To say that there’s a lot riding on Marvel’s first foray into live-action television is pretty much the understatement of the 2013 TV season. Ladies and gentlemen, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the show of the Fall. The question is whether it delivers on people’s sky-high expectations?
Let’s bitch it out…
I spent a lot of time tracking the development of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (ugh – so unwieldy). There’s obviously been a great deal of attention heaped on the show as it brings the star wattage of uber-genius Joss Whedon back to TV since his low-rated cult series Dollhouse was canceled back in 2010. Since then he’s gone on to direct the most integral film in the Marvel universe, last summer’s Phase One endcapper The Avengers, which feeds heavily into the proceedings of SHIELD.
At the helm of this not-so-rag-tag group is Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the everyman that supposedly died in The Avengers. His resurrection is played for both laughs (the recurring Tahiti gag, jokes about dying), as well as mystery. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, in what will likely be the first of several cameos as she balances the final season of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother) hints that there’s a darker aspect to Coulson’s return, though the details will likely be slow to reveal themselves – this is the long-con of narratives and SHIELD is keeping the details to itself.
Also on board for this inaugural adventure are Ward (Brett Dalton, not nearly as wooden as expected) as the Bond-esque newbie, reluctant pilot/secret weapon Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen, a personal favourite) and tech geeks, Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Although the majority of the upfront criticism seemed to focus on Ward and his lack of charisma, it’s the Fitz/Simmons combo that annoys me the most. They may the most quintessentially “Whedon-esque” of the ensemble cast (think: Topher from Dollhouse, Wash from Firefly, Fred from Angel, and Giles from Buffy), but they’re also the most forced. Plus either De Caestecker and Henstridge want their accents to stand out, or they really need to work on their enunciation because their line delivery is muted at best and downright incomprehensible at worst.
The final piece of the puzzle is brilliant hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet), a civilian with the capacity to hack SHIELD’s defenses from her van. Her abilities are the biggest logic gap of the pilot (in this corner of the Marvel universe science, or more specifically computers, are the equivalent of magic), but even if Bennet isn’t always believable as the lone member of the Rising Tide, she is arguably the most adept at handling Whedon’s trademark dialogue. Case in point: her delivery of “Not exactly a team player” is nearly identical to Eliza Dushku’s delivery of similar dialogue back in the Buffy era.
While the pilot is essentially little more than an introduction to the team built around a perfunctory case-of-the-week lifted from other Phase One stories (super soldiers from the 40s = Captain American, extremis = Iron Man 3), it’s nice to have Whedon alumnus J. August Richards (Angel‘s Gunn) along for the first round. Where the series goes, and how it will fit into the larger world of Iron Man, Thor and the other Marvel stories remains to be seen. As far as pilots go, this is a fairly confident entry that seems specifically designed to be very low-risk: it’s a calculated effort to welcome both fans and newcomers. Could it have been more exceptional? Absolutely. But that would have gone against the show’s premise that the everyday stories – beyond those of gods and giants – deserve to be told, wouldn’t it?
- S.H.I.E.L.D, which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (as Ward helpfully elaborates) has a long and colourful history. For more info on the division and what you may want to brush up on, check out EW’s history here
- While this show is attributed primarily to Joss Whedon – by others and, in editing this review, me – it’s a little misguided to focus too much on his involvement. While you can see Whedon’s fingerprints all over the final product and he will undoubtedly continue to be involved, the day-to-day production of the show has been entrusted to his brother Jed, and sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen. If you’re unaware of these two, just know that we’re in very solid hands (they wrote many of Dollhouse’s best episodes, as well as Internet sensation Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog)
- I’ll admit that I’m a fan of the Marvel films, but I am by no means an authority on its history. With this in mind, I’ll keep an eye out for easter eggs, but I hope readers will help out if I miss any
- Finally, in case the reference to 0-8-4 left you wondering, we’ll dig into that mystery with next week’s episode. In the meantime: Lola is a hovercraft!
- Maria (when Ward suggests Thor is not a god): “Hmm, you haven’t been near his arms”
- Coulson (on his mysterious entrance): “Sorry that corner was really dark and I couldn’t help myself.”
- Maria (when Ward asks if the Avengers know Coulson is alive): “They’re not Level 7”
- Skye (to the Hooded Hero): “With great responsibility comes…a lot of weird stuff”
- Coulson (surveying May’s workstation): “All you need is a moat”
- Simmons (refuting the value of Fitz’s gun): “I’m not Hermione. I just can’t create instant paralysis”
What were your thoughts on the pilot: did it deliver as anticipated, or were you disappointed? Who was your favourite character? Do you agree that Fitz & Simmons are the weakest characters? Are you hoping for any storylines to show up (remember cameos will likely be kept to a minimum – if they occur at all)? Hit the comments below
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 8pm EST on ABC