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Featured TV on DVD Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1

October 26th, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a risky show to make, for a couple of reasons. Mostly it was risky because of the public's perception of what a super hero show should be like. When the public's expectations are not met, they tend to react negatively, even if the movie / TV show is good. For example, Drive was sold as an high-octane action film, but it was a slow burning drama. The critics loved it, but a lot of people attacked the movie for not living up to expectations. A little closer to home, The Tick was a live action TV series that could be described as, "Seinfeld, but the four main characters are super heroes." This is a great idea and I loved the show. However, a lot of people were disappointed as it wasn't a super hero action movie. Of course it's not a super hero action movie. You can't make a super hero action movie on a TV budget. Even today, you can't make a super hero action movie on a TV budget. Unfortunately, a lot of people were expecting Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be just that, so while the ratings were huge the first night, they quickly dropped off. Were those who stuck with the show rewarded? Should those who stopped watching start again?

The Show

I'm going to skip most of the plot details for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, the show has an overarching storyline that begins in the first episode. I was expecting the first episode to merely introduce the characters and get us our first taste of the action, while most of the first season would be like the first season of the X-Files. You know, nearly all Freak-of-the-week stuff with just a hint there's more to the show than we get to see. This wasn't the case and we jump right into spoiler level details.

Secondly, over the last week, several packages arrived with late screeners, some more than a month late. This week I have to get the November Monthly Preview done, while November is also the start of Awards Season and the Christmas shopping season. If I go over every episode in detail, I won't have time to get the other late reviews done and the usual seasonal work as well.

The first member of the team we are introduced to is Agent Ward. Ward is a super agent, I don't mean he has super powers, I mean he is incredibly skilled at his job. He is also a loner who doesn't work well in teams. After completing a mission that was compromised by the Rising Tide, an anarchist group, he is told the truth about what happened in New York City. Agent Phil Coulson is alive and he's starting a special group that won't have to deal with the usual red tape and he's recruiting the people himself. Ward is the first, but Agent Melinda May is second. Agent May has a past that she doesn't like to talk about and only agrees to join because Phil Coulson is her friend and Phil Coulson says it is a strictly non-combat mission. That turns out to be a promise he couldn't keep. Also on their team is Fitz-Simmons. That's Leo Fitz, engineering, and Jemma Simmons, bio-chem. Their first mission is to find Rising Tide and use them to locate the Hooded Hero, Mike Peterson. But first they need to capture the leader of Rising Tide, Skye, who turns out to be incredibly easy to get. She turns out to be a useful member of the team and by the end of the first episode, she's become the sixth member of the group.

I really like this series and liked it from the very beginning, but not everyone agrees. Many people complained that the characters were dull, but I don't think that's a fair assessment. Agent May is certainly reserved and Agent Ward could be described as stoic. However, there's a difference between that and dull. When a character is reserved, they become more interesting the more we learn about them. When they are dull, the more we learn about them, the duller they become. Additionally, many people complained that there wasn't enough action in the TV show. This is true if you are comparing it to The Avengers, but there's a lot of action compared to NCIS or Hawaii Five-0, which should be the point of comparison. The third major complaint I've seen is that the first tie-in episode was terrible. This is a complaint I can understand. The Well is an excellent episode, but it was billed as a tie-in with Thor: The Dark World. On the other hand, the post-Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in proves that this show is must-see TV for fans of The Avengers franchise.

The Extras

There are several audio commentary tracks spread throughout the five-disc set, starting with FZZT on disc two. Disc three has audio commentaries for The Magical Place and T.R.A.C.K.S. I particularly liked the second one, because they talk about casting Carlo Rota, who is one of the bad guys in the episode. They cast him because they wanted someone who didn't immediately look like the villain. They failed. Carlo Rota is what I call a "Lack of Character Actor". Like Mark Sheppard and other similar actors, he specializes in playing characters who, even when they aren't the bad guys, are not exactly to be trusted. Disc four as Assembling a Universe, a 43-minute look at the Marvel Universe up to this point, which was originally a TV special. I want them to keep adding onto this special, because by the time the third Avengers movie comes out, it will be three hours long. The extras on the final disc begin with Journey to the S.D.C.C., which is a 13-minute featurette on the San Diego Comic Con panel. There are also five Field Reports, short behind-the-scenes featurettes. There are a couple of really short featurettes on a couple of special effects shots. (Basically, it's the raw footage compared to the final shot.) Up next is seven minutes of outtakes. And finally, there are seven minutes of deleted scenes.

As for the technical presentation, the Blu-ray is among the best TV on DVD releases I've reviewed. The level of details is excellent, the colors are strong when called for, and the shadows never really swallow up the details. There's never any signs of digital artifacts or compression issues, although there were a couple of times you could tell the special effects were done on a TV budget. That's not a complaint about the transfer; in fact, one could argue it is a sign that the transfer is better than the budget limitations. The audio is not quite as good, but still great for TV on DVD. The audio is always clear, which is the most important aspect. There is plenty of activity in the surround sound speakers during action scenes, especially the subwoofer. Even if the quieter moments, there's usually ambient sounds throughout the 5.1 surround sound track.

The Blu-ray costs $48, which is $15 or nearly 10% more than the DVD. That's high, but not outrageously high for TV on DVD releases.

The Verdict

I loved Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. right from the beginning. There were a couple of missteps during Season 1, but by the end it was telling stories that fit right in with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Blu-ray is a tad expensive, but absolutely worth owning.

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Filed under: Video Review, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iain De Caestecker, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na, Carlo Rota, Mark Sheppard, Brett Dalton, Elizabeth Henstridge, J. August Richards, Chloe Bennet