Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Review: Agents of SHIELD vs. Almost Human

Since it just had its "fall finale" (we can thank "Lost" for introducing us to that stupid concept; before then shows didn't feel compelled to tell you they were on a break) it's time to rant about "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD."

My review of the first episode basically boiled down to "Meh.  It could get better."  It really hasn't.  I still watch it either live or On Demand but it doesn't really hold my attention.  Tuesday's episode I was reading Marvel comics while the show was on.

I guess the problem is for me this show is hollow.  The longer it goes on the more I wonder why it exists.  The only answer is that after the success of "The Avengers" Marvel and its Disney masters thought it'd be great to have a show they could use to help advertise the new movies and keep people remembering the older ones.  It seems like the kind of thing where suits in board rooms had some meetings and decided they wanted a TV show and then called Joss Whedon in and told him to make it happen, followed by handing him a big bag of money with a dollar sign on it.

The thought that hit me is essentially what Whedon did was try to take the overall dynamic of "Firefly" and apply it to a bunch of recycled "X-Files" scripts.  I mean if you think about it they fly around from place-to-place, only in a C-17 instead of a space freighter.  If you want you can even compare roles from Firefly to SHIELD like so:

Coulson = Mal, the leader
May = Zoe, the tough chick
Ward = Jayne, the tough guy
Nerdy Scientist (Girl) = Kaylee, the upbeat tech person
Nerdy Scientist (Boy) = Simon, the dorky but brilliant doctor
Hacker chick = River, the wild card no one trusts

(Sadly there is no Wash, Inara, or Shepherd.  Maybe that's what they need!)

The problem is first of all Coulson is no Mal.  In pretty much every way possible.  The second is "Firefly" was a sci-fi Western.  The same dynamic doesn't work in an X-Files/Men in Black setting.  Both the X-Files and Men in Black boiled the cast down to just two people who played off each other, which worked.  With Agents of SHIELD it just feels most of the time like a lot of the characters are extraneous.  Do we need two tough people?  Do we need essentially 3 science geeks who can't do much else?  No.  And Fitz/Simmons are so damned cutesy (even their names) that I want to punch them in the face.  And while I compared the Hacker to River Tam in a way she's more the Wesley Crusher of the show, the civilian who's in way over her head and was probably intended to lend the perspective of an ordinary people.

I guess it all boils down to it's a soulless concoction made of shopworn parts and stitched together into a Frankenstein monster that lumbers around for an hour every Tuesday.

Contrasting this is Fox's "Almost Human" which I've really enjoyed since its premiere.  "Almost Human" isn't really a new idea.  Basically it's the old buddy cop formula applied in a different way.  In this case it's like if John McLane were partnered with Commander Data.  But you know what, it works!

While we often like to complain about formulaic approaches, let's face it, those formulas exist because when they're done right they work.  By not trying to reinvent the formula and only changing the variables, "Almost Human" manages to be fun and endearingly old-fashioned with just enough freshness so you aren't bored.  And sometimes that's all you want out of a show, no puzzles or conspiracies or weighty universal questions of existence that are inadequately solved.  It's just two cops busting some punks, only one of the cops happens to be an android and the punks usually have some neat sci-fi-y gimmicks.

I only have two somewhat sexist complaints about the show.  First they probably could have found a better actress than Minka Kelly, like pretty much anyone.  Second, the captain needs a new hairstyle.  I realized on Monday's episode what she makes me think of:  the pig people from that "Twilight Zone" episode "Eye of the Beholder" where the woman's face is wrapped in bandages so you think she must be hideous but really she's hot and everyone else is a bunch of pig-nosed freaks.  Basically she reminds me of the pig-nosed freaks largely because of her hair.  I know, it's weird, but I'm just saying.

Anyway, the reason why "Almost Human" works and "Agents of SHIELD" doesn't in my mind is "Almost Human" knows what it is and what it's trying to do.  Whereas I don't really know what the hell "Agents of SHIELD" wants to accomplish.  I'm not sure Joss Whedon and company even know what the hell they're trying to do.

Sometimes when I've gotten stuck on a story that's the question I ask myself:  what the hell do you want to do?  What's this story ABOUT?  I don't mean about in terms of a plot description; I mean in terms of message--what are you trying to SAY?  Maybe in its hiatus Whedon and company can figure that out.  If all they want is a 60-minute infomercial for Marvel movies then there are probably better, less expensive ways to do it.

That is all.


  1. Almost Human really bugs me.

    1) They gunned down an unarmed man and gave no indication that what just transpired was morally questionable at all. So basically, cops are allowed to murder everybody.

    2) Almost Human thinks brain surgery is the key to talking to the dead which is just stupid (just for reference recall the witness that believes she talks to ghosts when she touches things-a gift apparently received after an experiment). It's basically a science-fiction show that is crapping on its science.

    3) What's up with the giant action figure leg joints on the droids? Dumb. If they're going to be that fake, why not just build them with actual armor and forego clothes altogether?

    4) The black robot (Dorian) has a big dick. That's a really stupid play on stereotypes. Don't get me wrong because I do enjoy the homoerotic Kennex and Dorian moments. I just wish they were less stupid.

    5) The show fails to develop other characters as a way to not only make those characters interesting to us but to also build the world they live in.

    If anything, Shield is just bland whereas Almost Human is basically intellectually offensive. Shield lacks ambition. There has been nothing new and the show is taking its time in building the team. I remember feeling the same way about the first season of Star Trek: TNG, but I'm willing to give it more time to find its path.

    Honestly, the only reason I continue to watch Almost Human is that I love all things science fiction and it shows on a Monday. I also really like the rapport between Kennix and Dorian.

  2. Agents figured it'd have an audience no matter what. It's learning otherwise. Hopefully it'll adapt accordingly, although Whedon is not known for doing that. Hopefully his Disney overlords know better.

  3. I must be a clone, or a droid I keep watching Agents of SHIELD.
    I did like the change of pace at the end of the bridge even if I saw it coming.

  4. I haven't seen either of them, yet.
    I would point out, though, that Joss isn't actually actively involved in the series past the first episode. He helped create the concept and directed ep 1, but I think that was the end of his involvement other than as "creator" and "producer."

  5. I just realized I haven't watched shield in a few weeks. Huh. That show bores me to tears. I'll still watch it, I guess, but I can't do that forever.

    Never seen Almost Human

  6. This is an interesting comparison Pat. The S.H.I.E.L.D show was greenlit without even a real concept and that explains why it doesn't feel like it's headed in any direction. That'll change next season because Joss always holds his trump cards till the next hand.I love the show, because it's yet another window into the fascinating Marvel world and Coulson can do no wrong.

    Almost Human is the exact opposite. It has so much to prove that the concept had to be iron-clad, yet familiar from day one. A very strong show and it looks like it'll stick around.

  7. Mrs. C. and I were thinking of watching Agents of Shield but I've yet to hear anyone say anything good about it, so we probably won't watch it.



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