Looking back on the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Agents of Shield
Year to date, "Marvel's Avengers Assemble" is Disney XD's #1 animated series in Total Viewers (699,000) and Boys 6-14 (133,000/1.1 rating) and its #2 animated series in Boys 2-11 (174,000/0.9 rating). "Marvel's Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H." ranks among Disney XD's top performing animated series in Total Viewers (480,000), year to date.
So by the low bar of current cable television Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. is a hit. Unfortunately SMASH never really gelled as a narrative. I wrote earlier, and I still contend that a Hulk series without any appearance from Bruce Banner would prevent the most interesting dynamic available to the character. Hopefully the second season can at least correct this aspect. Maybe they'll be able to drop the Jersey Shore framing device as well, but probably not. The talking head shots allow for reuse of animation, and if there's any goal driving Marvel's animated shows these days it's saving a buck wherever they can.
Just look at Avengers Assemble. The preceding "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" was a wonder of production values, writing, and performance. I know it lured in a lot of people and made positive contributions to the mega build up for the first Avengers movie. "Assemble" tried to do half as much with a quarter of the resources, the animation so choppy as to be distracting. Agents of S.M.A.S.H. season 2 will probably suffer the same downgrading though in it's case it'll be deserved.
I did make a bit of peace with SMASH. This wasn't a series for Hulk fans, and especially not She Hulk fans. S.M.A.S.H. was Marvel's blatant attempt to build their own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After all, what is the formula for TMNT if not characters with similar abilities but with clearly delineated personalities and specialized accessories. You can't blame Marvel for coveting such a franchise. The latest TMNT movie earned the approval of 20% of critics and 60% of filmgoers. Three weeks into its release it boasts a 6.4 average on imdb. Yet despite this the domestic gross sits at $167 million, with even more money to pour in from overseas. The kids who drove those numbers buy TMNT video games and action figures, and watch TMNT cartoon series. This Halloween they will dress up as their favorite turtle, their parents paying for costumes and mock weapons. Such is the power of getting a franchise like this right. You find the right balance of personalities, and put them in a package that kids will want to embrace, and you can print money. I can guarantee your local Target will have Agents of S.M.A.S.H. branded merch to compete with those immortal Turtles.
So far as the series itself, the bulk of it was largely terrible. SMASH made being a Hulk seem like an absolute drag. The only character having any fun, Abomb, was inexusably annoying. I vote him off the island. A deep and unmistakable current of melancholy surrounded everyone else.
There were no Hulkouts to be found here, which is generally the proudest portion of a Hulk property. Filmmakers craft these sequences with great imagination and dramatic flair. These likewise have energized the TF community for decades now. Speaking for myself, I loved all these sequences. The Hulkouts from the Bixby/Feringo series were a great influence on me and I still look back to them for ideas. Great shame to see SMASH not offer anything to this tradition.
The best episode of SMASH involved Deathlok, a character that challenged ever so slightly the moral underpinnings of the show. It's no coincidence that Deathlok also appeared on Agents of Shield over on ABC. Marvel maps out the trajectory of its properties years in advance, and dictates to the show runners when they need to introduce characters, plot be damned. Rolling out Deathlok on two separate shows around the same time probably points to some more future plans for the character. What was surprising was how two very different depictions of the character managed to be successful in both live action and animation.
Unlike SMASH, Shield did find its stride toward the end. The pop trashiness was embraced and the actors began having fun with their characters, even as it became more and more apparent that some of them just weren't working. To be clear, the show never became "great", and it never justified the resources and plum timeslot ABC devoted to it. Agents of Shield probably fits into the whole second wave of Marvel film properties and its true value is in building anticipation for Avengers 2 and 3, so it gets to swim in circles on prime time.
The final arc provided the opportunity to cut away much of the fat and regroup with a much stronger core for season 2. However the showrunners got cold feet. A number of characters clearly pegged to die were instead placed in a weird limbo which could allow for any number of guest appearances. I get its nice to keep giving your buddy actors paychecks but I hope the production doesn't keep a shoe in what clearly held back much of the first season.
Two Marvel shows, both back next season. Even after wasting much time last year waiting for something of interest from either of them, I'll probably still be back this season. Sigh.