Internet, we need to have one of those uncomfortable conversations. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t any good. At all. It’s terrible and it’s a project that Joss Whedon is attached to. We are about to go into another series of arguments that will, despite the atrocious nature of the show, absolve Joss from all responsiblity, again. This really needs to stop. Joss is not perfect. He has never been perfect. He isn’t even that good and you really need to start accepting that.
Now, credit where credit is due. Joss can do a lot of things very well. His dialogue is uniformly the best – on any project that he is writing. It’s always been stellar. He’s also very good at female characters. He doesn’t patronise, he makes them strong. Every single project he’s worked on (aside from Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog), passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. His ensemble casts are diverse, strong and in short bursts he has moments of genius. But that’s all they are. Moments. Let’s look at his body of work.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is always the first things people put forward whenever I “attack” Whedon, so let’s start there. Yes, Buffy was an amazing show, but it had some downright stupid moments. Like remember when Buffy could hear thoughts and someone was planning a mass murder at her school? That kid went up to the bell tower of the school with a sniper rifle and was the obvious suspect from the get go? Remember what he said when they caught him? “I came up here to shoot myself”. Ok, fine. He came up, with a sniper rifle that he assembled and put the scope on to shoot himself. Stupid, but not a deal breaker.
Then they made a character that hadn’t spoken yet the bad guy! Why? To shock us. To give us a Shyamalanian twist. What about the girl that turned invisible? Remember her being sent to a government program at the end of the episode? Did that ever pay off? No, it didn’t. Oh, and while I’m here, can we please talk about how magic is supposed to be evil? Only it isn’t? Only it totally is? This is the first problem I have with Joss.
Joss does not plan things out. He wants you to think he does, but he doesn’t. In AOS right now we have “Tahiti”. We know it’s where Agent Coulson went after he died, we know something happened there and we know that “It’s a magical place”. We know EXACTLY as much about this situation as Joss does. This is an unbaited hook. Joss has no idea what it’s going to be but he wants us talking about it. Mostly so he can eliminate what it isn’t before deciding what it IS going to be.
He did this with Dollhouse with the head of the Rossum Corporation and it resulted in a shocking swerve where it was revealed to be the only person in the show it couldn’t have been. He did it in Firefly too. Setting up the “Hands of Blue” which was never paid off, as well as Book’s past, the box Inara had in case of Reaper attacks, all of this was never thought of besides “This would be a cool thing to set up… We’ll fire this gun later”.
Speaking of Firefly, You ever notice how much Joss’s ensembles resemble the Firefly cast? The best example of this was probably his run on X-Men where he turned THE X-MEN INTO THE FIREFLY CAST!
You have the no nonsense captain (Mal/Cyclops) , the capable and sassy lancer (Zoe/Shadowcat), the rough as guts tough guy (Jayne/Wolverine), the quirky genius (who is more often than not just how Joss sees himself but in this case Wash/Beast) and the Serious but not in the same way as the captain and that’s where the tension comes from (Inara/Emma Frost). These characters can be transported into ANY of Joss’s work. The admin staff in Dollhouse, the Pirates from Alien: Resurrection, the Scoobies in some ways, look and you’ll see.
But maybe you think Firefly earned him enough good credit. Ok, I am not going to deny the brilliance of that show, and certainly it had a lot of (unplanned, see above) places it could go before it’s untimely and unfair cancellation by the evil Fox network. But It’s also directly responsible for none of Mr Whedon’s problems being a result of Mr Whedon. Let’s take Alien: Resurrection, His script, which was pants, wasn’t the problem with the movie, it was the performances of a bunch of the greatest character actors to ever hit the screen. Or of the director who just “couldnt’ capture Joss’s vision” (an excuse he also used on the TERRIBLE Buffy movie).
My favourite example is Dollhouse. Dollhouse took 4 episodes to get any good, because it took that amount of time for somebody to tell Joss that maybe having a protagonist with LITERALLY no personality was not such a good idea. The second season only aired because people protested so very VERY hard, regardless of the quality of the first season (and it wasn’t that high). They could not see that their idol had faltered. Their faith would not let them, and that reminds me of another film maker.
Kevin Smith rose to prominence in the 90’s with a movie called Clerks. It was the first massive GEN X movie about a group of slackers who were below their station in life and were upset about it but unwilling to change it. Almost overnight Kevin became a hit director. After the phenomially good Dogma, he’s been on a steady decline, culminating in Red State, which could charitibly be described as a mess of a movie. Kevin Smith, however, is bulletproof in his own mind. No matter how bad a film he makes is, he still made Clerks. People will defend Jersey Girl and Zack and Miri to the ends of the Earth, even though they are terrible. Smith’s fans refuse to believe he’s capable of doing wrong.
Right now Kevin Smith is a stoner making podcasts to keep his friends off drugs. His films get done when they get done or when he’s straight enough to do them. Nothing he does is anywhere near Clerks quality. It hasn’t been for a while. This is the same path Joss Whedon is on. He’s repeating himself (a scene from Serenity showed up in the second episode of AOS) and it’s only getting worse.
There is, however, still hope. The Avengers was amazing. Joss is a capable person, but his flaws are visible. He needs to be criticised. He can be better. Please understand that I WANT Joss to be better. If for no other reason than his fans, who are so utterly loyal, deserve it.