By Mr MaZZ
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.(which I’m just going to start calling SHIELD for now on) at first blush seems too big to fail. There is no such thing as too big to fail, especially in the extremely volatile and impatient world of Network television. Yes, it’s Nerd God Joss Whedon (and his cadre of helpers) first show since Dollhouse, making for more than enough reason to watch at least the pilot. But in the grand scheme of things Joss Whedon is small fry, OK more like medium fry thanks toThe Avengers. This is Disney going full Disney in their attempt to turn a profit and leverage ALL the IP they can muster within that Marvel portfolio. SHIELD is one big vertically integrated transmedia property that is really brash and commercial at one end. At the other end is a chance to do something really interesting as blockbuster franchises grow into one another and comics become the hot beds for new movies and TV shows. For now though that’s all just hearsay and bluster. Thankfully the Whedon touch manages to give a spark of creativity to what could be viewed as a deeply cynical attempt to hit yet another quadrant and market.
As far as Joss Whedon pilots go SHIELD is pretty good. His previous works like Buffy,Angel, and yes Firefly didn’t have really great pilots. This one is by no means my favorite new pilot of the year, that still belongs to The Americans, but SHIELD manages to establish a sense of self and tone that most of the new pilots seem to be lacking.
“This isn’t really a team but we are in the best position to do the most good”. is Agent Coulson's pitch to Rising Tide hacker Skye. Back from Tahiti, Coulson has commandeered a mobile SHIELD base: read a really cool looking plane, and filled it with his own more normal but no less exceptional brand of misfit toys. You’ve got Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward, the teams resident Black Ops man who isn’t exactly a people person. The duo of Agent Leo Fitz and Agent Jemma Simmons(Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge respectively), together they form FitzSimmon! And driving the “bus” is Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, an apparently legendary agent who is stuck working the desk until Coulson grabs her to drive the really cool bus.
Overall none of the new characters really grabbed me or stood out. Chloe Bennet as Skye is all spunky and typical Whedon female character. While Brett Dalton is very wooden, it’s easy to imagine him being the shows dreamy leading man but for now that seems like at best a dream. FitzSimmon are basically pure Whedoness and they banter a lot with British accents, it’s almost too calculated in how adorable they are. Clark Gregg continues to be excellent as Agent Coulson and brings the right amount of gravitas to the episode. Building the series around Gregg was the right call.
Whedon alumni J. August Richards as Michael Richardson is the subject for the case of the week. The pilot and Richards turn him into a rather interesting flashpoint of a character. SHIELD is post-Avengers, the secretes out we aren’t alone and suddenly a billionaire playboy philanthropist isn’t the craziest thing ever. “We are the ones they step on” Richardson laments to Coulson in the middle of a tense situation. In a world of giants what’s the working class joe like him got? We were promised things about working hard but that’s seemingly out the window now. So where is the stable ground. The pilot in general is filled with this type of philosophical world building which could become the show's strongest card.
Tonally this is the most confident pilot I’ve watched. There are explosions and men running around with Extremis and the possibility of a bomb going off and your typical dark stuff but it’s masked and lightened by fun banter and a general sense of hope. The special effects aren’t the greatest but in typical Whedon fashion they’re kind of endearing and charming in their camp value.
The cynical side of me could see this show becoming like a bad version of timeslot rival NCIS. Largely segregated episodically with hints of a greater universe but nothing big ever really happening. The thing is NCIS is the best comfort food TV has to offer. So if SHIELD can find a middle ground between NCIS warm and fuzzies and The X-Files things are going to be just fine. This might be a “Joss Whedon Show” but his brother Jed along with his wife are running things day to day. So we’re going to need to wait and see if the rest of the writers can take this ball and run with it. Waiting and seeing, not exactly the thing big network TV is best at.
Marvel has been king of the box office for years now and it came as no surprise that they would want to transition to the small screen. Comic books themselves are usually told in weekly or monthly installments in order to weave a deeper and more interesting story line that readers can really become invested in. Marvel's Agents of SHIELD hopes to be that bridge between big box office films and TV by including some touchstones from the movies and start establishing a larger universe of fiction for their characters to play around in.
SHIELD is a formerly secret organization charged by the government to hide the scary stuff like demi-gods fighting among themselves over the fate of Earth or protecting us when alien invasions start in downtown Manhattan. Since the events of The Avengers, SHIELD has decided to bring together a small task force in hopes of keeping smaller threats small and having themselves another borderline catastrophe. With Agent Coulson suddenly revived, or who knows since they left Tahiti as such a mystery, he begins to bring together agents like Agent Grant Ward who essentially comes across as American James Bond. Aboard the old helicarrier, a huge cargo plane retrofitted as a mobile base, this new task force can monitor and investigate problems as they occur all around the world.
Soon the whole team is together and start taking on their first case, the hooded hero. The story intertwines with story from Avengers, Iron Man 3, and mentions plenty of the main heroes from Marvel movies. It plays off of cliches really well and shows why having a team from SHIELD is vitally important. When the hooded hero, Michael Peterson, turns out to be a guy going through a lot of tough times he quickly goes from powered up hero to dangerously powerful villain. This borderline between good and evil is crossed quickly showing even a good but desperate person can do bad things. Luckily the SHIELD agents were around to not only stop Michael but also uncover his powers are coming from an artificially implanted device containing powers from super soldier serum, gamma radiation, alien artifacts, and extremis. Mixing the Marvel world together is what made Avengers so good and pulling the curtain open on a bigger pool of possibilities makes this show really have potential.
If they can keep up the interesting stories with a good dose of the overall Marvel universe then Agents of SHIELD could continue to be a great launching point for a deeper dive into secondary tales and heroes who might have never made it to the silver screen. This could turn out to be a quality tool within the Marvel arsenal.