There was lot of excitement when Marvel announced their plans to branch out into TV. The TV shows would be connected to the movies in one big nerdy tapestry. The flagship show would be ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and it promised to bring the movies and TV shows together. While that excitement was re-energized after Captain America Winter Solider, it has since fizzled. Now following the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron the effect has been downright disappointing. Age of Ultron and the larger Marvel Cinematic universe isn’t helping Agents of SHIELD, it’s hurting it.
There’s an Over Reliance on Movie References
Agents of SHIELD loved to reference the Avengers as much as possible in its earlier episodes. While Agents of SHIELD has cut down on these throwaway references to the big Marvel movies, there is still an underlying problem. Agents of SHIELD feels beholden to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It constantly feels the need to justify its existence by referencing or incorporating elements from the movies. It’s a problem that’s very specific to SHIELD.
ABC’s Agent Carter was more or less a direct sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger but it very much told its own story. Netflix’s Daredevil takes place in New York City where the final battle of The Avengers took place but Matt Murdock is very much on his own mission for justice. There are passing, very natural references to the events from the Marvel Cinematic Universe but there is no interfering effect on Matt, Peggy or their story. Daredevil and Agent Carter flesh out the world Marvel is building by expanding on it. Yet they are free to tell their own stories. SHIELD feels much more hampered in that regard.
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It’s All Essentially Promotion
The connection between Agents Of SHIELD and the MCU isn’t symbiotic. Agents of SHIELD is kind of like the Marvel movies’ slightly abused younger brother. These big events happen in the Marvel movies and they are forced unto SHIELD’s storyline. I won’t argue that the events of The Winter Soldier improved Agents of SHIELD immeasurably. Age of Ultron though has been much less successful.
Before “Dirty Half Dozen” nothing was set up in Agent of SHIELD to suggest Age of Ultron was coming. Yet when the movie was about to premiere Avengers reference are hamfisted into the story to promote it. It’s incredibly jarring. There’s nothing about the conflict between “real” SHIELD and Coulson’s SHIELD or the Inhumans that necessitates references to the Avengers.
It might be a cool thing for fans of both properties to know that these events occurred concurrently but it does a disservice to SHIELD‘s narrative. You can’t fully immerse yourself in the stories of “Scars” or “Dirty Half Dozen” because there are these references to this movie that was just released that you should all totally see. It’s the Marvel equivalent to product placement and it’s vaguely irritating to me.
The Inhumans Argument
Of course Agents of SHIELD has introduced the Inhumans this season. Since Marvel has announced an Inhumans movie will premiere in 2018, this seems like an example of Agents of SHIELD leading not following. Unfortunately that’s not how it has worked out. The Inhumans have just been introduced as a concept on SHIELD. There is no sense that the characters we’ve met like Skye, Jiaying or Lincoln are going to be given starring roles in The Inhumans. At best, it’ll be a cameo. Agents of SHIELD is not a humongous ratings success. When Marvel launches the Inhumans move it will be a largely untested property. The star won’t be a character from a moderately successful but niche TV show.
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The Limitations are the Problems
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy Agents of SHIELD. I have a great deal of fun watching the show and have even grown to care deeply about some of the characters. The problem is that it feels limited in what it can do. Agents of SHIELD paints itself as a show that has wide effect. The characters think what they are doing is important, for not only themselves but the safety of their entire world. Yet we never see their efforts pay off in any other Marvel’s other projects.
If this is being billed as an interconnected universe why do the things that matter on Agents of SHIELD only matter on Agents of SHIELD? It’s not just because SHIELD is a secret organization. I get far more of a sense that the Marvel movies don’t care what the Marvel TV shows are doing. It’s disappointing. The promise of an interconnected TV and movie universe has not been delivered on and I’m afraid it never will at this point.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)