Agents of S.H.E.E.S.H. : The Unfortunate Joss Whedon/Google Connection

The other day I Googled "Joss Whedon" and "lawn mower," just for the hell of it, to see how thorough the search engine really is. Up popped 964,000 results. Turns out he has mentioned yard maintenance quite a bit, especially the pitfalls of trying to film in a residential neighborhood over the din of grass-cutting. Before Google, we would've had no way of finding every single mention of Whedon and lawn mowers on the Internet, if you can imagine such a dystopia. So, thank you, Google, for doing what your patented algorithms do best.

You might be asking yourself: Where is this going? Simply put, wunderkind producer and writer Joss Whedon is like Google: He came out of the gate strong and has been coasting on his good name ever since, despite the fact that his output is becoming suckier and suckier. Google+? Google Wallet? Google Offers? All of these things are examples of Google following and no longer leading after it got power-hungry. Whedon is no different. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was of course amazing. Then came Angel — also awesome. Firefly was next, which has a rabid cult following but really doesn't deserve it. Ditto Serenity. Then came Dollhouse, a show so caught up in its own byzantine high concept that plot, character, and heart were all left on the cutting-room floor. Something was missing.

Both Google and Whedon have jumped the shark and gotten further away from their original strength: Connection. What made Buffy and Angel great, other than monsters, was that they were comprised of "Scooby gangs": ragtag pals who banded together against a common foe. "Don't be evil," Buffy said. We liked the characters so much that plot really was secondary; they were our friends, too, and popping in DVDs of those shows now is like going to your high school reunion.

Whedon's latest show on ABC couldn't be further from that formula. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (full name: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel apparently following Tyler Perry's lead), which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, is a sort of X-Files for covert cases involving superhuman targets. At least I think so. So far the only show to have any sort of superhero mojo was the pilot, which starred Angel actor J. August Richards as a dude who could jump really high.

The agent characters are all cookie-cutter Whedon types who have zero chemistry with one another. There's the plucky pair of scientists from Great Britain, the James Bondish leader guy, the boring one, and the hot chick. The actress playing the "hot chick," Chloe Bennet, used to be a cheeseball pop singer in China, back when her name was Chloe Wang and her boobs were decidedly smaller. She's actually the only member of the ensemble who has charisma. Too bad she wasn't paired with The Avengers' answer to Xander and Willow instead.

There're also two major things missing from the show: good villains and the sort of humor that Whedon hangs his ironic baseball hat on.

Whedon's pesky race problem also crops up on S.H.I.E.L.D. In his world, any time a character isn't white, they have to have some sort of chip on their shoulder; Richards' character Gunn on Angel came from the mean streets of gang-ridden L.A. and he was lookin' for the monsters that claimed his sister. On S.H.I.E.L.D. we have the character of Melinda May, played by Ming-Na Wen, who is shell-shocked from combat, xenophobic, and a loner, making her wholly dull and unlikable.

The crew of agents flies across the world in their airplane command center, the interior shots of which make it look the size of Hearst Castle, despite ridiculous exterior shots of the thing landing and appearing to be a little bit bigger than a seaplane. Dude can't get flying machines right. His ship Serenity looked like a dorky metallic potato bug.

Herein lies the main problem with Joss Whedon: He's drunk on technology. The more he veers plotwise into sophisticated memory insertion devices, international computer systems, and nerdy charts that glow like holograms in front of his token brainiacs, the further away he gets from the Scooby formula. He's become the Google Glass of television producers. The weakest plot in Buffy involved "Adam," a part-monster, part-robot created in some nefarious underground government lab. Sadly, that lame storyline turned out to be a portent of things to come.

 
My Voice Nation Help
2 comments
jennathepest
jennathepest

You make some good points, but you seem to be forgetting about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. That was as true to pure Whedon as Whedon can get.  Much Ado About Nothing wasn't bad either. For now he's at the helm of a huge-budget franchise, and it will be very interesting to see what he does with it. But I can't judge it as a pure Whedon work, so I disagree that Whedon is getting suckier. He's just doing different stuff.

njudah
njudah topcommenter

Nailed it. I so wanted to like this, but it just sucks. It pains me to say so but if they don't reboot this thing FAST, this thing will get tossed out the window like so much detritus. Sad.

 
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...