While You Weren't Watching, 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' Became One Of Network Television's Best Shows

Hello, my name is Jamie and I'm here to convince you to watch Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's not an exaggeration when I say this is the best and most criminally underrated show on network television. My hope is that if you clicked this article, you've never seen the show or gave up on it way too early. My other hope is that I can convince you to give it another shot.

In the Beginning

In 2013, Marvel was five years into the ever-growing success of the MCU. The summer marked the beginning of "Phase Two" with Iron Man 3 and the continued expansion of the universe meant an obvious next step: a television series. This was exciting, because there would finally be room to allow these stories to breath and grow, rather than packing 50 years of a character's history into a two-hour movie.

The decision to focus on S.H.I.E.L.D., the secret intelligence agency that deals with otherworldly and superhuman threats, was the perfect place to start. A large organization would leave room for new characters, movie characters, and classic comic characters to come together without it ever feeling overcrowded or gimmicky. Thanks to fan favorite, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), movie fans already had an idea of what the agency was all about.

The excitement only grew when it was announced that Coulson, who died tragically in 2012's The Avengers, would be the show's lead. Coulson's murder sparked outrage and an entire "Coulson Lives" campaign, which set the internet ablaze. The widespread love for Coulson proved that there was plenty of audience to continue his story, so Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was born.

The Story

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D begins with the creation of Coulson's new team: First, there's Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), a lethal and seemingly stern agent who left the field after a tragic incident.

Next, FitzSimmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), the genius science team who work in perfect simpatico despite their young age and inexperience in the field.

Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), an agent whose unmatched skill is weighed down by his inability to work with others.

Finally, Skye (Chloe Bennet), a hacker from the streets whose mysterious past will intrigue any comic die-hards (hint: her name isn't Skye anymore).

Over the years, the show has added many other characters, including Mack (Henry Simmons), the brawny yet gentle mechanic with a strict moral compass, and Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), an inhuman with a strong will and passionate heart. After five seasons, the group's dynamics continue to change, but the "team is family" mentality never waivers.

Cast and Crew

The recurring theme of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, onscreen and off, is family. The show was created by one of the greatest families of the genre: the Whedons. Soon after directing The Avengers, Joss Whedon directed the pilot episode of the series. Despite this early appearance behind the camera and the fact that he's credited as an Executive Producer, the show is actually helmed by his brother and sister-in-law, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.

The couple's vision is extremely reminiscent of the early days of Joss' work, especially the character dynamics on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, they've completely stepped out of his shadow and made this show their own. To add to the family feel of it all, Maurissa's brother, Kevin Tancharoen, has directed 12 episodes of the series.

In addition to being run by an actual family, the cast and crew have created their own family dynamic on set. They genuinely seem to love each other, their job, and their fans. Personally, I have met them all and can attest to this fact. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to moderate their 100th episode panel in Los Angeles, and I spent the leading hours in my own corner of the green room, observing as they casually entered, one by one, each being greeted with pure love and admiration by their castmates.  

In these few short hours, I learned that Ming-Na Wen is nothing like her austere, silent character: she radiates joy with her infectious laugh and warm presence. Clark Gregg, on the other hand, is exactly like Coulson: he's their fearless leader and a big 'ol nerd, who takes the time to care for everyone on his team. Everyone else falls somewhere in-between, making them all a perfectly in-sync team, onscreen and off. Knowing this makes what they create together even more special.

Early Response and Steady Improvement

Unfortunately, the show didn't garner the initial response Marvel or ABC was hoping for. The first few episodes didn't provide that right-out-of-the-gate punch that had become the MCU norm. However, there is a grave misconception that the entire first season is unwatchable.

In truth, there are a few bumpy episodes early on, but even the rare times the plot fails, the character exploration shines. There is no episode that is inadmissible. As the first season progressed, it only became more enticing. In addition to the amazing series regulars, the first season featured guest appearances by Jaimie Alexander, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton, and even Nick Fury himself: Samuel L. Jackson. If that's not enough to pique your interest, the character growth and shocking twists should do it.

Even if the first season doesn't captivate you, each season only gets better, a rarity in television today. Honestly, of the most disappointing things about the lack of love for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is how much it's overshadowed by the big-budget Marvel shows on Netflix. With few exceptions, each individual Defenders series had a wildly successful first season and then disappointed with season two. Why do these shows, which are in a constant state of decline, get the marketing and hype when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only one that's outdoing itself every season?  

Representation & Ships

Great storytelling by a thoughtful, tight-knit team has turnedAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into an amazing source of representation on screen. Currently, the show features four series regulars who are women, including one of the first (if not the first) Latina superhero on TV.

In addition to their diversity, the women are all insanely badass, capable, and well-rounded. They're not the ones who need saving but rather the ones who do the saving. Even without inhuman powers, Melinda May is the fiercest and strongest character on the show. Her fans consider her the ultimate superhero: a regular human with the ability to take down any enemy. (Special shoutout to Ming-Na Wen, who is fifty-fucking-four years old and manages to play a fighter flawlessly and with intense rigor.)

Another beautiful thing about these women is how they interact with each other. They're never catty, they don't fight over men, or play into petty bullshit. When they do disagree, it's in a way that makes the audience truly understand each perspective. They also provide great comfort to each other in dark times and emulate what a real female friendships are like.

Like any show, Agents still has room for improvement when it comes to diversity, especially with LGBTQI representation. However, the sixth season is bringing us new characters, so my hopes are high. My #GivePiperAGirlfriend campaign starts now! (Piper is a recurring character who is brilliantly played by Briana Venskus, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to recent television appearances.)   

Speaking of girlfriends, a TV show wouldn't be worth fighting for if it didn't have romantic stamina. Personally, I go all in for FitzSimmons, a couple so powerful, it has transcended space and time and space again. In the history of television, it's unclear if a couple has ever been forced to endure so much tragedy.

There's also the "Philinda" ship, which has the most devoted fans I have ever seen, and I have been in the fandom game for a long time. Coulson and May have an intense bond built on trust and friendship and it's no surprise that their "will they, won't they" slow burn has captivated so many people.

Best Episodes

The characters are clearly the bread and butter the show, but the quality in story and filmmaking deserves immense praise. While there are scores of phenomenal episodes, a few stand out.

"4,722 Hours", for example, was first time AoS really revamped its structure and did something completely out of the norm. The entire episode chronicles the months Simmons was trapped on another planet. Elizabeth Henstridge carries this entire episode with such grace, it makes me excited for the projects she'll do in the future.

The latest season gave us some excellent episodes as well, including the wonderful 100th, which pulled at our heartstrings in a next level sort of way. There was even an episode directed by Clark Gregg, titled "Fun and Games", which will make you want to revisit Choke, his directorial debut. (Seriously, Gregg is a man of many talents. Friendly reminder that he wrote What Lies Beneath, a criminally underrated supernatural thriller.)

My personal favorite episode is season 4's "Self Control", the first of the series to be directed by Jed Whedon. Season 4 had three strong arcs and this episode seamlessly connected the second and third. Jed shares his brother's keen eye and overwhelming ability to create tension on screen, but he also has a softer quality that packs an emotional punch which might surpass Joss (this is a strong statement coming from me, someone with a Mutant Enemy tattoo). "Self Control" was so well-executed, you'll be sad to learn Jed only directed one other episode.

What’s Next

Each year, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fandom is left fighting tooth and nail with online campaigns to get the show another season. This year was especially tough, because ABC announced the renewals and cancellations of every other show on the network before revealing the series' fate. Luckily, the show was eventually renewed for a sixth season, but it will be cut down to 13 episodes and won't return until summer 2019. The official word on the late premiere is that it was ABC's decision. Apparently, the series does better in delayed viewing and a summer release will better serve the numbers. There's a good chance this will also make a tie-in with Infinity War easier. While season 5 didn't end with any dustings, it's safe to assume "the snap" will come into play.

Due to the show's uncertain fate, the showrunners had to film the season finale as a potential series finale. No one knew until a few days before the episode aired if this would be "The End", but they titled it as such anyway. This led to a slightly controversial finale (warning: ambiguous spoiler), with the fate of Coulson left up in the air. Many fans, especially those from the #CoulsonLives days, are incredibly stressed over whether or not the main character will return. Personally, I think he's coming back. The whole show was conceived for him and he's directing the season six premiere, which seems like a clever way to squash on-set rumors.

No matter the outcome, I trust the showrunners to continue serving up quality television. While I understand the sorrow that comes from losing (or potentially losing) a beloved character, I put storytelling above all else and season five ended with a bang. As a die-hard Whedon fan, I fully expect to have my heart torn out and stomped on multiple times during a series' run. This is, after all, the family that killed Tara McClay, Hoban Washburne, and many more.

As for the upcoming season, here's what we know: the premiere episode is called "Missing Pieces" which is a strong indication that some members of the team didn't survive the events of Infinity War. There will be at least five new characters, and some are expected to remain as recurring guest stars throughout the entire season (#GivePiperAGirlfriend). Jeff Ward, who was introduced in season 5 as the character Deke, was promoted to series regular, and all of last season's regulars (with the exception of Gregg), have been confirmed to return. It's not a lot to go on, but it all sounds pretty promising.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't returning to television until July 2019, which is agonizing for us fans, but great news for the rest of you! You now have an entire year to catch up on and fall in love with this show. There is no excuse! Hop onto Netflix and start binging. I promise, you just might end up watching multiple times before the return.