Avengers adapted for TV

ABC debuts Whedon and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This week, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired its first episode. This was the first time that Marvel Studios has tried to tie its successful film series to the small screen. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether it needed to exist. Television has changed a lot over the last few years. Shows like Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Breaking Bad have in many ways changed how people view the medium. Companies like AMC, Showtime, HBO, and now Netflix have forged a new image for television—one where it doesn’t play second fiddle to movies. Shows are not only better written and produced than in the past, but they are distributed in different ways. With services like Netflix and HBO GO, people can watch just about all their favourite shows when they want, where they want. As television has taken this leap forward over the last few years, it is the basic cable networks that have fallen behind in many ways. While shows like American Idol, The Voice, and NCIS still retain the highest viewership on television, none of them have the mindshare that shows such as Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad do. Over the last few months, it’s plain to see that more people have been talking about every little twist and turn on the road to the end of Breaking Bad than how American Idol continues to hemorrhage judges. 

So I was a little worried when I heard that Marvel and Joss Whedon, who up until now have been doing a stellar job of adapting the comic book universe to film, announced that they would be creating a television show based on S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel universe’s clandestine government organization tasked with handling superhuman affairs, in partnership with ABC.

Whether or not there is room for this show in the television zeitgeist remains to be seen; it had the largest opening for a television drama in four years, with over 12 million viewers, so its chances are pretty good. The show is good. Like, really good. Clark Gregg is great as Agent Coulson (spoiler for Avengers fans: he’s alive); the supporting cast performs well; and Whedon’s writing is, as usual, quick and smart. The plot picks up after 2012’s The Avengers, with Coulson and a handpicked team of S.H.I.E.L.D. specialists dealing with the fallout after the alien invasion of New York. The cat is out of the bag: the public knows about superheroes like Thor and the Hulk, and it’s up to Coulson’s team to make sure things don’t get worse.

Though the pilot showed enormous potential, there was a definite layer of polish missing that shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards have in spades. The few scenes that used digital visual effects, and there are very few, looked pretty rough, especially in comparison to the material that the show draws from. While I understand that making twelve hours of content at the same quality as The Avengers would make this the most expensive TV show ever, it seemed like something more could have been done to make the few action scenes in the show seem less cheap.

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