With a Marvel pedigree and an Avengers tie in, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a built in audience ready to buy in to its premise.

The challenge, of course, was to both meet the expectations of that audience, and then to try to exceed them.  I expect the show has accomplished the first part of that equation, but cannot possibly have scraped the surface of the second.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tracks Avengers good guy Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) as he assembles a team of specialists to troubleshoot special problems around the world.  These could be people with emerging super powers, alien technology, or just garden-variety villains bent on world domination.  The twist of course, handled with some deft suspense building in the series opener, is that Coulson was killed in The Avengers.  The mystery surrounding his return is and will be a recurring theme over the course of the first season, and possibly beyond.  Gregg gives Coulson an Everyman earnestness with just the right touch of isolation and sadness to make him instantaneously the most interesting and likeable character on the show.  Driving a vintage sports car doesn’t hurt either.

Coulson driving Lola the Car

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Clark Gregg, Lola

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The trouble with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that, thus far, Coulson is the only interesting character on the show.  Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton play Agents May and Ward, flipsides of the same tough guy character.  Chloe Bennett plays Skye, a played-out stereotype of a rebel hacker who’s recruited from the civilian ranks, Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge play Fitz and Simmons, technogeeks whose skills and personalities are so interchangeable they’re referred to by the smush moniker “Fitzsimmons.”  This worked effectively as a joke in the first episode.  Too bad it has hamstrung the characters as hopelessly fungible for the remainder of the series.

Similarly, the storytelling here is formulaic.  With a world of potential storylines to draw on, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is content to go on a mission of the week.  There’s trouble somewhere in the world, one of the team has the unique skills to solve the problem.  Fitz/Simmons offer up some technobabble that’s a cross between Dr. Who and Hermione Granger, May and/or Ward and/or both kick someone’s ass, Skye suddenly has a reason to be there, Coulson encourages some team member to get over it (it, being whatever it is that’s bothering them) to allow the mission to succeed.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is not to say that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to entertain.  As an action/adventure, it makes good use of its credentials, borrowing from both the Marvel universe and The Avengers in particular (both Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson) have had guest spots already and there is a seeming promise that the show will get juicier if you stick with it, both in terms of unraveling the mystery of Agent Coulson and in terms of providing more continuing storylines.

In order to fulfill its promise, the show needs to avoid deus ex machina plot devices and find some way to differentiate its characters.  If it can do that, this show can live up to its billing.  For now, however, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is far less interesting than the lower-profile Arrow which just returned to The CW.  If you only have room for one comic book inspired program, Arrow is your best bet.

ADVANCE REVIEWS OF Dads had me thinking I’d be seeing a wildly inappropriate and offensive show that was racist and misogynist, the kind of comedy that seeks to be an “equal opportunity offender.”  In reality, however, the most offensive things about Dads is that it is stupid without being funny.

Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi play videogame designers with the emotional depth of video game characters (make that video game characters circa the Nintendo GameCube era).   Green plays an irresponsible man-child; Ribisi plays a whiny man-child.  Their plight in life is that their dads (Peter Riegert & Martin Mull) come to live with them.  Riegert’s character is a one-joke toilet humor machine.  Mull, at least, mines some laughs as a failed Wall Street type.  Tonita Castro gets the thankless job of playing the semi-literate maid from Family Guy as a live-action character.  It’s as shockingly not funny as it sounds.  Brenda Song’s office manager manages some laughs out of being exasperated with her how-did-these-guys-ever-start-their-own-company bosses.

Ribisi, Mull & Song

Dads, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Mull, Brenda Song

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Dads aims for shock humor, but succeeds only in gross-out poop jokes and tired stereotypes.  It suffers from many of the same problems that have plagued creator Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy in recent seasons.  There is nothing new here, and there are no emotional identifiers to latch on to.  Despite the plethora of comic talent, Dads is hopelessly short on genuine laughs.  This one should go to the scrapheap.

NO SHOW HYPED its star more than The Crazy Ones, which hysterically announced the ballyhooed return of Robin Williams to series television.  I will admit, moreover, that if you’re a huge Robin Williams fan, like huge enough that you laugh at every funny face and silly voice he does, you will probably enjoy this workplace sitcom.  If you’re a fan of anything else, you won’t.

The Crazy Ones pairs Williams with Sarah Michelle Gellar as a father-daughter team that run an ad agency (better title…Mork Men?).   Williams is the hyperactive idea man, Gellar his level-headed straight man partner.  For some unknown reason, both characters are given shadows on the show.  Williams gets James Wolk, who plays along with every routine (since when did Robin Williams need a sidekick?).  Hamish Linklater plays a second straightman, because, I guess, Robin Williams needs two straight men?  Feh.

Williams & Gellar

The Crazy Ones, Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar

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Every episode features Williams (with Wolk in tow) not taking anything seriously until Gellar (with Linklater in tow) gets him to focus.  Williams then gets Gellar to think outside the box.  Wolk gets Linklater to think outside the box.  Problem solved.

The writing is not particularly comedic in tone, as Williams is counted on to get all the laughs with his zany antics.  It gets old SO fast.  Watching an episode of The Crazy Ones is like watching the 1987 New York Giants.  Same play every time, and even though they were good at it, by the end of the game you wanted to shoot yourself in the head.

The Crazy Ones is more or less proof that the star-driven sitcom only works when the framework is there for a funny show no matter who was headlining.  The Crazy Ones  fails to click because it could just as easily be set on a mountain in Tibet with Williams talking to a snow goose and a red panda.  I can forgive a show thinking it can just let Robin Williams run wild and have it work, but I can hardly forgive wasting a precious resource like Sarah Michelle Gellar with dialogue that can be summed up as, “But, Dad. . .”  This show is for hardcore Robin Williams fans only.

QUICK TAKES

Lost in the hoopla surrounding the end of Breaking Bad and the upcoming premiere of The Walking Dead was a great finale of AMC’s summer drama Low Winter Sun.  Riding a fantastic performance by Mark Strong as Detective Frank Agnew had an epic meltdown, the two hour finale both tied up the storylines in a satisfying way and left plenty of room for a season 2 (let’s hope).  This show was gritty and smart, and I could easily return for another season of viewing.

Educational TV.  Things we learned from watching TV this week:  1)  Cats steal your weed (2 Broke Girls); 2)  To stay cool, vultures poop on their own feet (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon);  3) The scarier Steven King is from Iowa (Real Time With Bill Maher).

The Neighbors surprised everyone by making it to a Season 2, although ABC stuck them at 8:30 on Friday night, so who knows if the show can survive the awful time slot.  In true Neighbors self-referential humor fashion, however, the show already managed to poke fun at its own plight.  It amazes that this show is called stupid by critics.  In reality, it is incredibly clever, but with the right amount of silliness thrown in.  It continues to deserve an audience.

Looking Ahead

The Walking Dead, Comic Book Men and Talking Dead return to AMC on October 13.

Burton & Taylor airs on BBC America on October 16.

Reign airs its series premiere on The CW on October 17.

Covert Affairs and White Collar return to USA on October 17.

The Birthday Boys airs its series premiere on IFC on October 18.

TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet.  Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on?  Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email:  [email protected]  I welcome your input!