Last night saw the debut of the much-anticipated TV spinoff of the The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which from now on I’ll just refer to as SHIELD to preserve my typing fingers). Was it any good? Did it deliver what fans want? Is Joss Whedon still a geek king? Was it accessible to new viewers who haven’t read the comics or seen all of the Marvel movies? Let’s dig in and find out.
WHAT IS IT?
SHIELD is Marvel’s first go at a live action TV show set in the same shared universe as their films (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, etc.). It has a big budget for TV and is at ABC, which owns both the network and Marvel, so everybody should be on the same page. So the show could more accurately be titled Disney’s ABC’s Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On top of that, the pilot was co-written and directed by the same guy that wrote and directed The Avengers, which earned $1.5 BILLION. He’s not going to be the show-runner, but he is an executive producer who will oversee everything he has time to oversee, including rewriting scripts. Joss Whedon has earned plenty of acclaim for his previous TV shows Buffy, Angel and Firefly so there’s a lot of high expectations that SHIELD will be good.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
SHIELD follows Agent Coulson, a high-level SHIELD agent played by actor Clark Gregg, who has assembled a small team to investigate worldwide, events that relate to superhumans. Coulson was presumably killed by Loki in The Avengers, but the TV show says that he was revived and the Avengers were lied to about his death to motivate them. Which makes plenty of sense, but the show adds a wrinkle to that as Coulson walks away and SHIELD Assistant Director Maria Hill and the team doctor say he doesn’t know what really happened and that he can’t know. As the team investigates new incidents of super-powered beings, they are also learning about the mysterious Rising Tide, who may be behind some or all of the new powers out there.
WHO’S IN IT?
The lead is Clark Gregg, reprising the role of Coulson from Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor, and The Avengers. He assembles a team comprised of: Ming Na-Wen as team pilot Melinda May, one of the best field agents who only wants a simple desk job now; Brett Dalton as Agent Ward, a top-notch field agent who is crap at interpersonal skills; Chloe Bennet as Skye, a civilian hacker who stumbles onto info about The Rising Tide and is recruited by Coulson; Iain De Caestecker as Fitz, the tech and weapons expert; Elizabeth Henstridge as Simmons, the team biologist. There is also a guest appearance in the pilot by Cobie Smulders, reprising her role as Maria Hill from The Avengers.
The show moves fast. Well-done action scenes. Good chemistry among the cast. The characters all have flaws, but all want to help make the world a better place. The usual witty banter and dialog you expect from Joss Whedon. A good premise: Super beings are new and Coulson has been given special disposition to track down and catalog or contain the new players. Surprisingly well tied into the Marvel films (the Extremis weapon from Iron Man 3 has a key role in the pilot episode). Clark Gregg’s understated but efficient Coulson is a fun character to hang out with. The Rising Tide seems like a cool threat. They seem to be into pushing the boundaries of science using all manner of stuff established in earlier films (an attempt at the super soldier formula, gamma radiation, Chitauri alien technology). I would not be surprised if this group ends up being the Marvel Comics villainous group A.I.M.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK AS WELL?
The pilot feels a bit light. It has a lot to do, of course, introducing a whole team. But the episode acts like it doesn’t have much to prove. And maybe it doesn’t. It IS very good. It just doesn’t have Tony Stark or Thor. The question becomes whether this new group of characters can be as interesting as those in the movies. The answer is: probably. They have a lot more hours to flesh the characters and even the villains out than a movie. And there’s TONS of Marvel characters and concepts to use that the films will never have the time to address. You probably don’t need to have seen any of the movies to enjoy this as a sci-fi/spy show, but you’d probably enjoy the Easter eggs and references embedded in the show’s DNA a lot more if you have seen them, or at least have read some Marvel comics.
Iain De Caestecker’s Scottish accent is very thick. I watch a lot of British TV shows and I was having trouble understanding some of his dialog. If he ends up having to spout exposition in future episodes to explain what’s going on, I hope it can be toned down a bit. Some of the leads seem a little bland, but that’s sort of Joss Whedon’s thing. He finds new actors and tailors a character to their specific strengths.
WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
I liked it a lot. The complaints are pretty nitpicky. The show has fun lead characters, an engaging premise, and all sorts of nerdy comic book stuff layered underneath. The pilot proved that there’s a lot to explore in this world on both a plot level and a character level. It isn’t as dark as the only other comic book TV show out there now, Arrow. But it deals with threats on a global level. It seems like the show has the budget to pull that off convincingly. I’d give it 3 thumbs out of 3, although one thumb is a little bruised so it looks like 2 and a half thumbs.