A few years back, when The Blacklist and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered, I was excited for both of them. Super excited. Lately, I've been catching up on last year's season of The Blacklist, and I thought about JUST how awesome that show still is. Which broke my heart because SHIELD fell so far short of what it could have been from the outset.
Disclamer: I gave SHIELD three episodes to hook me. If a show fails to grab me the first two weeks, like SHIELD did, I'll give it a third, just to make sure the creators aren't trying something new that will pay off. But with my limited time and all of the awesome shows I could watch, that's all they get. I've heard (from some fans) that it's much better, now, though many of my friends who binged their way through the first season have said that the second season kept them going for a little while, then fell flat again. For that reason, I think this post that originally appeared on my other blog a few years ago is completely relevant. Still. Because The Blacklist is still SUPER AWESOME!
I was as excited as anyone when I heard Joss Whedon was creating a TV show based on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. I've never been huge into comics, but I love heroes, adventure, and ensemble casts with great chemistry.
The Blacklist has all of that. There's a clear protagonist with a supporting cast of sidekicks, a mentor, the armorer, bodyguard, and obvious antagonists. Agents doesn't have one clear-cut protagonist to attach to as a viewer. Yes, we're supposed to cheer for the team, but why do I care about the team? Sure, they are "the protagonist," but what makes them special? Aside from the fact that they work for a secret organization that's trying to save the world?
In The Blacklist, the stakes are clear from the get-go. For that matter, it was the same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and even Dollhouse. And I guess Agents has clear stakes, but they're not enticing enough. Save the world, but from what? Or from whom? Villain of the week isn't good enough for a story of this magnitude.
The first episode was quite a letdown, too, because in the previews we saw someone with "superpowers." And then the creators specifically told the audience that this show wouldn't be about superheroes. So right off the bat they told us, "This is going to be awesome, but it's not what you think." And the one character with real stakes, the one the audience wants to get attached to, is sent on his way.
I hope you're following me on this, and if not, I'm sorry that I'm not being clear. But let me make another example from Whedon's most successful show: Buffy. We have Buffy. A vampire slayer chosen by the Powers That Be to kill vampires and protect the world from invading evil. She has a backstory, complex emotions, and friends who support her in all of her efforts. It's the same with The Blacklist. But the only character in Agents is someone without any discernible personality. He's bland, dry, deadpan, and not at all engaging. Despite the fact that he got stabbed in Avengers. The ONE person we have ties to is the hardest to connect with. And the rest of the characters so far have so little going on that it's nearly impossible to care.
To turn this to a writer's perspective, when creating characters, make sure they have several important traits that make them engaging. Not necessarily likable, but engaging. And give them friends. Foils to enhance and reflect their personality. No lone-wolves with a secret past.
Now, I'm not sure if I'm in the majority here, so I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts. Discuss!