On Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, for those of you who don’t know, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a nerd. As a nerd, I consider myself a generalist in all things nerdy. But I do geek out in certain areas. One of them is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. I just loved the idea of so many storylines tying together across several movies. I got totally into it. And then, after The Avengers, one of my favorite movies because it’s just so much fun, came the ABC TV series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the purposes of this blog, I’m just going to call it SHIELD. It’s on a brief winter hiatus right now, but I saw a sneak peek of the next episode and I’m so excited, I just keep thinking about it. So here’s a blog post about it.

I’ve watched this show since the first episode, and haven’t missed one. I’ve even watched all the Marvel movies that have come out since this show debuted, in order to make sure I don’t accidentally miss something important. I know some people were disappointed that the show has its own plot and doesn’t really tie in to the movies very tightly. As one of my friends put it, “I kind of lost interest when I realized that it’s not really about the Avengers, just some people who sort of know them.” But as the Marvel folks like to say, it’s all connected. I think it’s totally fun to set this show in a world where the Avengers really do exist and the events that happen in major cinematic productions also affect the lives of the “ordinary” people who make up Coulson’s team of agents. And yes, the show does focus on Phil Coulson, Nick Fury’s right-hand-man, who died so dramatically in the Avengers. And yes, he did die. And yes, he’s alive now. It’s a long story, and one that weaves through the plot of most of the first season. The series premiere poses the question, “What really happened to Coulson?” that gets slowly but surely explored through the course of the season. Along the way, we are introduced to a fun, engaging cast of characters. From the feisty and mysterious Skye, to the nerdy scientist duo, FitzSimmons, to hardened agents Melina May and Grant Ward, Coulson’s crew proves over and over that a good team is greater than the sum of its parts. And that learning to work together often serves to bring out the best – and the worst – in people.

I think this show has great writing, decent acting, and a lot of really fun action and explosions and special effects and stuff. In fact, to skip ahead for a second, the winter finale of this season included some of the best special effects I’ve seen in a TV series. Admittedly, I don’t watch a lot of TV. But still, it was awesome. But the real strength of the show is the characters and their chemistry. During the first season, I loved watching the bond that developed between Skye and Coulson, the fun interaction between Fitz and Simmons, and the questionable relationships between May and Ward and the other characters. It took a few episodes for all that chemistry to really start to come together, but once it did and I really started to care about the people in the show, I was totally hooked. It’s also fun to see occasional Asgardians and cameos from characters in the Marvel movies, and I hope to see more of those in the future.

I think most people would agree that the real shining moments for this show happened after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Suddenly the plot that had been developing all season had a real focus, and specific enemies, including a brilliant betrayal. The season finale of the show was packed with angst, awesomeness, and fantastic one-liners delivered with the crackling wit I’ve come to expect from Marvel writers and actors. It was like a Marvel movie condensed into an hour and delivered on the small screen. I loved it, and I loved how it set up the second season, which has been excellent. Although Coulson is still the focus, Skye is also coming into her own, and the show has now shifted somewhat in tone. Instead of just reacting to the Marvel movies, it seems fairly obvious that the show is now building to at least one of them (Inhumans) and possibly more (Captain America: Civil War…?) It’s a bold move by the studio but I think it’s super fun. I’m eagerly anticipating the show’s return on March 3, and trying to keep up with Agent Carter (which is also a fun show) in the meantime.

I’m slightly obsessed with SHIELD. My obsession has inspired internet research, long conversations peppered with exclamation points, and even a mild temptation to actually read comic books – okay, I’ve resisted that so far. But if you like Marvel movies, or TV shows with action and really good character development, I think you’ll like this show. I don’t have Netflix or Hulu but I think season one is on Netflix and season two is on Hulu Plus, so you should have time to binge-watch and catch up before new shows start up in March. Do it. Thank me later. And talk to me later, because I do not get tired of talking about this show.

On How I Met Your Mother (no spoilers)

So I guess How I Met Your Mother ended last night. I didn’t see it. I haven’t watched the show in at least a year and a half, and I stopped caring about it long before that. But there was a time when I wholeheartedly endorsed it as probably the best show on television. So what happened?

How I Met Your Mother was a well-written show with a cast of well-developed cast of characters, unfortunately based on a ridiculous premise that was doomed to failure. Some of the episodes were so funny I thought I’d die laughing, and some of the moments were so poignant and real that I’m not sure they belonged in a comedy at all.  For the first five or six seasons, it was fun to watch the relationships develop between the characters, see them grow and change as people, and get fun glimpses at their lives before (and sometimes after) the years chronicled by the show. There were running gags and “inside” jokes that made the characters feel like real people who I really knew, and that was the brilliance of the show. Unfortunately, it was not set up to be successful for more than five or six seasons because at that point, no one really cared about who these kids’ mother was and the jokes started getting overdone and stale. But that’s not exactly why stopped caring about it.

Like I said, I felt like these were real people who I was getting to know better as the show went on. Eventually, I began to realize how little I had in common with any of them. And then, as they got older and more crass and obnoxious, I stopped liking them at all. So I really didn’t care who married who or how they met or if they all were still friends years later because I didn’t care about them as people. This is truth in real life and in TV shows: there is only so long you can live a life completely focused on self, pleasure, and fun, before it starts to wear thin and get really old, really sad, and really ugly. That is what happened with How I Met Your Mother. At some point I realized I was no longer entertained by the ridiculously self-focused lives of the characters. And that’s when I was done with the show.

I’ve seen some of the reactions to the finale. I actually don’t know what happened, but I’m not worried about spoilers because I’m not even remotely curious about it, and I don’t care. I used to be a fan of How I Met Your Mother, and now I’m just glad that I never have to hear about it again. And you know, maybe that says more about me than it says about the show. I guess I’m okay with that.

The Opening Ceremonies

Just ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you that the Olympics are definitely one of my favorite things. I have been particularly obsessed with the Summer Olympics since 1996. Generally, when they come around, I plan to shut down my life and become a couch potato for approximately two weeks. That’s not exactly an option these days, but I still try to watch as much of them as I can.

So last night, we enjoyed the celebration of sport and British culture that was the Opening Ceremonies. Say what you will about the pacing, the announcers, the bored-looking Queen (come on, people, she’s like 100 years old), the theme interpretation, or whatever. I thought it was really cool. So here, bullet-style, are some of my favorite moments:

  • Kenneth Branagh quoting Shakespeare. Now that’s a stage voice!
  • James Bond “escorting” the Queen into the stadium. The best of British security!
  • Huge creepy puppets depicting major villains in British children’s literature. A 100-foot Voldemort!
  • Mary Poppins saves the day!
  • The music. Awesome. Chariots of Fire? Featuring Mr. Bean? Oh yes! And a tottering old Paul McCartney (or was that Angela Lansbury?) rocking out to Hey Jude? Does it get any better?
  • A record-speed Parade of Nations that culminated in all the flags flying on “Glastonbury Tor”

I will probably post several entries in this blog in the coming days. I am looking forward to so many things about these Olympics. As Greg says, “There’s nothing like sitting on your butt for two weeks, watching other people exercise.” Oh, it is so true. Bring it on.

Goodbye, Chuck

Tonight one of my favorite shows on TV ended. It was a quirky, nerdy, sappy, and often cheesy little show called Chuck. Yes, I’ve been obsessing over it for the last few days. And yes, I cried (a lot!) when it was over. So why is it that TV shows, of all things, can do that to me when normal life stuff usually doesn’t? I believe it is the power of a story. So let me tell you one.

About two years ago, thanks to the good folks at Netflix, Greg and I discovered Chuck. I’d heard about it and wanted to watch it but we don’t watch much TV and I think it was on at a bad time for us. Anyway, for a month or two we actually got our money’s worth of our Netflix membership. I wasn’t sure what to think about the pilot, but after Chuck vs. the Helicopter, I was hooked. We would watch the four shows on the disc in two or three days, return it, and repeat the process a day or two later when we got the next disc. That’s how we caught up on those two great first seasons. We’d laugh, I’d yell at the TV (it’s what I do), and then we’d look at each other and say, “One more?” It was fun.

What’s the appeal of a show like Chuck? Well, it’s nerdy. And goofy. And kind of sweet, sometimes sexy, occasionally serious, but mostly silly. It’s a show about a (seemingly) regular guy, a little down on his luck, who one day gets an email from his former college roommate and friend who turned on him, got him kicked out of Stanford, and stole his girl. When Chuck opens the email, he downloads the Intersect, a supercomputer full of government secrets encoded in subliminal messaging, into his brain. Just one of those things that could happen to anybody, right? Over the next five seasons, Chuck meets spies, saves the world in pretty much every episode, and tries to keep his “spy life” from endangering his “real life,” all while chasing after superspy Sarah Walker, the girl of his dreams. There’s spy spoofs, romantic angst, cool spy gadgets, and stupid nerd humor. And I loved it. Over five seasons, we saw brilliant writing, terrible writing, good acting, terrible acting, awesome bad guys, so-so bad guys, cool guest stars, and the wacky antics of the employees at the Buy More, Chuck’s “cover job.”

What I loved, and I think most fans of the show loved, was the heart of the show. Chuck is just a downright good guy, who loves his family and his friends and would literally do anything for him. And even though that gets him in trouble sometimes (okay, a lot. Actually, most of the time), it all works out in the end. Most of the time. A lot of crazy, unbelievable, stupid stuff happens in the course of every episode, but good prevails. That is the connection that takes a good show, a good story, and makes it great. We all know that in this world, good doesn’t always win. Bad people do terrible things to good people, for stupid reasons like power, ambition, and greed. Sometimes even good people do dumb stuff that hurts others. But ultimately, we want good to win. We long for it. We need it. Why? Because even though this world is messed up, God is good. He wants us to know that He will ultimately save the day. Good will win the fight against evil. God will win the fight against the enemy. Good stories remind us of that simple truth, and that is why they can touch us in ways that real life sometimes can’t.

If you haven’t seen Chuck, go ahead and give it a try. Maybe you’ll like it, and maybe you won’t, and maybe you’ll cry like I did when it was over. Even the good stories aren’t perfect, but God’s story is. If you haven’t found that one yet, you have no idea what you’re missing.

(One little note regarding content: Chuck is not exactly what I would call a family friendly show. There is often rather brutal hand-to-hand combat and other sorts of violence, as well as some pretty risque scenes and outfits in just about every episode. Standard stuff in TV these days, but I thought I’d offer fair warning.)