5 shows the writers of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ should be watching

marvels-agents-of-shieldMatt Webb Mitovitch in an article for TVLine, recently discussed comparisons between Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the CW’s Arrow, citing that “…one TVLine reader assigned Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to “study every episode” of The CW’s super drama over the winter break “and learn how a great comic book show is done.” The article goes on to recount Arrow show runner, Andrew Kreisberg’s reaction to the comparison and “homework assignment for Marvel, saying:

“We don’t really feel like we’re in competition with anybody else,” Kreisberg responded when I presented him with the aforementioned reader’s “homework” assignment for S.H.I.E.L.D. “We’re only trying to outdo ourselves as we move forward.”

This statement by Kreisberg is thoughtful and gracious, but also intelligent. You see, even though Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are both culled from the “funny books”, they couldn’t be more different. The original Nick Fury comics weren’t a superhero extravaganza, they were spy stories that just happened to take place in the same universe as The Avengers. Arrow works because it has been allowed to build its own universe, drawing on the whole of DC mythology. It doesn’t have a connection to a large movie verse because it doesn’t need one. If Arrow can be lauded for one thing, it’s that it takes a TV-sized universe and makes it feel big. AoS, on the other hand, is forced (with it’s connection to the Marvel films) to make a big universe feel small.

The show can’t do it’s own thing because its sole reason for being created was to keep fans warm until the next Marvel movie came out. Unfortunately AoS serves as a constant reminder that this show will never deliver on the promise of the films. Instead of watching Arrow for inspiration, The show runners of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  should watch the list of five shows below. These shows represent the best of what AoS could be, if it could just leave the Marvel movie baggage behind.



Alias (ABC 2001-2006): 

Sidney Bristow is a grad student by day and a secret agent by night. This sounds like a simple premise, but Alias manages to weave fun, action oriented missions with subplots involving international conspiracies. The classic spy theme of “not knowing who’s side you’re on” is played perfectly in this show, giving the proceedings a dangerous and claustrophobic feel. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should look to Alias and how it used pop culture knowledge of spy cinema to tell espionage stories in new and inventive ways. Roger Moore cameoed in an episode for Pete’s sake! Sidney is a strong and and sensitive lead, surrounded by engaging supporting characters. We get people we care about in between action-packed missions and an arc from season to season that keeps us coming back.


The Prisoner (ITV 1967-1968):

I know this series gets a lot of cult love from the nerd community, to the point of people overselling it, and to be fair this show isn’t for everyone. However, The Prisoner makes my list because it shares DNA with the Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. comics of the 60s. The Prisoner follows an unnamed secret agent, who is renamed No. 6 and forced to spend the remainder of his life on a secret island known as “The Village”. Agent Coulson works for an agency whose sole purpose is clandestine activities, he struggles with the mystery of his death and whether or not he can trust his own organization. Each episode of The Prisoner pondered the nature of imprisonment, freedom and loyalty through the lens of a spy-fi backdrop. The writers of AoS should look at this show specifically for Coulson’s character and how he might feel about the work that S.H.I.E.L.D. does.

Fringe-Joshua Jackson

Fringe (FOX 2008-2013):

Fringe is the best example of the classic Marvel super-science that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be striving for. The show follows FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and her scientist colleagues as they uncover everything from bio-engineered monsters and teleportation to alternate universes and time travel. Every episode is a new and startling case that needs to be investigated by Dunham and her team. Each season has an impeccable arc leading the characters from one mystery and conspiracy to another. This is the kind of mystery storytelling that we expect from genre television these days. Fringe takes a TVbudget and through great writing, performances and well used ideas, makes the show feel big. Fringe should be required viewing for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s writing staff.



Person of Interest (CBS 2011-Present) :

Eccentric billionaire software engineer, Finch, builds a machine that spies on everyone, but can also predict crimes before they happen. Finch recruits a former CIA agent Reese to help him stop violent crimes on the streets of New York City. I’ll grant you, this show sounds like typical CBS crime fare, and it does fit in with that crowd. However, the high-concept of impossible technology and old-fashioned fisticuffs has always been apart of S.H.I.E.L.D. This is an organization of spies and soldiers outfitted with the best tech available. It should also be noted that Marvel has always been a universe that mixes the mundane with science fiction remarkably well. Person of Interest gives us believable characters using extraordinary technology to help people, this is the balance fans want to see from AoS as the show continues.



Orphan Black (BBC 2013- Present):

Sarah Manning assumes the identity of a woman that looks just like her, and eventually comes to realize that this woman was one of several clones. Manning must then make her way through this stranger’s life, while trying to uncover the mystery of the cloning program that has robbed her of her sense of identity. We’ve all been waiting to see what the big mystery behind Coulson’s “death” has been. I don’t know about you, but I was kind of let down by “the big reveal” in Wednesday’s episode. Orphan Black uses issues of past and identity extremely well, and these are clearly themes that Coulson has been struggling with throughout the show. The writers would do well to make Coulson’s past and career more compelling elements that could anchor the show, as the team continues to fight villains of the week.

Another thing to note about this list is that every show deals with interpersonal relationships in interesting ways. We care about the characters in these programs and therefore care about their desires. This lack of focus has been a common complaint regarding AoS since its inception, we care about a few of the characters but overall find ourselves annoyed at their lack of chemistry. If this is a narrative tool, meant to show a rag-tag group of recruits finally come together in the end, it’s being used improperly.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t The Avengers; the show has more in common with James Bond than it does Batman. Unfortunately, for all of the slips into the territory of Spy-Fi, the show seems shackled by its ties to its cinematic universe. I want to see AoS tell its own stories, develop its own characters, and stand on its own two feet. The sooner the staff for AoS trades its tights for a pair of spy goggles, the show will be better off.

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