they are still in the Marvel Universe.

However, if the names of these devices were changed, the SHIELD team would simply be just another team of scientist-slash-government agents investigating supernatural events -- a tired concept that we have already seen done better in The X-Files and Fringe.

Fringe. Source:

Audiences, seeing the Marvel page flip logo at the beginning of every episode, have come to expect bigger, flashier things from the Marvel Universe -- things that Whedon's team simply can't deliver on a smaller budget. There's no moment in Agents of SHIELD that matches the impact of Iron Man's suit catching up to him, Thor smashing his hammer, or Hulk smashing Loki into the ground at the climax of The Avengers.

Early on, Agents of SHIELD featured some cameos of other characters, such as Agent Maria Hill (editor's note: not Smith, sorry, played by Cobie Smulders) and a Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Since then, however, no other characters from the films have appeared. Even a widely hyped crossover with Thor: The Dark World in episode 8 featured nothing more than the SHIELD team on cleanup duty after the battle in Greenwich.

Therefore, as Agents of SHIELD drifts farther away from the Marvel Universe, its initial charm will wear off, and eventually more unfavorable comparisons to The X-Files and Fringe will emerge.

Mistake #3: Lack of compelling story arcs or backstories

Last but not least, we need to discuss the show's timing. Agents of SHIELD is sticking with its "monster of the week" formula in a time when most TV shows favor serialized story arcs.

The show's only major story arc is the mystery of Agent Coulson's miraculous resurrection after being impaled by Loki in The Avengers. Every few episodes there's a little hint dropped that "Tahiti," where Coulson claims he went after he died, isn't what it seems.

The writers are obviously counting on that mystery to keep viewers coming back, but in the meantime, we get hit-and-miss stories of a deranged scientist transformed into the Marvel villain Graviton, a cheesy pyrokinetic guy named "Scorch," and an invisible stalker.

"Scorch" brings new meaning to burnt cheese. Source:

It's a lot like what Whedon did with Dollhouse -- the series started off far too slowly with weekly episodes in which the main character, Echo (Eliza Dushku), was sent on bland missions programmed as various people and "rebooted" after each mission. The story didn't start picking up until the second season, when it was revealed that Echo could actually inherit all of her previously programmed personalities, but by then ratings had tanked and the show was cancelled.

Agents of SHIELD might eventually introduce an interesting, compelling story arc to keep us tuned in every week, but for now, it's getting off to a very sluggish start. In an age when people use DVRs and streaming to watch TV shows, there's no reason not to use serialized story arcs to keep viewers coming back for more.

A final thought

Despite these problems, I believe that Agents of SHIELD can still be salvaged, with a clearer direction, better written characters, and more compelling story arcs.

However, I think that upcoming efforts from Time Warner's DC to hit the small screen -- such as Gotham, Constantine, and The Flash -- could run into similar problems. Gotham, which imagines Gotham City before Batman, will be a particularly problematic one.

By centering on Commissioner Gordon's early career in the Gotham police force, it removes the most appealing part of the franchise -- Batman -- from the equation, just as Agents of SHIELD removed the four main Avengers from the story.

Therefore, dear readers, that leads to an interesting final question -- will Agents of SHIELD succeed in its efforts to ride the coattails of The Avengers' success, or will these mistakes eventually sink this ambitious attempt to marry Marvel movies and television?

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The article Marvel's Agents of SHIELD Needs to Fix These 3 Big Mistakes originally appeared on

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Sedric McFlint

No need to drag xena through the mud.

January 17 2014 at 4:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

stopped reading the minute u dissed buffy- easily one the best shows in the HISTORY OF TELEVISION- look up the lists if u don't believe me. clearly u don't know **** so shut the **** up.

December 07 2013 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Albert Cornett

Buffy, Angel, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Hercules...your first mistake....all you had to do is google the top 50 shows of all time to see Buffy listed.....lumping BTVS with Xena and Hercules shows you have no credibility when it comes to being a TV critic.

December 03 2013 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elizabeth Hornsby

But Buffy wasn't monster of the week. It had a seasonal big bad who helped form the narrative arc and theme. There was monster of the week episodes sometimes but these were usually big on character development, laughs or metaphor...something Shield has not been close to achieving. I would suggest that if Shield wants to improve then it should try to be MORE like some of Whedon's other shows, Buffy inparticular.

December 03 2013 at 1:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Elizabeth Hornsby's comment
Albert Cornett

Exactly right ....Leo sun is wrong on his first point....if SHEILD was more like BTVS, Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly it would be a much better show. He also said that Joss characters in his old shows were "one dimensional" ...makes it seem like he never saw any of his other shows.....the characters changed and grew especially on Buffy. If you asked me who the show runner was on SHIELD ...I would never guess it was Joss.

December 03 2013 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Young

I do agree the show could use a little more Marvel flash. Having one of the supporting Asgardians (one of the Companions Three or Sif) show up at the end of "The Well" to take back the berserker staff artifact would have really pumped up the fans and shouldn't have broken the bank for a 60 second walk on.

December 03 2013 at 12:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Buffy... and Angel passable entertainment? Whoever this person--can't call him a critic or even a writer--is, he has no business doing whatever it is he is attempting here.

The bigger problem...someone here hired him to do it.

December 02 2013 at 11:05 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Yeah... I have no faith in the opinion of anyone who calls Buffy "passable entertainment" and refers to the characters as "two dimensional". Buffy is arguably one of the best series ever to grace the small screen. You obviously didn't watch it, because you have no idea what you're talking about. And if you had ANY familiarization with Whedon's work, you would know that his characters always start out ridiculously stereotypical, but as the series progresses, you see them grow and you learn that what you see is purely on the surface.

December 02 2013 at 4:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jazzeintek's comment

Couldn't agree with you more, well said.

December 02 2013 at 5:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Fergus WB

"Due to these influences, Agents of SHIELD feels like a show trapped in the 1990s -- an age when shows like Buffy, Angel, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Hercules were passable forms of entertainment."

Well **** you too then.

December 02 2013 at 4:13 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I hope you weren't implying that Buffy's characters were two dimensional, because, uh, no. I agree that SHIELD needs some work though.

December 02 2013 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Marc Barrett

"[The Show] was the first time that a movie franchise and a television one co-existed in the same universe."

This is wrong. This honer belongs to Star Trek. Now, before you say that the shows and movies were in the same "universe" but not at the same time, I'd like to point out a scene in First Contact in which Worf boards the Enterprise from the Defiant; this scene originally showed the Defiant being destroyed, but had to be re-shot because the Defiant was an important part of the show 'Deep Space Nine' at the very same time. The S.H.I.E.L.D. show isn't even the second one; there was an X-Files movie that took place between the next-to-last and last seasons of that show.

November 30 2013 at 7:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply