Summer is around the corner, and with it the annual American ritual of watching critically acclaimed shows on cable, undoing that cultural progress with reality shows, and bingeing on all the shows, both trashy and artistically significant, missed during the regular season.
You should add ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to your binge list. The Joss Whedon-created series, which had its season finale on Tuesday, follows one team of the (mostly) non-superpowered people behind the Avengers initiative. Led by Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson, who I wish were my cool uncle, the group of borderline-rogue agents flies around the world in a sweet plane solving problems that aren't quite big enough for Thor. Now that you don't have to worry about brushing up on the whole convoluted plot on Wikipedia before the next episode, I would recommend that you just watch the whole thing. Set aside a weekend and a box of microwave popcorn to watch the series straight through. With the conspiracy theories, the crew dynamics, an even the rad aerial vehicle, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has lately presented itself as a spiritual successor to Firefly: perfect binge-watching material. (Full disclosure: I am firmly in this show's geeky demographic.)
Fans of the show are familiar with the sneering judgment that comes after they admit they watch it weekly. Loudly pointing out how much time you spend not watching a comic-book show is, after all, a pretty easy way to assert your coolness–particularly if coupled with aside about how great, say, True Detective was. But it's almost too easy. Methinks the cool-TV watcher doth protest too much, and he or she might benefit from less self-serious fare. (And please, have some regard for those of us who can only go the antenna route.)
In fact, those who watch weekly will be among the first to admit that the show initially left something to be desired. It was slow, it did have a monster-of-the-week feel, and the CGI was just small-screen caliber. But while that last bit hasn't changed substantively–this is, after all, a production intended for the small screen–the second half of the season has proven that every monster of the week matters. Those apparently low-stakes episodes were all part of a classic Whedon slow burn leading up to the explosion of everything Agent Coulson and his team thought they were working for.
The show is definitely, at least in part, a way to get people to devote even more time to watching Marvel's superheroes on one screen or another. In fact, when ABC confirmed the show's renewal, it also announced a new series that will follow Peggy Carter (Captain America's crush from his first movie) and her midcentury secret-agent exploits just before the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. More tellingly, producers urged fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier on opening weekend, promising that the events of the film would have huge ramifications for the show. It's smart, from a marketing standpoint: What better way to bend fans to your will than by inextricably tying a less popular product to a major franchise?
And it worked, but not just as an advertising gimmick. The episode before the movie's release gave hints that all was not right in the Marvelverse, but that could have just been the typical air of paranoia that infuses most other episodes. Instead, we were treated in Winter Soldier to the (month-old spoiler alert) near-complete destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a government agency. The agents on the ground have since been forced to survive their radically new and dangerous situation while fighting the bad guys from the first half of the season–who, it turns out, are all connected.
It's been a fantastic payoff. But I'll grudgingly acknowledge that an entire half-season of slow burn isn't for everyone. Which is why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is perfect for all your summer binge-watching needs. You can passively watch the first few episodes all in a row while folding laundry or just playing marathon sessions of 2048. You won't have to wait months to get to the good stuff. You've probably seen Winter Soldier at this point, so you won't need to rage at The Man for forcing you to contribute to its opening-weekend numbers.
And most importantly: You will stop making fun of your friends who watch this show. We can't wait to see you in the fall.