Deadshirt Is Watching… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Steven Universe, and My Little Pony!
Dylan Roth is Watching…
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Season 2, Episode 18: “Melinda”
Tuesdays, 9/8c on ABC
While Marvel Studios continues to reach new levels of hype (next month’s Age of Ultron) and acclaim (last week’s Daredevil), there’s still one corner of their shared cinematic universe that nobody seems to care about. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to limp on, sustained by a handful of die-hard fans and a whole lot of insane MCU completists like me who couldn’t stop if we wanted. It’s not fun like Agent Carter, or addictive like Daredevil, or batshit insane like Fox and DC’s Gotham; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is, at best, an adequate TV show.
But, as anyone who’s hung on this long will tell you, this season’s been a hell of a lot stronger than last year, as AoS attempts to build more of its own mythology rather than leeching off of its Avengers roots. This week’s episode wraps up two story threads that have lingered since the very first episode, and neither of them have anything to do with events occurring elsewhere in the MCU. The mysterious, bloody past of Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is finally revealed, and while it’s not very surprising, it does manage to be moving. The newly-superpowered Skye (Chloe Bennet) has finally met her long-lost mom, and is making a peace of sorts with her evil father (Kyle Maclaughlan). S.H.I.E.L.D.’s original characters still aren’t nearly as compelling as, well, practically any other Marvel screen star, but they’re finally starting to develop in some interesting directions.
With news that there are now potentially two new spin-offs in the works, it doesn’t seem as if the tepid response to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done much to discourage ABC or Marvel from developing this espionage arm of the MCU, so hopefully we’ll see some continued improvement here. Otherwise I’m undoubtedly going to have to struggle through even more hours of lukewarm broadcast television to satisfy my stupid, stupid completist nature.
Episode Highlight: Because I’m a bastard, I like when heroes have to make impossible choices and be unhappy with the results. May has to do something unspeakably awful in her flashback—now if they could only manage to get a character to do something shocking in the present day, that’d be an accomplishment.
Kayleigh Hearn is Watching…
Season 1, Episode 49: “Shirt Club”
Thursdays, 5:30/6:30c on Cartoon Network
“Shirt Club” is the last episode of Steven Universe’s first season to air, and upon viewing, it is understandable why it was pushed back to air with Season 2. Not that “Shirt Club” is bad (has Steven Universe even had a bad episode?), but it’s a small, unassuming episode that lacks the momentum of the episodes leading up to “Jailbreak.” There are no monsters to fight, the Crystal Gems have only cameos, and the real thrust of the episode is the personality clash between Steven and “cool kid” Buck Dewey.
The episode begins with Steven drawing up flyers for his father’s guitar lessons. The childish but exuberant illustration amuses Buck Dewey, who repurposes the design for T-shirts that he and Steven spread around Beach City with a t-shirt cannon. Steven has fun at first, but he soon becomes uncomfortable when he realizes Buck cares more about being a “tastemaker” than helping Steven’s dad give guitar lessons. Steven, an incredibly earnest kid who always wears his heart on his sleeve, has his first brush with cool teenage irony, and he doesn’t like it.
“Shirt Club” is an amusing meditation on art, appropriation, and what happens after an image goes viral. Steven innocently creates an image that becomes a meme, and the episode follows him as he tries to understand it and then later reclaim it. Having seen artists online bemoan the fact that their work can be easily stripped of credit, or turned into something they never intended, I feel the episode hits its mark without seeming too obvious or preachy—and luckily, it never condemns Buck Dewey either. Steven Universe is a show with almost no villains, and part of what makes the show so charming is how Steven is able to solve conflicts through the sheer power of his relentless good nature. And when he aims that T-shirt cannon, Steven’s a pretty adorable sniper, too.
Episode Highlight: MST3K-creator Joel Hodgson continues his fantastic voice work as Buck’s father, Mayor Dewey. Ever the politician, Dewey and his goofy attempts at resonating with the youth vote (“Peace in the Middle East, Holmes!”) supply the funniest moments of the episode.
Yen Nguyen is Watching…
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
Season 5, Episode 4: “Bloom & Gloom”
Saturdays, 11:30 AM/10:30c on Discovery Family
Horses! Season 4 wrapped up almost a full year ago, so it’s been a long time without diminutive equines on the air. But here we are at Season 5, and, well, it’s all right!
My Little Pony has always been a cute cartoon of simple pleasures, and it’s going to stay that way for a long time, considering the talent present in the writers’ room and at animation studio DHX (not to mention Hasbro’s money, which has already bankrolled a sixth season). It’s closer to the definition of a “kid’s cartoon” than other ultra-popular cartoons right now, but that’s not a bad thing; the writers and visual artists have been giving their all since the beginning to make such a show smarter and much less condescending to kids. It’s genuine, and that’s a wonderful thing to have in small doses at the top of each weekend.
So far, Season 5 feels just as pleasant as it’s always been. It’s always curious to see the animators pushing Flash to new limits at the beginning of each season, breaking away from stock models and expressions and creating new art assets. In these early episodes, it feels like new art director Rebecca Dart has been taking it slow; there have only been a few (albeit, real nice) shots that show off new location design, with new expressions and art assets trickling in.
“Bloom & Gloom” is the liveliest episode of the season so far, straying into the zanier, cartoonier side of the show that makes for its best episodes. It’s been a long time since MLP was consistently mining that sort of energy and actually being consistently great for doing so (not since Season 2). But even as the show’s flair is winding down as a whole, it’s still a refreshingly positive cartoon with sweet writing and good art, and that’s enough to make me happy.
Episode Highlight: Apple Bloom’s stuck in a Groundhog Day situation where she’s been getting new, bad cutie marks on each loop. Cutie marks are the sometimes-metaphorical, sometimes-literal representations of a pony’s talent that eventually appear on their flanks as kids (see: puberty). At one point, she rerolls that amazingly goofy dolphin.
Hey. Whatcha watchin’? Tell us in a comment below!