Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whedon Fans Might Be Happy, But Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Pilot” Hardly Sells The Series In Objective Terms!

The Good: Funny, Interesting set-up
The Bad: Nothing exceptional on the acting or character fronts.
The Basics: Joss Whedon opens Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an unincredible, but not unenjoyable, way.

When the cast of the new television series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced, the show had a pretty instant conceptual problem. The top of the cast list was Clark Gregg, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Phase One Movies (reviewed here!) and appeared to die in The Avengers (reviewed here!). Given that the big emotional moment of The Avengers was the death of Phil Coulson, which was used as a catalyst to get the team of super heroes to start working together, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had the huge potential to gut one of the biggest summer blockbusters of all time.

And yet, by the first act break of the “Pilot” to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the problem has an insinuated rectification and it is delivered to the savvy viewers of Marvel’s new project in a way that Joss Whedon fans are likely to love. In fact, the people most likely to get a jag out of the unimaginatively titled “Pilot” are fans of Joss Whedon’s works. In addition to featuring Whedonverse alumni J. August Richards (sounds like Gunn, looks so much older!) and Ron Glass (who manages to look younger than he did on Firefly), the wry humor and sense of humor about industry conceits (like Coulson emerging from a dark corner and noting that that is an improbable position for him to be in) are pure Whedon. But for comic book fans, there is something underwhelming about the characters in the pilot episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; the villains are not especially super and the heroes are not given enough to do yet to truly impress.

At some point after the Battle Of New York (the references to Iron Man 3, reviewed here!, come very late in the episode to imply it happens after that film), an explosion in an apartment leads Mike Peterson to climb up a wall and enter the burning building. Peterson illustrates super-strength and super-endurance in rescuing a woman from the burning building. Peterson’s activities draw the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill and Agent Coulson, who extract Grant Ward from Paris and bring him in to Level 7 of S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D. is hunting a terrorist organization Rising Tide, an organization that is working against S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit emerging superheroes and “unregistered metahumans.”

Easily tracking Rising Tide’s spokeswoman, Skye, Coulson, Ward, and the rest of the team start to uncover an industrial conspiracy that Skye seems more aware of than S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to pay his bills, Project Centipede’s successful cyborg augment Mike Peterson begins to show psychological strain. As Coulson and Grant hunt for Peterson, the rest of the ream investigates the corporate conspiracy that built Peterson.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. opens fairly unremarkably with its “Pilot.” Like spinoff programs like The Lone Gunmen (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly counting entirely on an existing fanbase to survive. The “Pilot” has little outside Whedon’s dialogue and Hollywood beautiful people to sell the episode. Clark Gregg is surrounded by probably the best-looking group of people to ever work in intelligence (where one would think blending in would be a priority).

Like The Lone Gunmen, “Pilot” fleshes the familiar characters that sell the initial premise out with likable “types.” In this case, the S.H.I.E.L.D. forensic team on Level Seven includes Leo and Jemma, who are a bantering team who allow Whedon to continue to perpetrate the concept of the socially-inept scientist geeks, Melinda May, an apparent celebrity in the intelligence community who is relegated in the pilot to driving the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane, Grant, who does little more than show up and look good (it’s like Whedon listened to the commentary track on the second episode to The Lone Gunmen!).

The “Pilot” seems to have missed the resolution to Iron Man 3 in the way it develops the conflict with Mike Peterson. After all, Pepper Potts was cured of her infection, which pops up in “Pilot” and yet, apparently, Tony Stark did not share that technology with S.H.I.E.L.D.?!

The set-up for the characters in “Pilot” is fine. Skye is instantly one of the most interesting Whedon characters to come to one of his series’. While Coulson shows up with the important potential to later be revealed to be a replicant of the popular character, Skye is an adversary turned ally with plenty of potential to create conflict and reversals that make Joss Whedon shows so engaging.

But on the acting front, there are no remarkable performances in “Pilot.” Clark Gregg is predictably great as Agent Coulson and J. Augist Richards presents all the angst in one episode that he did in every Angel episode where he wrestled with confronting the conflicts between being a part of Angel’s team and his old crew on the street. Ming-Na Wen’s performance is basically limited to a single martial art’s scene and the brief appearances by Cobie Smulders have her portraying an administrator more than a field agent. The result is a pilot episode that is somewhat more mundane than extraordinary.

As viewers wait to see if the villainous organization skirted around in “Pilot” lives up to Whedon’s legacy with Wolfram & Hart, we are left with an episode that does not absolutely land the return trip to this corner of the Marvel Universe.

For other works with Cobie Smulders, please visit my reviews of:
Safe Haven
How I Met Your Mother - Season 5
How I Met Your Mother - Season 4
How I Met Your Mother - Season 3
How I Met Your Mother - Season 2
How I Met Your Mother - Season 1
The L Word - Season 2

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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