Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall TV Review: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Written by: Daren W. Jackson on September 25, 2013.

I’ll be honest. I was all prepared to bash this series. Being the Marvel-ite that I am, I just knew this show would be a colossal debacle, further alienating true comic book fans in an effort to gain widespread appeal. I just knew it. But then I watched the pilot. And I adjusted my thinking.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been playing up its connection to Marvel’s big screen blockbuster The Avengers in the run-up to its premiere, and that was a clever tactic for bridging that gap. This show is pretty much setup at the fallout from what occurred in the movie. Now the public knows about S.H.I.E.L.D. People know that humans aren’t the only beings in the universe. And it is clear that “the extraordinary” that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been working so hard to hide is now out in the open.

ABC’s official website describes the show as such:

Clark Gregg reprises his role of Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel’s feature films, as he assembles a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Together they investigate the new, the strange, and the unknown across the globe, protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary.

And that is a pretty apt, if bland, summary of what occurs in the pilot. This “highly select” team that is put together consists of Agent Grant Ward (highly trained in combat and espionage), Agent Melinda May (expert pilot and martial artist), Agent Leo Fitz (brilliant engineer), Agent Jemma Simmons (genius bio-chemist), and new recruit Skye (computer hacker). Each of the team members has his or her own specialty, yet they each clearly have a weakness or issue in their past that is sure to pop up in the future.

The characters that rise above the rest are Agent Coulson (of course), Agent Melinda May, and newbie Skye. Ming-Na Wen does a stellar job of taking what is really scant source material and dialogue for Agent May and somehow forging a complicated, believable, and endearing character with depth. Chloe Bennet brings a smart fangirl sensibility to the hero world, and the show does a great job of playing her off of Agent Coulson.

On the flip-side of that coin, the other characters remain as question marks. Agent Ward, though quite competent in his job, doesn’t seem like much more than necessary muscle. And the “Fitz/Simmons” duo, though playful and ripe for chuckles, has little exposure other than as plot devices, so who knows how those characters will play out over the course of the season.

If you are a true Marvel Comics fan, there were plenty of easter eggs there for you to find (feel free to shout them out in the comments section below), and there are strong ties to other movies in the Marvel MCU stable. The show definitely does a great job of bringing that Cineplex feel to a weekly drama.

The problem is that trying to cram all of that back story, character development, and any semblance of a plot into a one hour drama is heavy lifting. This pilot episode is bursting at the seams with information and dialogue, so it is a lot to take in. Whereas that works for a show like Scandal, it was more overwhelming showcased here. But now that there is a baseline established for the show, I expect the pacing to drop just a notch and not overload our senses every week. If they take the time to develop each storyline within the subsequent episodes, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.could be a real winner.

PROS:
  • Agent Coulson’s trademark personality
  • Sharp writing
  • Near movie-level cinematics
  • Solid mythology foundation

CONS:
  • Breakneck pacing
  • Too much mythology, not enough plot
  • Doesn’t feel groundbreaking or innovative

We’re rating this one “too early to call.” Though I have all the faith in the world that J.J. Abrams and his team don’t have the capacity to mess this one up, there just wasn’t enough “there” there to make a true judgment.

If you somehow missed the show (it television’s highest-rated premiere in nearly 4 years), ABC is airing it again on Thursday.