Marvel’s movies are huge. Can that success carry over from the big screen to the small screen? Joss Whedon and ABC certainly hope so, and if the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere is to be any indication, they may be right.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 1 (“Pilot”)
- Director: Joss Whedon
- Writers: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen Whedon, using concepts developed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
- Episode cast:
- Clark Gregg … Phil Coulson
- Ming-Na Wen … Melinda May
- Brett Dalton … Grant Ward
- Chloe Bennet … Skye
- Iain De Caestecker … Leo Fitz
- Elizabeth Henstridge … Jemma Simmons
- Cobie Smulders … Maria Hill
- Ron Glass … Dr. Streiten
- Shannon Lucio … Debbie
- J. August Richards … Mike Peterson
- Dan Sachoff … Reporter #1
- Arlene Santana … Reporter #2/Hunter Harris
- Doug Simpson … FBI Agent
- Bob Stephenson … Gary
- Original Music: Bear McCreary
- Cinematography: David Boyd
- Film Editing: Paul Trejo
- Original airing details: 24 September 2013, 8:00–9:01 PM ET, ABC TV Network
- Episode summary (from the ABC press release): These agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have a mission: To investigate the new, the strange and the unknown around the globe, protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary. In the premiere episode, “Pilot,” it’s just after the battle of New York, and now that the existence of super heroes and aliens has become public knowledge, the world is trying to come to grips with this new reality. Agent Phil Coulson is back in action and has his eye on a mysterious group called The Rising Tide. In order to track this unseen, unknown enemy, he has assembled a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). The group’s first assignment together as a team finds them trying to track down an ordinary man who has gained extraordinary powers. Powers that could have devastating consequences.
From the outside looking in, it would seem that S.H.I.E.L.D. (yes, I’m going to shorten the rather lengthy title from here on out) has everything going for it: It’s tied directly into one of the biggest movies of the past several years (The Avengers), it’s tied directly into some of the biggest franchises in movies currently (the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, which also includes the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Incredible Hulk film franchises), and it has a known (if not entirely household) name in Joss Whedon as its primary showrunner. But those strengths also carry with them concomitant weaknesses.
Lots of non-geeks and “comics civilians” saw 2012′s The Avengers and loved it. Many of these viewers also saw the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk films in the build-up to The Avengers, and it’s a fair bet that they’ll pony up to watch any and all the sequels. But will that love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies carry over to a TV show that really won’t have any of those big name actors and marquee superheroes in it? Is there enough in S.H.I.E.L.D. to interest the non-geek who isn’t predisposed to liking the idea of superheroes on television?
Well… yes and no.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll admit off the bat that Whedon’s name doesn’t really carry that much recognition value outside of geek circles, although that might have changed with The Avengers‘ billion dollar box-office take. For your casual TV viewer, if they know Whedon at all, it will be for his work on the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. And maybe they liked Buffy, but whether or not that is enough to draw audiences is open to debate.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be a tough sell, as many superhero/sci-fi shows on primetime basic TV generally are. The easy comparisons to make to Heroes and SyFy’s Alphas are there, and that alone is going to turn off some viewers. And The Avengers movie connections will only carry it so far. There are only so many times the writers can reference “the battle of New York” before it gets old. And some of the nods to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, such as Cobie Smulder’s guest turn reprising her Avengers role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill, probably won’t be caught by the casual TV audience. I watched it with my fiancée—who doesn’t really keep up with comics and is a casual fan of the Marvel films—and she didn’t recognize Smulders as Maria Hill from The Avengers at all (that being said, she also doesn’t watch How I Met Your Mother, so she wouldn’t have recognized the actress anyway) and she barely recognized Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson.
And I think that’s going to be the reaction of the majority of the people that see the show. I’ve already heard from my geek-crowd friends and they all loved the show. But how will it hold up with the non-geeks, the ones that liked The Avengers but have largely forgotten it apart from the big action set-pieces and costumes, the ones that don’t read the comic books and don’t have decades of connections to this universe? It’s too early to tell of course, but I think there is enough of a hook to S.H.I.E.L.D. to capture the attention of the casual TV audience. The show, if the solid writing, direction, and performances from the pilot are consistently realized in future episodes, should be strong enough to stand as its own entertainment entity, apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Besides, there’s a ton of material that can be mined from the comics without it ever coming into conflict with anything in the movies. The show is the perfect place to introduce B-list concepts from the comics, characters and teams that may not be flashy enough or are perhaps too goofy to be featured on the the big screen (A.I.M., perhaps?). The best thing S.H.I.E.L.D. has going for it, though, and what will (hopefully) allow it to survive beyond its inaugural season is its cast of characters.
Agent Coulson is clearly the centerpiece character, the show’s “star” if you will, its guiding light. He provides some funny moments, his deadpan delivery is perfect, making him the ideal straight man to the rest of cast’s collection of outsized personalities. He doesn’t fit the image people might have in mind for a secret agent, oozing confidence, danger, and charm from every pore and orifice à la James Bond, and that’s what makes him work so well.
It’s Brett Dalton’s Grant Ward who fills the role of the young, tough, cocky special agent. He’s also the weakest of the characters. There’s nothing interesting about him. He’s boring. He does have a couple of decent moments, but nothing you’ll remember after the episode.
The rest of the team are quirky with a capital “Q,” which is just what you would expect from a Joss Whedon show. Agents Fitz and Simmons are great. They can each stand on their own, but the most fun is in watching them interact. Seeing them shooting techno-babble non-stop at each other, a weird kind of communication, is fun to watch and it was probably even more fun to write.
Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May is the experienced soldier of the group, but so far all she’s tasked to do is drive the team’s “bus.” Like Ward, it’s hinted that she’s haunted by some event from her past as a frontline fighter, which will undoubtedly be shown more as the show progresses. She can definitely take care of her self—she seems to be positioned as the team’s designated bad-ass—and I hope they do more with her character because right now she comes across as Black Widow-lite.
So far the character with the greatest breakout potential seems to be Chloe Bennett’s Skye, the computer hacker who breaks into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s computers and whom they end up recruiting. She’s supposed to be the outsider, the non-government agent who serves as the audience’s point of view into the dark corners of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s world of superpowered cloak-and-dagger. She’s got some of the best lines, some of the best moments, and the requisite mysterious past. Ultimately, I think, the S.H.I.E.L.D. will only go as far as Coulson and Skye can carry it, as they have the best chemistry on the show.
As a comics geek, the show was everything I hoped it would be. Strong enough to stand on its own, but with relevant ties to the characters and events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were some nods to the Marvel comics as well, Easter eggs and (maybe) red herrings for us comics fans, mixed in with characters and concepts that are decidedly unique to the show. The first episode had all of the distinct stylistic features you’d expect from a Whedon production as well, which is a good thing (okay, a great thing) if you’re a fan of his work.
It remains to be seen if S.H.I.E.L.D. will become a hit with more casual Marvel fans however, not to mention viewers who don’t care for superheroes at all. Here’s hoping ABC gives it more of a chance to find its footing then Fox gave Firefly (oh, what a masterpiece that was) and Dollhouse.by