As the first in Marvel’s ever-expanding small-screen output, Agents of SHIELD opened after much hype and to sky-high expectations as the cinematic universe’s fervid fanbase were driven into frenzy by the weekly slice of super-hero action on offer.
Yet, while it started out with strong ratings and positive reviews, enthusiasm for the series quickly waned as viewers cottoned-on to the significant dip in quality from the movies. Avengers Assemble this ain’t.
With the first season now over and a second already announced and due to land in the autumn, now seems like the perfect time to look at where MAOS went wrong and how it could improve the second time around.
Here are six things Coulson and co need to deliver in season two, from more menacing villains to expanding its horizons by way of actually kicking some butt.
1) Where’s the drama?
Aside from Avenger’s martyr Agent Coulson, who gets to look all angst-ridden and ponderous due to his mysterious resurrection, the rest of his team have been poorly served by the writers in season one.
Talented performers like Iain De Caestecker and Ming-Na Wen are wasted when they’re given nothing more to play than glorified trouble-shooters with a neat line in comic quips and pop-culture references.
This one-note tone is one of the reasons MAOS quickly became a tiresome watch, with viewers crying out for a change of pace and a down-shift into more dramatic territory.
It something the writers appear to be aware of judging by the surprise twist that Agent Ward was secretly working for HYDRA – which instantly turned Brett Dalton’s jockish bore into the shows most complex character – and they should continue to open up their characters’ origins if they want to turn those ratings around.
2) Explore the world outside of SHIELD
One way to give the characters extra depth is by stepping away from the daily grind of SHIELD’s sharp suits and even sharper quips and focus on the wider world.
Ragtag was one of the season’s few highlights because it dared to delve into Ward’s past to explain his relationship with HYDRA. By fleshing-out Ward’s backstory with a satisfying mix of humour, action and pathos the writers immediately made the show more compelling.
Why not give the rest of the cast the same treatment? Surely there are some brilliant stories to be prised from Agent May’s background – you don’t get a nickname like ‘The Cavalry’ for nothing, you know.
3) Keep to the serialised format
For its first batch of ten episodes or so, MAOS structured itself around a villain-of-the-week format, Coulson and the team jetting-off to some exotic corner of the world to investigate the latest supernatural goings-on.
Such a format inevitably resulted in patchy plotting with several promising threads left dangling without resolution, such as Dr Franklin’s (Ian Hart) apparent transformation into Graviton, and at least in part contributed to the under developed characters.
That all changed with the Captain American: The Winter Soldier tie-in episode Turn, Turn, Turn – a title that invariably fills my head with Travis – as SHIELD was destroyed by the insidious power of HYDRA.
This subsequent switch to a serialised format finally gave MAOS a much needed drive and sense of direction – not to mention a formidable foe – and made the show more gripping and potent as a result.
4) Embrace the dark side
On the subject of dangerous villains, one of the biggest complaints levelled against the initial 22 episodes was that, despite featuring a substantial number of bad guys, none of them ever felt like much of a threat.
Bill Paxton was an occasional joy as maverick agent John Garrett but his later reveal as The Clairvoyant, an enemy that was far more fearsome off-screen, saw him quickly turn into a pantomime villain.
And J. August Richards’s gradual transformation into the cold, mechanized killer Deathlok was poorly handled and underwhelming – something not helped by a frankly naff design that made Richards look like a toy soldier that’s felt the wrath of a vengeful child and his magnifying glass.
The villains with the biggest name-recognition may well be earmarked for future cinematic ventures, meaning the writers will have to get inventive with the Marvel canon (The Hood would be my suggestion), but an imposing bad guy is an absolute must for season two.
5) Embrace the TV universe
With ABC recently announcing an Agent Carter miniseries to run in-between season two of MAOS, and Netflix preparing an ambitious Hell’s Kitchen project – four serialized programmes leading to a The Defenders miniseries – Marvel’s small-screen output is now expanding at a rate to rival its movie-making pals.
There’s plenty of scope, therefore, for future cross-over episodes, a tactic that worked well for CW’s Arrow, which used a double episode to introduce The Flash ready for his own spinoff series.
The Hayley Atwell-starring Agent Carter may be tricky due to its 1940s setting, but Netflix’s clutch of series offers a great opportunity to welcome more well-known comic heroes like Daredevil into the mix without inviting the unfavourable comparisons with the movie outings that the likes of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor would undoubtedly bring.
6) Tone down the Sci-fi
MAOS may want to show-off its healthy budget to its pauper small-screen cousins, but needless sci-fi gadgets like The Bus and Coulson’s flying Corvette (“Don’t touch Lola!”) look nothing more than tawdry compared to its expensive movie siblings.
Furthermore, such high-tech frippery fails to play to the show’s strengths. The agents may not have the superpowers of their cinematic heroes, but the fact that they’re ordinary humans should make them more relatable.
By relying on Fitzsimmons’ latest doohickey or a sudden cameo appearance from their super-powered comrades, the writers perpetuate the notion that the team are in way over their heads rather than showing them overcoming insurmountable odds via their own wits and dedicated training.
For season two, lets allow Coulson and co to be the heroes and kick some butt of their own. Besides, there’s nothing more cathartic on a Friday night that seeing some guy get roundhouse-kicked to the face. Just saying.
Click here to watch the trailer for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD