Set within the massively popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, the show premiered September 24, 2013. It was hot on the heels of Marvel’s The Avengers (the highest grossing film of 2012 and third highest grossing film of all-time).
That was enough of a catapult to get this show the fanbase it deserved. However, while the show has gained a cult fan following and generally favorable reviews, actual TV ratings have steadily declined since the series debut. Numbers aside, this show has so much more to offer than the general public realizes.
This is “The Hard Sell,” which is designed to tell you why…
Stumbling out the gate into a full sprint
Although I am a big fan of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., like most TV series, this takes a little while to settle and start “getting good.” The entire series is centered on MCU fan-favorite Agent Phil Coulson, who appeared heavily in Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (e.g., Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Avengers).
We spend the entire first season unraveling his mysterious return as he leads a team of agents in a fight against the evil Hydra, the notorious organization seen in the first two Captain America films.
After the usual show build of getting to know the cast in the first few episodes, things really start to pick up as the first season trucks on. We get our first live-action adaptation of the cyborg Deathlok, a cameo appearance from the Asgardian warrior Lady Sif (i.e., Thor, Thor: The Dark World), an excellent role by the late, great Bill Paxton, and two scene-stealing performances by the man himself, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
After a couple of intense seasons dealing with a combination of riveting intersecting storylines involving superhuman individuals called Inhumans and discovering the very origins of Hydra, we get to what I believe is the best season of the series: Season Four.
The entire season is broken into three “pods,” each with its own unique plot and focus. Of those three pods, my favorite one introduced the first MCU incarnation of Ghost Rider to wide acclaim and was bolstered by a strong performance by Gabriel Luna as Robbie Reyes. Luna’s portrayal was strong enough at one point to inspire its own spin-off show that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition.
Between more guest spots and MCU tie-in appearances, including a particularly well played role by Powers Boothe (RIP) as Gideon Malick (The Avengers), to opening portals to other dimensions and most recently a series of varying intergalactic space missions, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has certainly encompassed a wide range of adventures and journeys.
As fun as all that is, the series certainly wouldn’t be successful at all if not for its strong core cast.
A bonafide b-team
It’s certainly unfair to expect the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team to rival the mighty Avengers, but they are certainly no slouches.
Supporting Agent Coulson is Melinda May, an ace pilot and martial arts expert, whom is brilliantly portrayed by Ming Na-Wen (The Joy Luck Club, Mulan, & The Mandalorian). Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge portray Agent Fitz & Agent Simmons respectively as the team’s brainiac scientist/tech wizards. Amidst their many trials and tribulations, their particular relationship was my favorite one to follow.
While “FitzSimmons” (as fans adoringly call them) were my favorite couple, my absolute favorite character on the TV series was definitely the super-powered hacker Daisy Johnson played by Chloe Bennet.
Marvel fans know her better as “Quake” and her journey from the pilot episode til now has been simultaneously heartbreaking and genuinely exciting to experience.
Minus a few other super-powered heroes and combat agents, this has more or less been the core team throughout the show.
small stakes, big heart
Some Marvel fans have complained that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have enough MCU heroes or big stakes, but anyone who says this is completely missing the point. I absolutely loved the grounded nature of this show. Let The Avengers take care of the more grand problems of the universe and enjoy seeing the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. take care of the smaller ones.
These smaller obstacles also gives us the time needed to invest in the characters of the team. As the series progresses, the inter-relationships between all of the various team members get gradually more complex and intriguing.
Parental dynamics, romantic developments, and devastating tragedies unfold giving each member of the stellar cast their individual moments to shine. From the grounded hand-to-hand combat, epic quin-jet flights, to the wonderful family that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has created it has truly been an impactful series to follow.
Be sure to catch up with all six seasons on Netflix and stay tuned for their upcoming grand finale!