Confession time: I could not, with all my efforts, appreciate Gotham.
I just couldn't get into a show whose characters were written without any attempt at subtlety. And though I wanted to review it as part of my blog, I failed to even get ten episodes in, because all the episodes could be summed up as follows:
Villains: "Mwahaha. We are so evil. Let us announce in clear, unambiguous terms to the audience that we exploit widows, orphans, and the elderly for money and power because that is all we care about and we are terrible human beings. Mwahaha."
The Police: "Mwahaha. We are so corrupt. We publicly declare that the ideals of law and due process do not work in real life and make no effort to conceal that we are in bed with gangsters and corrupt politicians while we announce to all who can hear the fact that we regularly jail and abuse innocent people for no reason that could possibly benefit us. Mwahaha."
Jim Gordon: "Mwahaha. I am so straitlaced and uncorruptible that I will never deviate from principle even when confronted with overwhelming odds and I always catch the real criminal even when the hyper-corrupt Gotham police have already apprehended the wrong person because doing what's right is all I care about. Mwahaha."
It's all just so...two dimensional. It's honestly more hammy and moralizing than the old Adam West Batman TV show.
HOW IN ODIN'S BEARD DO YOU MAKE YOURSELF MORE HAMMY AND MORALIZING THAN ADAM WEST'S BATMAN?!?!
IT SHOULDN'T BE POSSIBLE. HOW ARE YOU DOING IT?!?!
Another confession: I could not bring myself to like The Flash.
The writing was a trillion times better than what Gotham had, but it still came off as contrived, and the characters were all kind of milquetoast cutouts that didn't leave an impression.
I walked away from the show with the taste of "Meh" on my lips.
Where Can I Turn?
Comic books have turned out to be such a rich vein for mining stories. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is proof enough of that. And the Netflix-exclusive Marvel shows have proven that quality adaptations can be delivered on the small screen.
Is there no show out, adapted from a comic property, that delivers anything better than B-material? Must I wait until the next season of Daredevil to get quality entertainment?
Thankfully no. Because there is one other show that I put off watching, and when I ran out of other options, I discovered that it had quite a lot to offer.
This is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 1.
It Takes a Whedon to Raise a Hit Show
It is well documented that Joss Whedon was called in as a story advisor for the first season of this show. It has even been suggested that he saved the show's writers from struggling with intractable story issues.
But I'm not sure he had much of an impact on the direction of the series. After all, it has no resemblance to anything else he's written.
It's about a rag-tag group of heroes, each with unique talents, who operate out of a flying headquarters.
Led by an intrepid captain with a troubled past.
And features a jittery doctor who, though intelligent, is unprepared for a lot of violent action.
As well as a tough guy whose loyalties may not be clear cut.
And a mysterious young woman who may have supernatural powers.
Oh...now I see it.
Okay, so Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may just be the continuation of Firefly that we never got. But then, Firefly was a pretty good show, so I'm not complaining.
In any case, it has Joss Whedon's fingerprints all over it. They say he just worked as an advisor on the show, but it wouldn't surprise me if he wrote the whole thing by himself.
A Story We All Know Well
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And of all the Marvel TV shows, it is the one with the most concrete connection to the movies, with actors and characters from the films even making occasional appearances. And it is the only one of the Marvel shows to really do this.
(To all the fans of the Netflix-exclusive shows, I give my condolences and would like to say I'm sorry...that you ever believed they would cross over with the movies. Although I still hope Vicent D'Onofrio's Kingpin shows up in a future Spider-man movie.)
Season 1 begins in the aftermath of the Chitauri invasion of Earth, which was successfully thwarted by the Avengers.
Agent Phil Coulson, who died at the end of that movie's second act, is now alive again, for reasons that will only become clear as the season progresses.
And because of his bravery and sacrifice during the Battle of New York, he is rewarded with his own team, to take on expeditions of high adventure as he seeks out strange happening all over the world.
But sinister forces are at work in the world, as a strange enemy known only as "the Clairvoyant" seeks to undermine Coulson at every turn and discover the means by which he was brought back to life. The organization he leads is looking to create a new breed of super soldiers as part of the "Centipede Project", and it seems like every evildoer is flocking to his cause.
Will Coulson and his band of misfits succeed in bringing down the Clairvoyant's evil plot. Find out in the next episode, same bat time, same bat channel.
The Fun Factor
This show does not have the gravitas of any of Marvel's Netflix-exclusive lineup, yet I enjoyed it more than any of those other shows.
It often makes the mistake of forgetting just how epic its universe is supposed to be, but I honestly didn't care. This show was fun, with a few good mysteries to keep me guessing. It didn't quite justify its own story, as the experimental super soldiers Coulson fights could have easily been obliterated by Thor, the Hulk, or the Vision. Yet the show successfully emits an atmosphere of danger. It tricks you into feeling that these characters are doing important things in the Marvel universe because, well...they're great characters.
Each one of them is well developed, and you genuinely don't want them to get hurt, which is why it's so interesting when they do get hurt. It goes to show that the audience can forgive a lot of errors if a show is genuinely fun to watch, which Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely is.
I am sorry I put off watching this for so long.
It's a fun series. And while it doesn't have nearly the same production value as the Marvel movies, it delivers enough charm to make me look forward to watching the next episode. And at the end of the day that's the only real measure of success for a TV show.
And, apparently, the show is still being made. Four seasons are now on Netflix (and I plan on watching all the remaining episodes), though it is uncertain that any new seasons will be added to the platform. It's been a while since we heard any news, but it seems like the Disney-Netflix split is still happening.
All the more reason to catch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix now, while you still can.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: