Who: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM.
What: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” a serial television drama based on a comic/graphic novel series from Marvel Comics.
When: The series premiered on ABC, Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 8:00 PM.
Where: The show is set in the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe and closely follows the events of “The Avengers” film, directed by series creator Joss Whedon.
Why: Two reasons: Joss Whedon and Disney’s first television production of the Marvel property it recently acquired. Even if I am more of a DC girl, I love Whedon, and I love comic book adaptations, though I have not seen The Avengers. It seemed like a no-brainer, really.
How – as in How Was It?
The pilot/premiere rating scale:
***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING. HOLY SMOKES!
**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing. I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.
*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens. There are things I like, and things I don’t. We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.
** – I will give it three episodes. Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together. No matter how unlikely.
* – Pass on this one, guys. It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. = ***
The mission of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, i.e. S.H.I.E.L.D., is to monitor and collect rogue supernatural subjects, forces, and people and to control them. The Division is kind of like the so-called Men in Black but is focused on any fringe element looking to create the next Tony Stark (Iron Man) or Captain America or Thor without the natural-born endowments (or the cool suit invented by a rich guy). There is a movement, however, known as the “Rising Tide,” of which Skye (Chloe Bennett) is a member, which believes that government agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. interfere too heavily with the natural evolution of humans and science geared toward super status, particularly when such elements may produce heroes and people aiming to do good and to better society/the world. The pilot focuses on introducing the main characters of S.H.I.E.L.D. through the construct of Whedon-verse regular J. August Richards (formerly Gunn on Angel) who acquires superhuman abilities through a “centipede” device that introduces biochemical elements found in other super-humans in an attempt to make him, a regular human, super. The device, however, is faulty and causes erratic behavior that ultimately leads to the subjects’ (self) destruction.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its pilot were kind of a mess. Entering into watching this series, Whedon and the show’s other producers presumed the following:
1) That all viewers have seen The Avengers film.
2) That all viewers are Marvel comics aficionados.
3) That all viewers would jump on board with the quick line deliveries and series of action sequences without demanding needed back story to allow those elements to gel.
It is difficult to address to the overall effectiveness of the pilot when anyone without those connections, such as this viewer, is left watching what is essentially an hour of a summer blockbuster that is a sequel to a first film not previously seen. I have not seen The Avengers, I only like Spider Man and the X-Men in the Marvel universe, and I generally like back story. While watching The Avengers may not have yielded information helpful in understanding events of this pilot, the universe being depicted would, at least, be easier to suspend disbelief for and to envision.
In addition, as much as this viewer loves Joss, he has developed a pattern of writing and/or directing somewhat shaky pilots of series that may or may not survive to longer lives without infusing or kick-starting the story in a major way early in the process. Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse all suffered from slow-to-rise first season stories that depended primarily on how quickly the ensemble casts adjusted to the gimmick of the show. Angel required the introduction of other prior Buffy characters (like Wesley Wyndham-Price); Firefly needed the arc of the search for River Tam and the constant run from the authorities; and Dollhouse utilized the larger arc of former dolls infiltrating the Dollhouse with the plan to expose it before that program really became enticing to watch on a weekly basis. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels a bit like the X-Files crossed with Fringe crossed with Men in Black crossed with any other comic book movie, and the seeming lack of originality may lead to its downfall in the end.
It is also difficult to discuss the adequacy of the performances because none of the characters were provided fully flushed out scenes or were given interesting arcs except guest star Richards – who was only around for the one episode – and Skye, to some extent. At least, her passion and some quirks of her personality and interests were exposed as S.H.I.E.L.D. wooed her membership, but nothing truly engaging was offered.
Ming-Na Wen plays an operative for S.H.I.E.L.D. who has some fascinating fighting skills and seems adverse to working “in the field,” and she did a fine job of acting earnest in her desires, but there was really nothing to follow from or care about vis-a-vis the perspective of her character. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the “bomb” lover, seemed like any cheesy anti-hero.
History encourages this viewer to have faith in Joss, having stuck with of all his previous efforts, for better or for worse. Yet, in watching the pilot of S.H.I.E.L.D., it is evident that there are some tantalizing action sequences, some decent special effects, a whole slew of technology that has no basis in anything (unless one saw The Avengers or other prerequisite Marvel material), some trademark Whedon humor, and a potentially interesting story arc surrounding the “centipede.” Yet, none of these characters or the arc mean anything to a casual viewer because the universe has not been properly established for the non-Avengers fanatic, and the dynamics and interplay between the series regular characters are not engaging enough to merit staying interesting in future episodes.
Still, as previously stated, Joss frequently has to get warmed up during a new series before it starts firing on all cylinders. So, this viewer rates the pilot three stars. I will watch a half dozen episodes and see if the show fares better or becomes more interesting as it progresses. Perhaps, the pilot was meant to be flashy to grab the viewer and/or the network executives, and subsequent episodes will attempt to fill in the obvious holes. After all, though comic book adaptations can often be shallow affairs, the best comic book adaptations are those that meld story and action. If Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can manage to do so effectively in the near future, then there is some potential for this series to deliver a solid hour of action-packed entertainment each week.
Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is recommendable to anyone who watched and loved The Avengers, as many of the same producers, writers, and directors, including Joss Whedon himself, are involved with this project. Also, Marvel comic lovers might enjoy this outing. If you don’t love comic book screen adaptations or have not seen The Avengers, you should probably pass on this one. On a grading scale, I would give this premiere a B-/C+.
THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:
Too early to tell. The pilot enjoyed the highest rating for a pilot in four years, particularly among the viewers aged 18-34 demographic. The show will likely be picked up for a full season, but series are produced in 13 episode increments, typically. Let’s see how it fares.