How The Good Doctor responds to and moves on from House

the good doctor house md david shore shaun murphy greg house hugh laurie freddie highmore

It’s not difficult to read The Good Doctor as something of a spiritual sequel to House; indeed, the programme almost asks you to. Certainly, the two dramas share particular thematic concerns. Both are about brilliant doctors positioned as liminal figures, using medical drama as a lens to advance a character study. Their eponymous stars are, if not isolated, placed at the periphery of society: in House, because of House’s misanthropy, borne of his chronic pain and depression; in The Good Doctor, it’s because Shaun Murphy is neuro-divergent.

Where House had a vein of nihilism running through it, however, The Good Doctor is a fundamentally more hopeful programme. This is inarguably the biggest difference between the two shows, each with almost diametrically opposed central perspectives forming. As stated, House always had a vein of nihilism running through it – a product of the eponymous character’s misanthropy, and his distrust and often disdain of those around him. There’s a certain cynicism to House, a programme generally disposed to reach for the dour note and underscore a sense of world-weary scepticism. The Good Doctor, meanwhile, is decidedly more sentimental in approach, more inclined to find and dwell on a positive note – a programme that finds value in life and in people, rather than just pain.

It took me a little while to get into The Good Doctor, admittedly; at first, it felt more than a little… well, rubbish.

Quickly, though, I began to appreciate it more – not just because it improved (it did) but because I realised just how it was being positioned as a spiritual sequel to one of my favourite programmes, House. This is a series in constant conversation with its predecessor – in terms of characters, themes and plotlines – and The Good Doctor ultimately makes a much more hopeful and inclusive statement than House did.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with how the article turned out – it was something that had been gestating for a while before I eventually came to write it, so it was good to get it down onto the page. (I’d meant to edit together a nice image of House and Shaun together, but I couldn’t get it to look nice, which is a shame.) I suspect I’ll end up returning to the ideas I sketched out above at some point; like I said, I really do love House, and I think one day I might quite like to do a podcast or blog series about the show – and, on the basis of that first season, any critical analysis of House that didn’t go on to mention The Good Doctor would be incomplete.

(I do feel, though, that I should also link to the following accounts of The Good Doctor by some writers with autism, simply because that’s a perspective I lack and it’s one that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of the show.)

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Designated Survivor has been left behind by reality, and doesn’t know what it wants to be anymore

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Of course, not long after Designated Survivor’s premiere, there was a huge political upheaval in the real world too – the election of Donald Trump as President. While both events left a relatively inexperienced political outsider in the highest political office in America, the similarities largely end there; nonetheless, though, the ABC show has scrambled to engage with the real world, often with difficulty.

The most recent episode is particularly interesting in this regard; Outbreak deals with attempts by a civil rights group to have a Confederate statue removed, a story directly ripped from the headlines. Designated Survivor walks a delicate tightrope, an attempt to find the middle ground without committing to any one side in particular – in the end, the solution is to move the statue out of sight, rather than take it down.

It’s an interesting stance to take, and one that’s perhaps revelatory about just what the show is trying to be now – safe. 

An article about Designated Survivor. I really enjoyed the show when it first began; the premise was quite compelling, it had a couple of actors I liked (Kal Penn!) and it was something I watched with my friends each week and we all discussed it together, which was nice to have. Sadly, though I’ve been considerably less enamoured with it since the beginning of season 2 – admittedly the cracks had been starting to show since much earlier, but it really felt like stopped working entirely with the second season.

I ended up giving up on the show – so did my friends, actually, with the exception of Mevrick – and eventually Designated Survivor was cancelled at the end of season 2. Didn’t come as a surprise especially; really, the most shocking thing was the reminder that Designated Survivor was an ABC drama, not a CW show. (That’s unfair on the CW, but still.) For my part, admittedly, I suspect part of the reason I grew less enamoured with the show was that I watched The West Wing across the summer; when Designated Survivor returned in the autumn and tried to posit itself as more of a West Wing equivalent, it was kinda obvious the emperor had no clothes.

More to the point, though, I think the difficulty with Designated Survivor – other than the very high turnover of behind the scenes creative talent it had – was that it never quite worked out how to use its premise. Rebuilding America after an attack of that scale, with all the domestic and international implications that would have, while the office of the President is held by a nobody and his staff are made up of the B team? That’s potentially quite brilliant. To just sort of do a normal politics show in the wake of that, with episodes about statues and presidential pets? It’s a waste. Perhaps, admittedly, something that was prompted by the high turnover of showrunners. Equally, perhaps, I imagine Trump taking office did do a lot to take the wind out of Designated Survivor’s sails – if nothing else, I imagine it prompted a lot of the empty centrism that I complained about above, but I suspect it also contributed to a general lethargy to shows like this from audiences.

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the Darker Side of the MCU

marvel agents of shield phil coulson clark gregg dark side series 3 grant war

Over the past couple of years, Marvel has been exploring it’s darker side, and to quite a lot of success; their Netflix shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, have been wildly popular, and dealt with far more serious themes than the average MCU movie.

But they’re not the only TV show which has been delving into the darkness – of late, Agents of SHIELD has also been flirting with darker storylines, and debating just what the place of these sorts of concepts is within Marvel.

Of course, there’s a difference between what the Netflix shows have been depicting – serious and more mature, “adult” themes – and what SHIELD has recently invoked.

What SHIELD has been delving into recently is what’s typically referred to as “grimdark” – an almost gratuitously grim tone, with a retreat into darkness simply for the sake of darkness. It’s the sort of thing I would usually dismiss as an attempt to be edgy, but it’s enjoyed a bit of a resurgence lately in the superhero genre. Batman vs Superman is a fairly good example of this really; like Man of Steel before it, the world being depicted is one that’s a lot more “serious” and violent than the way it is usually depicted.

Certainly, you can consider Batman vs Superman to be a response to Marvel; in an attempt to differentiate their cinematic universe from the popular MCU, Warner Bros have really leaned into a tradition which can only be described as grimdark. In turn, then, I would consider the recent plotline on Agents of SHIELD to have been a response to this, and a consideration of the place of the grimdark within Marvel.

marvel agents of shield rosalind price constance zimmer dead fridging phil coulson clark gregg hydra grant ward

Take, for instance, the fridging of Rosalind. In case you don’t know the term, “fridging” is when a female character is killed off, and their death is used to further the angst of the nearby male characters. It’s typically emblematic of pretty lazy writing – casting aside one character, reducing them only to their death, and then not letting this moment mean something for that character, but rather turning it into fuel for the same, tired angsty tropes being applied to another male character. (The death of Sara Lance in Arrow Seaon 3 is an example of something like this.)

Over the course of the first 9 episodes of the season, we’d seen Coulson and Rosalind grow closer to one another; Rosalind was on her way to become a nuanced character, and their relationship was demonstrating new depths to Coulson’s character – an impressive achievement, given that he’s been part of the MCU for almost ten years now.

This is cut short, though, by one of the most brutal moments we’ve seen on Agents of SHIELD; certainly, as you can see from the above picture, it’s the one of the bloodiest. Rosalind is shot, in the neck, with nary a final word to see her off, and Coulson is left to cradle her body while the blood seeps out of her – the whole thing then devolves into a revenge story between Coulson and Ward.

It’s an interesting position for this story to take, I think. When you consider how Coulson began – a mild mannered government agent – to take him to this point, where he’s a revenge seeking action man, is very much the antithesis of how he began. This is the grimdark reinvention of Agent Coulson, Captain American fanboy, who instructed his team that “killing is not an option” back in the very first episode of Agents of SHIELD.

marvel agents of shield phil coulson grant ward death killed blue planet

It escalates further, of course, with Coulson killing Ward. And not just killing him – crushing him, squeezing in his chest cavity until it snaps. It’s another brutal death in a series of casualties.

Following this, Coulson still isn’t satisfied; he then attempts to find Gideon Malick, the man who was working with Ward, and current Head of Hydra. To do so, Coulson uses a special machine to root through the memories of the near-dead Werner von Strucker; it’s a machine that was once used on Coulson himself, and he vowed never to put anyone else through.

And yet here he does. Von Strucker’s experience with the machine is written to deliberately parallel Coulson’s – he lies there, catatonic, begging to be killed, just as Coulson once did. It’s a deeply disconcerting and uncomfortable scene; the supporting cast all clearly want to disconnect von Strucker from the machine, and yet Coulson waits until he gets the information he wants to further his quest for vengeance. The scene is, essentially, torture, and our hero sanctions it.

The current storyline on Agents of SHIELD is still dealing with the fallout of these actions; I am, I suppose, jumping the gun a little bit by writing this article so soon. We’re yet to see a definitive answer to the question posited by this storyline, but were I to guess, we’ll likely see it rejected – we’ve got a rather nice villain in Hive, who represents an eldritch evil, and is presumably symbolic of this darkness. The manner in which the show deals with Hive will, in turn, tell us about how it is treating the grimdark themes that are so prevalent in superhero media at present.

I suppose it is quite likely that many of the people reading this will have dismissed what I’ve said, thinking that I’m reaching too far, and reading too far into things – and, to be fair, I could well be. Nonetheless, though, I think it’s fascinating that this interpretation is there, and that Agents of SHIELD is reaching higher, and trying to ask these questions.

And I can’t wait to find out what the answer is.

See the first post, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the Problem of Priorities”, here.

Related:

Agent Carter Season One Retrospective

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the problem of Hydra

marvel agents of shield hydra background coulson may fitzsimmons abc

So, in yesterday’s post, I outlined what I thought was, for a long time, one of the most significant problems with Agents of SHIELD – a lack of balance, and lost focus, in terms of its approach to its key strength, the characters. Ultimately, of course, the issue was resolved; across the course of the most recent season; I’ve been really impressed with SHIELD as of late.

Now, in today’s post, I want to discuss something which has been a long-standing bother of mine. As you can no doubt tell from the title, that’s Hydra; another interesting facet of SHIELD’s development, given the manner in which it helped reinvent the show, before eventually becoming stale and needing a reinvention of its own.

Let’s take a moment to look back on the early days of Agents of SHIELD, back before Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released. The show was, essentially, competent and entertaining but also largely underwhelming – high expectations had been placed upon it, leading to a pretty unforgiving audience. I know that I myself was pretty unfair on the show; I almost gave up on it a few times, but having rewatched the episodes since, there wasn’t exactly much wrong with it.

Generally accepted consensus, though, is that SHIELD picked up massively after the episode Turn, Turn, Turn; the episode that tied directly into The Winter Soldier, typically considered to be amongst the best of the Marvel films. It was a fraught, tense ending to the series, with a run of six episodes which are still amongst the best set of consecutive episodes that the show has ever produced.

The second season, however, did little to follow up on the promise of Hydra as it was previously established. Part of what was so compelling about Hydra was that it was SHIELD – this insidious infiltration had run so deep, ever since the beginning, that the two agencies where one and the same. Hydra were no longer the pulp fiction Nazis that they had been in The First Avenger, but something rather more interesting – they were us. Hydra represented every questionable decision ever made by an authority “for the greater good”. The Winter Soldier built in deliberate parallels between the Operation Insight surveillance plot and various real world events – and that was what made the Hydra we saw in The Winter Soldier such interesting and compelling adversaries.

Following that, though, we never really saw this again. In season two, we’d returned to the pulp-y Nazism stories – quite literally, with a long lived contemporary of Red Skull being the initial villain – and things took on a far more James Bond veneer. Hydra became a very generic organisation of evil spies, showing almost Austin Powers levels of incompetency, albeit very good branding skills. (One does question why, exactly, a clandestine organisation openly uses the name Hydra and places their big Octopus Skull logo on the walls, but hey, that’s probably what evil spies do, right?)

I’m being a little overly critical, of course; Hydra was reasonably entertaining, the majority of the time, but it was a real shame to see the potential for a more nuanced adversary be quashed, leaving us with rather one dimensional villains, almost as though out of a cartoon.  SHIELD fought Hydra, simply because they were super spies and super spies need to have an equal and opposite number – like GI Joe and the Cobras, I suppose.

marvel agents of shield grant ward brett dalton hydra abc

You can see it most clearly epitomised in the character of Grant Ward, though, and the changing approach to his character that we’ve seen across the show. Ward was revealed to be Hydra at the end of Turn, Turn, Turn; it was a twist that, admittedly, felt a little “well, he’s the only one who’s spare”, but I’m just being cynical. It was an interesting addition to a character who, up to that point, had been defined primarily by his apparent status as a model agent. There was something interesting about that, really; the one character who could be described as the perfect SHIELD agent was, of course, aligned to Hydra all along.

Initially, he was shown to be quite conflicted over his actions – despite a greater loyalty to Garrett, his mentor within Hydra, Ward demonstrably still considered the other characters to be his friends. There was clear anguish as he sent FitzSimmons to their potential death, and the narrative used flashbacks to deliberately imply that he was trying to leave them with the potential to survive.

Further, he described Hydra as “a means to an ends”, and always viewed himself as “a spy, just doing his job”, rather than a Nazi, as he was accused of being. Realistically speaking, in season one there’s little that Ward does differently as a Hydra agent that as a SHIELD agent – it’d be naïve to think he had never killed before when working as a SHIELD agent, and the same is true of both Coulson and May. The source of the tension was merely that Coulson and the others couldn’t get past what they saw as Ward’s betrayal, never acknowledging the ways in which he was similar to them; something which could have been interesting to examine with the “real SHIELD” arc that came into play during the latter half of season two.

Of course, that’s not the Ward we see now. Despite toying with an abuse backstory for a while, Ward eventually devolved into a more or less straight psychopathic character; torturing people and revelling in it, we’ve come a long way since the last time Ward was depicted as sympathetic.

In fact, we’ve now actually reached the point where Ward is the zombie host body of an alien eldritch abomination – which rather neatly brings me back around to the most recent reinvention of Hydra. Across the first nine episodes of Agents of SHIELD season 3, it was slowly revealed that Hydra, rather than being an offshoot of the Nazis, were in fact the modern day remnants of an ancient cult who worshipped a powerful, evil alien. Which is… certainly quite the twist, obviously.

It was a necessary reinvention, I think, and a good way to ensure that Hydra remained relevant to their current ongoing storylines. Certainly, it’s more interesting than the Nazis of season two – though I still wish that we’d stuck with the nuanced adversaries of The Winter Soldier.

Alongside the introduction of this ancient evil, however, we’ve also seen the very narrative of Agents of SHIELD invoking such themes, and examining what the place of that sort of content is in the MCU…

 …which is where we’ll pick up tomorrow!

Check back tomorrow for the concluding part of this triptych of Agents of SHIELD posts, entitled “Agents of SHIELD and the Darker Side of Marvel”.

Related: 

Agent Carter Season One Retrospective

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the Problem of Priorities

Marvel Agents of SHIELD coulson grant ward skye daisy season 3 may review problem

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, henceforth to be referred to as SHIELD because it’s an overly long title, has always occupied something of a strange place in the cinematic universe that spawned it; never quite able to influence things on a wider scale, beholden to an overarching direction imposed upon it, yet due to its very nature it was one of the most permanent and frequent fixtures of the MCU.

On top of that, because of a weak start (albeit, realistically speaking, no weaker than other similar shows in their first season, like Arrow or Gotham; the case here was one of the weight of expectations) SHIELD has garnered something of a poor reputation that it’s never really seemed able to shake off, even despite improvements in recent years. That’s been exacerbated, of course, with the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones; it’s left SHIELD in a weird place, almost as the runt of the litter.

You’d think, I suppose, with this title and particularly this preamble, that I don’t like Agents of SHIELD. You’d be mistaken, actually; I quite enjoy the show. It’s consistently entertaining – albeit also consistently frustrating, by virtue of the titular problem.

The problem with SHIELD is that it simply doesn’t know what it’s good at, or where its strengths lie. This could, I suppose, be partially as a result of the weird place it occupies; SHIELD has found itself being forced to be something that it isn’t.

Allow me to explain. Over the past few years, SHIELD has managed to develop an interesting and compelling cast of characters. True, not all of them are on the same level, in terms of their development – I remain disappointed with the trajectory taken by Ward – but I do think that it’s fair to say that the strongest aspect of SHIELD is the characters. It seems, though, that they’re not really cognisant of this fact whilst making this show; it often feels like the focus is too diluted, without the right emphasis in place.

The program has always worked best when it’s been anchored in terms of its characters; that’s where it’s really been able to sing. Over the past few years, we’ve seen Fitz overcoming brain trauma, Skye (or Daisy, as we now know her) learning to use her new powers and meeting her family for the first time, Bobbi dealing with loss of confidence over her ability to work in the field, and Mack struggling to keep SHIELD honest. Certainly it’s fair to say that one of the strongest aspects of the first season was the exploration of Coulson’s resurrection and the TAHITI project.

In turn, then, the weakest elements of the show are when it loses focus on these characters; “freak of the week” episodes with no lasting consequences, or combating Hydra simply because fighting a vague and ill defined evil group is simply what spies do.

Over the course of the second series, you could see that the writing team had begun to realise where their strengths lay, as they made greater efforts to include more of these character scenes – but they continued to struggle to get the balance right. Which is fair enough, to be honest – it’s a difficult thing to do, particularly when you’ve got so many different characters and plotlines requiring the space to breathe. I think they did an impressive job nonetheless, in any case.

Since then, though, I think the writers have really managed to refine the formula. striking more or less the perfect balance between scenes to develop the characters, as well as the overarcing plot – quieter character moments are intertwined with broader scenes of compelling exposition, with the Inhumans, Lash, ATCU and Hydra all linking into one another quite nicely.

So that’s something that Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has pretty conclusively outgrown, then – it’s put them as amongst the best of all current superhero programs on television, a far cry from its days at the bottom of the heap.

One problem remains, though – that of Hydra…

Check back tomorrow for the second part of this triptych of articles – Agents of SHIELD and the Problem of Hydra.

Related:

Agent Carter Season One Retrospective

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

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Agent Carter Season 1 Review

marvel agent carter peggy carter hayley atwell tv review abc mcu jarvis howard stark ssr

Two days ago was the UK premiere of the second season of Marvel’s acclaimed Agent Carter TV series, following Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter from the first Captain America movie. In preparation, then, I’ve collected all the ‘mini-reviews’ that I wrote each week over on my facebook page, which you can find here.

Now is Not the End (1×01)

So, I watched the first episode of Agent Carter today, because it’s finally getting a UK release. I quite enjoyed it, actually; Hayley Atwell is brilliant (although the “Crikey O’Reilly” line is awful, she delivers everything else more or less perfectly) and some fairly interesting plot lines have been set up. I’m not exactly sold on the Leviathan idea, because vagueness doesn’t really translate to an interesting mystery, but we’ll see where that goes.

I was surprised at how violent it was, actually. It was great seeing Peggy fighting and winning quite so often, but it was certainly a level up from Agents of SHIELD – the stapler and the cooking hob both stood out. As did the rather brutal death of Peggy’s friend, come to that.

Still, I quite enjoyed it, and I’m going to keep watching it. Obviously.

Bridge and Tunnel (1×02)

Another week, another episode of Agent Carter. ‘Twas another interesting one; Hayley Atwell is, of course, still brilliant. What I do find interesting is that they’re giving her what is typically a male narrative – that of the loner who cuts themselves off from others, blaming themselves when harm comes to those closest to them, and so on and so forth. They did something similar with Watson in series 3 of Elementary, to largely good effects, so I’m interested to see where this is going.

Also of note is the Betty Carver triage nurse radio show angle. (I think I got her name right) It’s… interesting, in that it provided a nice presentational device, but they never really used it to any great impact to comment on, say, propaganda, or interpretations of heroes, or where ever they might have wanted to go with that. If it does reappear, hopefully, it’ll be in a more interesting capacity

Time and Tide (1×03)

This week’s did well for the various supporting characters, I think. Jarvis, Angie, and Kaminsky. They each felt a little more fleshed out – I knew the backstory about Jarvis’ wife was coming, but it was still a suitably dramatic moment, and James D’Arcy does really well. Particularly liked the “Still is, I’m pleased to say” line, as well as the clear rage replacing his normal calm when his wife is threatened.

I think the death of Kaminsky was quite well handled – even though no one exactly liked him, and he’d been very much the butt of every joke (even in death – “I’ll call his girlfriend”), when he did die, it clearly shook everyone up. It was a clever way to show the impact of what was going on.

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The Blitzkrieg Button (1×04)

It was kinda rubbish, this episode. Bit of a shame, really, that at 4 weeks in they’re already at “comedy filler episode”, especially given that it’s essentially a mini-series; you’d expect the whole show to have a much tighter arc and direction. This was the one where it became obvious that they don’t exactly know what they’re doing – they have a thinly sketched stock mysterious villain, and a weak overall plot, which can’t exactly drive the series. “Clear Howard Stark’s name”. Well, okay, what does that translate to on a weekly basis? So far it’s matched up alright with the ongoing investigations of the SSR, but this week, things just felt lacking.

There were good bits – some of the jokes were funny, and some of the more serious lines did fairly well – but ultimately this episode was just a sloppy, directionless mess. I’d say it’s probably worse than even the lower tier Agents of SHIELD episodes (a show I’ve not always been kind to, but am more or less now quite pleased with.)

The Iron Ceiling (1×05)

This was the one with the Howling Commandos in it. That’s probably the only notable thing about it, isn’t it? Actually, that’s unfair. Fleshed out the character of Thompson a bit, which was nice; tragic backstory, and possible PTSD, were an interesting inclusion if nothing else. Peggy’s story in this episode worked well too, I think, as the SSR characters began to give her a little more respect.

It still feels like, with three episodes left, that there’s a fair amount of ground left to cover on the big important arc plot – which, admittedly, is not feeling all that interesting yet.

(Also – this wasn’t in the original facebook comments, but something I wanted to comment on now: Isn’t The Iron Ceiling such a clever title?)

A Sin to Err (1×06)

In this particular episode,  Peggy’s SSR buddies find out about her illicit escapades, and also the good Russian man is secretly evil.

We’ll start with the Russian man. It was actually an interesting twist, the way that they revealed he was evil – Dottie was signalling to him with her gun, rather than getting ready to shoot him. It’d be a lot more interesting if it wasn’t so contrived, mind you – shouldn’t she have had, like, a telescope or something? Also, thinking about it, why did she kill the dentist? I actually liked that earlier, because she killed him because he was being a lecherous creep… but isn’t the whole point of the Black Widow program that they can manipulate people with their sexuality? That’s why she has that anesthetic lipstick to use later on, after all. Hmm.

As for the SSR reveal, I think it worked, more or less. The fact that she gained the respect of the others last episode gave this a bit more weight, but it’d probably have worked better if we’d seen her with their respect for another episode. Also! Putting her confrontation with Thompson and her confrontation with Sousa one after the other lessened the impact of them, given that they ended up being functionally very similar, even though they shouldn’t have been – Peggy’s relationship with both of them is different, and that should have been considered.

Still! At least this episode gave me a lot to say. It was a definite improvement over the previous two weeks.

agent carter edwin jarvis hayley atwell james d'arcy season 1 review abc marvel shield

Snafu (1×07)

I can pretty confidently say that this episode was, in fact, the best of the series. In part, I think, that’s because a lot of the different plot threads that they’d been dangling over the past eight weeks were now beginning to reach their close – as well as that, though, there’s more depth to the characters by this stage, so it was all a little more impactful generally.

The interrogation montage at the beginning of the episode was quite neat; it does a genuinely impressive job of juxtaposing the different reaction Peggy’s colleagues had to her betrayal alongside one another. One of the flaws I picked out in the previous episode was that they didn’t do enough to emphasise the differences in Peggy’s relationship with Sousa and with Thompson – a far better job of that was done here.

Similarly, the death of Chief Dooley was actually rather poignant; on its own, the invocation of his family might have seemed a little cliche, but I think in allowing us to actually see his family through the hallucinations the show was able to out something of a more interesting spin on events. It helped to give the episode a greater emotional weight, and really did up the tension, heightening the stakes for the finale.

Valediction (1×08)

The eighth and final episode managed to further improve on the standard set by its predecessor; it does a decent job of resolving the different plot threads we’ve running throughout. The reintroduction of Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark was an excellent move, because he imbues his performance with a real charm and charisma that elevates every scene he’s in. There was some real pathos, in fact, in framing Howard’s narrative so explicitly in terms of Steve Rogers; much like with Peggy, the love of Captain America and his absence haunted the character.

We did see a rather neat resolution to that, though, and it’s one of my favourite moments in the entire show; Peggy was able to talk down Howard, preventing him from bombing the city, in a scene that explicitly mirrored and parallels Steve’s own “death” in Captain America. In many ways, this can be regarded as something of a second chance for Peggy, and the start of a second life – as evidenced by the closing scene, wherein she reaffirms her own value, and slowly pours away Steve’s blood.

Overall

I mean, it’s very much a case of strengths and weaknesses. They did a decent job with the characters, I think it’s fair to say, although it did take a while to get going in that regard. Some things felt a little sloppy; the overarching Leviathan plot was not really as tightly planned as I would have liked, particularly considering this was a miniseries. Certainly, there’s no way the story could have sustained a standard 24 episode season, and it’s perhaps difficult to argue that they managed to properly sustain it across these 8.

I do think that it is genuinely good thing for the MCU that this program exists. I do think that it’s managed to introduce some excellent characters. I also think there is a genuine and inherent value in introducing a female lead television program of this nature.

But across the second season, the writing will need to pick up; it has to be more in the vein of the later episodes than the earlier episodes, if not even better still.

Let’s hope the show can come to know its own value, and realise its untapped potential.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Here’s everything I’ve written about Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

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TV Review: The Muppets (Episodes 1 – 6)

the muppets abc mockumentary bob kushell logo review

I’m watching this, obviously, because why wouldn’t I? It’s The Muppets. Duh.

Pig Girls Don’t Cry (1×01)

An entertaining enough pilot, but not quite as funny as I’d have hoped. Or expected really; the sizzle reel promo that was released a few months earlier (and has been removed from the internet, as far as I can see) told a lot of these jokes in a much funnier way. Perhaps, though, it was simply because I was familiar with most of it anyway, and the jokes just didn’t work as well the second time around? It’s a possibility. Honestly, the funniest thing was the fact that Fozzie’s girlfriend was Riki Lindhome, from Garfunkel and Oates fame. (I didn’t realise she was into bears, mind you.) Still, I’m going to keep watching. It is The Muppets, after all.

Hostile Makeover (1×02)

Yeah, this one was much better. Very, very funny; you can see that it might well end up becoming a competitor to other joke machine sitcoms of a similar ilk. They manage to play into the almost perverse humour of the Muppets doing human things, with the dating elements, but there’s plenty of other stand out moments unrelated to that. Good job on this one.

Bear Left Then Bear Write (1×03)

Similarly entertaining, as with the last episode. The celebrity cameos have been fun; it was nice to see Nick Offerman in this. Also, it makes me laugh to hear about the rats’ personal lives; very funny indeed. Nice character stuff too, with Fozzie and Kermit, and the plotline of Gonzo catfishing someone was extremely well done. (But, on the topic of relationships, when will Riki Lindhome be in it again?)

Also! Interestingly, after this episode aired, it’s been announced that one of the co creators and executive producers has quit after working on only 6 episodes. Wonder how that’ll shape the rest of the series.

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Pig Out (1×04)

Entertaining once again. It’s in a bit of a difficult place; they have to balance a lot of different characters, a huge weight of expectations, and the need to actually be funny. This is being compared to things like The Office (which was the set up for a fantastic joke about Ed Helms this episode) and Parks and Recreation, and I think people are expecting it to be just as funny, without really considering the position the Muppets is in. (And the fact that the first season of Parks and Rec was awful, and The Muppets is doing a lot better already.)

Still! I would like to see some more character work being done, where possible. That’d be nice, I think.

Walk the Swine (1×05)

Riki Lindhome was in it again! Good. She’s very funny. Though I am starting to wonder how it is that people see the actual Muppets in that world – they’re just, like, actual animals/people/dragons, right? I guess it’s just one of those things you’re not meant to think about so much. Odd, though.

Miss Piggy, I realise, irritates me. I wonder if they are perhaps exaggerating certain features of hers for comedic value, just ineffectively; I don’t remember her ever having been this high maintenance before, in previous films and whatnot, and she isn’t quite as funny as she was either. Hmm.

The Ex-Factor (1×06)

There’s some very strange – and it is deliberately strange, to be fair – about seeing anthropomorphised animal puppets talking about their dating lives. It’s still kept relatively PG (thankfully!) but there remains a weird disconnect to the whole proceedings. A lot of humour comes from it, admittedly, so it all works out rather well.

It’s nice too to see more of the ‘background characters’, as it were: Pepe and Rizzo sat around making jokes is always entertaining, and the focus on the Electric Mayhem this episode worked well. Lots of good jokes from that set up; particularly liked the “you get paid?” line, which I thought worked quite well.

So, six episodes in, and The Muppets has been quite enjoyable! Sure, it’s not necessarily the funniest sitcom I’ve ever seen (Parks and Rec), nor is it the one with the best characters (Community), but it is a pretty entertaining way to spend half an hour, so I’d be willing to call that a success.

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On Agents of SHIELD, Coulson’s Big Reveal, and Story Arcs

agents of shield agent coulson marvel clark gregg inhumans kree story arcs review analysis rewrite

So, Agents of SHIELD. 

I watched the show each week, more or less. It was… variable for the first few months, but after a while it did pick up in quality. Certainly, by the end, it had gotten quite good. Not perfect, admittedly, but quite good.

But! I think that it could have been better. Obviously. I am arrogant like this, and believe everything could be done better if it was done my way. (It could be)

Here, specifically, I’m thinking about something which occurred in the closing scenes of the finale episode, so… spoilers, I suppose, possibly. I left this a while to make sure that wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s always possible.

Right then, final scenes. They tried to set up some twists and turns for the next series, with little cliffhanger moments. It got a little bit too convoluted for my liking, to be honest – I think they would have been better off ending on the ‘hero shot’ of the team together in the plane, but whatever, suspense is fine.

One of the scenes stood out a little bit, and it got me thinking. Essentially, it implies that Coulson has gone crazy, and it’s meant to be a big moment. I have a screenshot, look.

agents of shield season 1 beginning of the end cliffhanger alien writing kree inhumans agent phil coulson clark gregg

Basically, these patterns that he’s drawing indicates he’s not of sound mind. We know this because earlier in the episode someone else was drawing them, and they were very clearly not of sound mind.

But what I’m wondering is if there was a better way to present this and to seed it into the series.

You know how some people doodle idly? Just scribbling, that sort of thing? Well, I’m thinking maybe Coulson could have been doing that throughout the series.

In a scene where he’s in a meeting maybe, he’s just drawing those patterns. Just talking to people, doodling, scribbling. It’d be presented as a sort of character tic, and it wouldn’t even look very weird; the other characters wouldn’t think a great deal of it, and nor would the audience. It wouldn’t even have to have that much attention drawn to it; he wouldn’t have to do it every episode, maybe just every so often.

That would probably give this reveal a bigger impact then, because it’s got more significance. It has the weight of Coulson’s actions over the series carried upon it.

(Although having said that I’d have changed the actual reveal. Rather than showing Coulson drawing on the wall, I’d have May or Fitzsimmons doing inventory, looking at the identical drawings that Garrett did, and then putting two and two together – realising Coulson had been crazy since the start. Your cliffhanger would then be their realisation. The fact the audience would share this realisation would serve to strengthen it, methinks)

What this then lead me to thinking about was story arcs as a whole though, and particularly in this show.

Story arcs can be quite difficult to pull off properly, I think. The sort of ‘build up to a reveal’ kind anyway, with foreshadowing and linking to things. You can kinda see that here, in SHIELD. It doesn’t always work; they head in certain directions, and twist in ways that don’t always seem thought out. Little details get left behind along the way, and things aren’t always clear what the idea was.

Still they made a pretty good stab at it. It’s hard to tell exactly how planned out it was, because it did stumble a bit. Planning definitely helps with these things, especially in a show where there’s lots of different writers. You can sort of see in Doctor Who, where they only planned out the ‘architecture’ of the arc, where it kinda falls down a bit in places. (A shame really, because if the arc of Matt Smith’s last few years had been tightened up a bit, it’d probably be remembered as one of the best parts of 50 years of television)

It’s probably safer to lean more towards the subtle mentions kind of thing, like Bad Wolf in Doctor Who’s first year. That paid off, and it worked, and it was never at the expense of anything else.

I think if (when!) I work in television, on a long-running TV show, I’d want to at least try the more complex plotted arc, where everything is intricate and well thought out. It’d take a lot of planning though. And I wonder if, depending on how it’s presented, it would actually work for an audience. Maybe you’d lose interest. Or, hopefully, you’d better sustain interest over a long time.

This got a bit rambly, didn’t it? Whatever.

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Hail who?

agents of shield hydra season 1 beginning of the end grant ward coulson marvel cinematic universe abcagents of shield hydra season 1 beginning of the end grant ward coulson marvel cinematic universe abc

So, Agents of SHIELD. I’ve been watching it since the start, and… well it took quite a while to get going, and I almost gave up a few times, but over the past few weeks it’s really, really gotten rather good.

However, I do have something of a complaint. Or an improvement, perhaps. Be wary, spoilers, for the past… month’s episodes or so. Since Turn, Turn, Turn.

Anyways, a few episodes ago, they had an episode which was running concurrently with the events of The Winter Soldier (which was an excellent film that I’d really recommend) where SHIELD is more or less destroyed from the inside by Hydra. One of the revelations during this episode was that Grant Ward, who was one of the main characters, was in fact working with Hydra.

Okay, fine, sure. Wasn’t entirely convinced, but it seemed going to be going in an interesting direction, so I went with it.

But the problem I have is that he – and the other Hydra characters – seem to be being portrayed as standard miscellaneous bad guys. The plot from The Winter Soldier doesn’t really have any effect on things, and I’m not wholly sure what the aim of Garrett and Ward really is.

What I’d prefer is if they were made not to be bad guys per se, but rather simply antagonists. It was kinda summed up in this weeks episode, where Skye calls Ward a Nazi, because of course that’s who Hydra originally were, and he responds incredulously “What? No, of course not, things have changed since then. I’m just a spy, doing my job”. Or words to that effect anyway.

The “I’m just a spy, doing my job” bit was particularly interesting to me, because I’m not actually convinced that Ward is acting any different now that we know he’s Hydra than he was before. He’s certainly killed people before as part of his job, when he appeared to be working for SHIELD, and no one really cared. The only difference really is who he’s killing. And there seemed to be a few scenes after the reveal where we’re meant to believe he does still care about his old team mates.

So… I guess what I’d like is more of a legitimate ideology for Hydra, and more of a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, how some Agents became to be part of Hydra. Ideally, if there’s a way for them to convince some of the audience to be more sympathetic to Hydra than SHIELD, that could actually be quite interesting. (And you’ve got one of those social media tie-ins everyone loves these days. #HydravsShield maybe?)

SHIELD as an agency was always depicted in shades of grey… and they’re similar shades to Hydra, I think. I can actually think of a couple of interesting parallels between Pierce in The Winter Soldier and Fury in The Avengers, so… why not explore them?

It’d be far, far more interesting than the generic bad guys with no motivation that we ended up with.

Note in 2018: I suspect this would have aged poorly anyway, but obviously four years on the question of Nazis in fiction is a very different one. Aspects of the above I would probably still stand by, or at least think it’s a defensible position in 2014. But, still, it is a bit hmm, isn’t it?

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