Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is arguably the best comic book show on TV. It has everything nerds want in a superhero series. There are comic book references, hilarious one liners, a solid team to root for and constant tie-ins to the MCU. Agent Phil Coulson became so popular in the movies, that fans refused to let him die. Therefore, he was brought back from the dead and had a new S.H.I.E.L.D. team built around him. As the series starts its fifth season, it is headed into outer space, which will take it either closer or further away from the MCU.
It’s closest competition is its MCU TV counterparts on Netflix. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher are the real life, street level heroes of New York. They don’t have time for jokes and movie callbacks. They’re too busy dealing with serious real world problems, nothing as silly as fighting evil robot versions of themselves. All the shows are great in their own way but, the fact that they all live in the same universe will always invite comparisons. So, here are eight things Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does better than the Marvel Netflix shows and seven it does worse.
15. BETTER: HIGHER STAKES
In The Defenders, the heroes had to fight the ancient forces of The Hand to save New York City. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the team is often fighting to save the world. Hydra, Jiaying, Hive and AIDA all wanted to reshape the world to meet their beliefs. The only thing that stops them is S.H.I.E.L.D. Even when the fate of the world is not at stake, it still feels like everything is more urgent and serious. Nearly every mission on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is life or death. Though it always feels like they will beat the bad guys and make it out, viewers are still on the edge of their seats.
The Netflix series usually build for several episodes with two or three that feature a big confrontation. While the world building is essential, it can sometimes slow down the pace, which can make everything seem less important.
14. WORSE: REALISM
From the beginning, the Netflix shows have painted themselves as the grounded, street-level side of the MCU. These are the heroes who help regular people with everyday problems. Tony Stark isn’t flying in to save Harlem from guns and gangs, but Luke Cage is right there to protect his people. It’s the same for Matt Murdock and Hell’s Kitchen.
This real approach to crime-fighting separates the series from all the other superhero shows on TV. Yes, they’re still comic book shows, so there will always be a certain amount of fantasy involved, but they somehow also take place in the real world. No one is ever going to accuse Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. of being grounded or realistic, but to be fair it’s not exactly trying to be either of those.
13. BETTER: ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
Though there’s no shortage of steaminess on Netflix’s Marvel shows, there’s not much romance either. Matt and Karen, Jessica and Luke, Luke and Misty, Luke and Claire, Danny and Colleen, are all entertaining couples, but not exactly inspiring investment in their relationships. Generally, all the Netflix characters are so damaged and full of issues, they can’t really sustain real relationships.
Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has spent five seasons exploring Fitz and Simmons devotion to one another and Coulson and May’s obvious love for each other, fans know them and have a full interest in their love stories like they would old friends. In this case, it’s the storytelling and high stakes that combine to create compelling romances that audiences can’t help but get caught up in.
12. WORSE: DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION
Let’s be honest, other than Mack, Daisy and May, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have a wide variety of people of color in the team. Even in the past, it’s only been Trip. Supporting characters and villains have come and gone, but for the most part there isn’t enough diversity. Since the Marvel Netflix shows take place in various sections of New York, they’ve made an effort to represent all the different cultures of the city. Jessica Jones explores the difficulty in recovering from sexual assault and features an unapologetically strong woman taking down a powerful man.
Enough cannot be said about the impact of seeing Luke Cage, a bulletproof black man, portrayed as hero. And later he even challenges Danny on his privilege. These series show fans a version of themselves they had not previously seen because representation matters.
11. BETTER: STORYTELLING
Entering its fifth season Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has tackled everything from HYDRA to Inhumans to alternate realities to evil robots. The show has put the characters through every possible trauma. Despite the over the top nature of these storylines, the show still manages to humanize the plot and make everything believable. Even with 22-24 episodes per season, everyone feels important. Season four’s separate story pods, which wove each pod into the next, was a new even more creative way for the show to get several different plots in the season without it feeling like there was too much happening.
The Netflix shows usually have 13 episodes for one, maybe two big stories, and even then there’s always a few slow hours in the mix. This is one of the elements that Netflix really needs to improve on for the second and third seasons of its series.
10. WORSE: SURPRISE TWISTS
As Luke Cage was set to premiere, Oscar winner Mahershala Ali was featured in all the marketing as the main villain Cottonmouth. Through the first few episodes, he was built up as the man who runs Harlem and no one could take him down, certainly not the police. Considering how important he was made, it came as quite a surprise when Alfre Woodard’s Mariah killed him in episode seven.
It’s these sort of twists, like the unexpected return of Kingpin during Daredevil’s second season or Elektra killing Alexandra toward the end of The Defenders, that lets viewers know not to get too comfortable with the status quo. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can surprise audiences from time to time, but it’s not something to be expected on a regular basis.
9. BETTER: SHOWCASING SUPERPOWERS
Other than the main characters and villains, there aren’t a lot of superpowers on the Marvel Netflix series. The shows are also committed to a more grounded approach to heroes, so even when superpowers are shown, it’s not over the top. While Jessica Jones and Luke Cage get cool moments and music during fights, Danny Rand’s glowing fist isn’t exactly awe-inspiring.
Meanwhile, over on S.H.I.E.L.D., there is no shortage of superpowers, as a constant influx of Inhumans creates the opportunity to display all kinds of abilities. From Quake to Yoyo to Ghost Rider, it’s always fun to see what new way the team is going to use its powers. Even when bad guys show up they’re always given a featured scene to showcase how dangerous the powers really are. It’s all part of S.H.I.E.L.D. being a true comic book show.
8. WORSE: CASTING
The casting director for the Marvel Netflix series deserves a raise. Every show (with the exception of Iron Fist) was perfectly cast from top to bottom. It starts with the main heroes. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones and Mike Colter as Luke Cage set the tone for how the cast of each show will find its style.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not have a poorly cast ensemble by any stretch of the imagination. However, The Defenders were all existing heroes in the comics and had to match characters fans were already familiar with. Look at the backlash and jokes Iron Fist was subject to because the lead character was seemingly miscast. It was a much more difficult task to find the right actor for each character.
7. BETTER: FAN SERVICE
As we previously discussed, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a direct spinoff of the MCU films, so it stands to reason that it would have more comic book references than its TV counterparts. If we’re being honest, comic book shoutouts are the real reason we all watch these shows. From villains to Inhumans, supporting characters like Deathlok and Hive are lifted right from the pages of comic books. In the “Framework” arc, the show turned AIDA into Madame Hydra and Director Mace finally got to be The Patriot.
It’s not that the Netflix series don’t have references in them, it’s that S.H.I.E.L.D. goes hard and unapologetically into the comic callbacks. It’s part of its charm and is another extension of its MCU connection. The Netflix shows always feel like they’re reluctantly referencing their comic book origins.
6. WORSE: VILLAINS
If there’s one area where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really needs to improve, it’s the villains. Season one was about Hydra, season two featured Daniel Whitehall, Jiaying and the evil Inhumans, season three was the return of Hydra and Hive, season four had the series’ strongest villain in AIDA and her LMDs.
While the bad guys did get progressively better each season, they’re still not even close to being on the same level as the Netflix villains. While Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin and David Tennant as Kilgrave are the gold standard, Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao is the MVP of the entire franchise. Then Defenders upped the ante with Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra. While the characters were all expertly written and developed, it was the perfect casting that really pushed them all into legend status.
5. BETTER: TEAMWORK
Seeing the team come together to fight bad guys is one of the best elements of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. From episode one, the agents have been shown as a team who have evolved into a family over the years. When a crisis arises, everyone knows their job and instantly falls into their roles. Coulson and May are the leaders, while Daisy helps the other Inhumans and FitzSimmons handles all the science.
It works so well that whenever someone new comes in and tries to change the dynamic, things inevitably go wrong and Coulson has to put his team back together the right way to fix everyone’s problems. Since The Defenders have just met and are still trying to figure out their individual issues, they’re not really at the solid teamwork level of hero work yet.
4. WORSE: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a big ensemble cast. Even with 22-24 episodes, there’s never going to be enough time to feature everyone’s story. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know the backstory of all the main players, but it’s taken a lot of time to get there. In something like Daredevil, where there are only four main characters, 13 episodes is more than enough time to get to know everyone’s motivations and origins.
There are some episodes that just focus on Kingpin, so that viewers have a chance to see the world from his point of view. Luke Cage couldn’t be nearly as fascinating if audiences did get the opportunity to know Mariah and Cottonmouth. A smaller cast, with more important supporting characters gives all of them a chance to be expertly developed.
3. BETTER: COMEDY
Comic books are just straight up ridiculous sometimes. There’s a rich guy flying around in an armored suit, a kid bitten by a radioactive spider and even a genius who sometimes becomes a green rage monster. When you say it out loud, it’s clear how silly things can get. It’s in those moments that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shines. Mack is always quick to point out the completely crazy situations they find themselves in. His first thought when they ended up in space was “of course, it’s the only thing we’ve haven’t we done yet.”
It’s these fun moments that reminds viewers these characters aren’t jaded superheroes, they’re just regular agents. While Jessica Jones and Luke Cage feature one liners, they’re never just out and out funny. However, considering the serious nature of the Netflix shows, too much comedy would detract from the story.
2. WORSE: ACTION AND FIGHT SCENES
From the moment Daredevil premiered, all anyone could talk about were the amazing fight scenes — specifically the hallway scenes that the franchise is now known for. That continued with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher and The Defenders, eventually becoming the calling card of Marvel’s Netflix world. The budget and lack of restrictions allows a certain amount of freedom in the production. There’s a bigger scale to the fight sequences, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just can’t compete with.
A big part of it also comes from the characters being featured. Matt Murdock and Danny Rand are expert martial artists, so it stands to reason that their characters are just going to be better fighters than anyone on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. It’s the instant advantage that Netflix will always have over S.H.I.E.L.D.
1. BETTER: MCU CONNECTION
As the first TV arm of the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the advantage over other Marvel TV properties. It also has the added bonus of being built around and starring Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, a character we got to know throughout the films. This has given the show an instant connection to the rest of the MCU. The series has also featured cameos from Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. It’s a true arm of the MCU.
On Netflix, the action takes place in New York, so there is frequent dialogue about the Battle of New York, which is called “the incident.” The Defenders quartet of shows take place in the same universe as the MCU, but they’re all caught up in their world and there isn’t much of an actual connection.
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