11.9 million viewers tuned in last night for ABC’s pilot episode of Agents of SHIELD. Out of the millions who watched was rapper, X-Men encyclopedia, and hip hop critic Sy L. Shackleford. Sy is our guest TV columnist this week on Action A Go Go, so let’s give him a warm welcome and try not to crucify him for whatever positive or negative things he has to say about the fall’s most highly anticipated show.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Premier: September 24th, 2013
The terms “disappointment” and “Joss Whedon” are like “water” and “oil”: They just don’t go together. Mr. Whedon’s track record with live-action TV has been solid, ranging from pop culture staples to cult classics. With the critical and commercial über-success of 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, it became apparent that the man could write his own ticket. Which brings us to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his latest TV creation and spin off of the superhero blockbuster. But how does it measure up?
Agents of SHIELD definitely has a comic book feel to it but, more importantly, here’s plenty of Whedon elements I’ve come to expect: Sexual tension, witty banter, action scenes, et al. But the real showcase is Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. I know, how did he come back when we saw him die in Avengers, right? Turns out Nick Fury faked Coulson’s death to motivate the heroes from the 2012 film. Whedon uses that as the set-up and, in the process, makes S.H.I.E.L.D. sound more like a Men In Black-type of agency as opposed to law enforcement/espionage organization that it is.
Right off the bat, we see a down-on-his-luck father named Mike Peterson (initially named “The Hooded-Hero” which is nearly parochial) exhibit super-strength to rescue a woman from an exploding building and becoming a YouTube sensation. Given the slick references to comic books made throughout (one character even says, “are you excited to Journey into Mystery?”), I believed he was a mutant like the X-Men, but alas, this is a Marvel Studios spin-off. It turns out that Petersen’s strength is the result of Extremis, a concept reintroduced from Iron Man 3. Moreover, that revelation leads to another plot twist regarding his earlier heroic feat.
Most of the pilot revolves around S.H.I.E.L.D. policing super-powered individuals and reining them in before they can cause harm. As far as characterization goes, Whedon laces them with tropes that let alert viewers know just how self-aware the characters are about the genre they inhabit. One character, a pseudo-anarchist computer hacker/potential agent named Skye is about to tell Peterson “with great power comes…”, but the trope is avoided quickly as it seems redundant. Coulson, the man in charge and portrayed with the same commanding style as Nick Fury (but nicer) remarks that S.H.I.E.L.D. is “where they make the red tape” and Peterson uses his strength to prove a point to the boss who laid him off, developing a Marxian epiphany that comes too quickly.
With the final action scene culminating in a stand-off between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Peterson at a Los Angeles train station, it becomes apparent that Coulson is a character who recognizes the humanity in the individuals they seek. He doesn’t want to kill Mike on account of his son, so the heartless law enforcement officer cliche’ is averted. Mike Peterson expresses his own intimidation by the influx of the Avengers and their battle in New York, revealing his desire to do what’s right and his fear of losing his grip on what makes him human.
Overall, I think this pilot episode was a good start and kept me engaged with the twist and turns of the characters and plot, not to mention a good-helping of Whedon’s penchant for tough and spunky female characters. The only “con” I have is that I wanted some more action in the episode. My biggest “pro” is the self-awareness of the genre, particularly with the Jetson’s reference at the end (if you’re my age or older, you’ll get it when you see it). Plenty remains a mystery, but I guess we’ll learn next week in the second episode.