This week saw the debut of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first — though possibly not the last — incursion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into television. It’s probably fair to say it was one of the most anticipated debuts of the fall season. Being a fan of the movies, and generally looking for anything new and novel on television, I caught the pilot and have been thinking it over for a few days.
It’s not the grand slam home run we were looking for, but at least from the first episode it looks like it could be a pretty solid hit.
One of the smartest things the writers and producers did when making the series was to bring back Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson. After all, it’s not like they were going to be able to rope Samuel L. Jackson into an ongoing TV series. Coulson was the next highest-ranking agent in The Avengers, and also the one with the most screen time — and the most charisma. OK, so he was reported dead; it’s not like Nick Fury isn’t well known for lying. The pilot seems to be hinting at some sort of mystery surrounding that, but honestly, it could easily have been left with “Fury lied”. Since they don’t seem to be leaving it at that, hopefully what they’ve got lurking underneath isn’t too silly.
Coulson’s return is particularly important as the other characters aren’t very well developed yet. There’s Skye (Chloe Bennet), the rebel hacker who runs afoul of S.H.I.E.L.D., and she just has the major points of her character shown, and then there’s a bunch of near-cyphers. Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton play competent agents with significant baggage that will presumably be explored in later episodes. Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge play a pair of absent-minded lab rats who seem to share a form of twin-think. There’s potential in the characters, but as is often the case for pilots, it’s only potential; the only really interesting guy is Coulson.
The plot looks like it’s going to follow the standard format for sci-fi shows today. From all appearances there will be a foe of the week, and a season-long plot arc about mysterious backers. Those plot arcs always give me mixed feelings any more; they’re arguably necessary to give the show depth, but if there’s anything that’ll derail the show, it’ll come from there. One thing that did bother me a little was how cavalier the show was in assuming that everybody has seen all the prior films. Sure, it’s a continuation of the story, but there’s a difference between building on it, and assuming foreknowledge. When they mention the super serum and the gamma radiation, that’s done in a manner that you don’t need to have seen Captain America or Hulk to get the gist of it. But when Extremis — arguably the most complex of the origins — is brought up, it’s done in a manner that will be completely opaque to anybody who hasn’t seen Iron Man 3 (and yet at the same time would verge on spoilers if it weren’t clear from the very beginning of IM3 what’s going on with Extremis). Considering that’s the newest movie in the bunch, and has only just been released to home video, that’s potentially a lot of viewers. Considering it wasn’t a necessary addition to the mix, I personally think it should have been left out. It’s mostly a quibble in the case of the pilot episode, but it does make me wonder how much the rest of the series will require an encyclopedic knowledge of the films. If I’m a few months late to catch Ant-Man, will I have to let Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sit in my queue until I watch it? I hope not, as that’s the sort of thing that can kill interest in a show. Connections are good, but it can’t rely on them.
The amount of humor in the episode was handled reasonably well. It’s just enough to remember that these are human beings, and not necessarily normal ones. The level of action was a little on the light side, but this impression may be from comparing it to its cinematic brethren rather than its competitors on the television. Still, given that this is a show about ordinary people going up against superpowered threats, it’s to be hoped that not all of the threats will just be “Really Strong Guy”.
It’s not perfect, there are definitely some first-episode jitters to be worked out. But the potential is definitely there, and I enjoyed it more than enough to justify sticking around for a while.