News, Views, and Reviews
I don’t think I’ve been this excited to watch a new TV show in a long time. I’m not just a fan of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” as it’s called (the Marvel movies that are actually presented by Marvel/Disney and are directly connected to each other: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and The Avengers movies), I’ve been a fan of super heroes and comic books since I was a child. I just happen to really, REALLY like the MCU and especially love The Avengers. Creating a TV show that fits into that Universe is brilliant. The fact that this new show is also being written and overseen by Joss Whedon, the man that produced some of my favorite TV shows of all time (Buffy and Angel) AND directed The Avengers movie, just makes it that much more exciting. If anything, I was trying to keep my expectations low for the pilot episode of Agents. After all, this is a TV show, not a movie, and it stars “normal” human beings and how they have to deal with the “new world” of super powered beings. But that’s a great premise, and thankfully, the pilot episode was absolutely awesome!
Story: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D takes place after the events of The Avengers and Iron Man 3 movies. Although some “super-hero” activity has happened throughout the years, most people have gone about their lives, oblivious to their existence. That all changed when Loki led the alien Chitauri invasion force that attacked New York City, and people saw The Avengers assemble to defeat them. It’s hard to imagine how that would effect people. As it is, people barely acknowledge real dangers like global warming or the potential of asteroids colliding with the earth, how would we cope with knowing that alien armies could attack us, too? Or that myths of Gods like Thor and Loki are actually true? To handle this new reality, the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D) put together a new team of agents. Their job is to track down and respond to any appearance of super-powered beings before they become a problem. If this premise sounds familiar, it does remind me of TV shows like Heroes or the general theme of comics/movies like The X-Men. “Find those with powers and convince them to be good” or something like that. I think the big difference for Agents is that something really big HAS happened already, so it carries a different urgency than Heroes. But, in spite of that gravitas, Agents is quickly paced and full of light humor.
Characterization: Joss Whedon has time and again proven he can handle an ensemble cast. Agents looks like it has at least six main characters, and we’re quickly introduced to each of them in the pilot. Naturally, a few of them stand out as more important in this episode, but as this is a TV show, there will be plenty of time to let each of them shine. Marvel let the big secret out of the bag months ago: Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) didn’t really die in the Avengers. “Coulson Lives” was a part of the ad campaign for this show, and fans filled the internet with theories of how he survived. Foreshadowing how each of the characters could have their own secrets, Coulson’s explanation of how he survived isn’t exactly true. Coulson isn’t to blame, though, because that particular secret is being held by Agent Maria Hill (guest appearance by Cobie Smulders). Perhaps because of this near-death experience, Agent Coulson has a new attitude: a new swagger in his step, a twinkle in his eye, and a serious commitment to his new mission. The days of timidly asking Tony Stark to play nice with the government (in the Iron Man movies) have passed. Just as his secret represents issues other characters might have, Coulson fully represents the attitude of the show itself: It is serious and fun at the same time.
After Coulson, the pilot episode gives the most attention to Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and internet wonder child “Skye” (Chloe Bennet). These two characters are perfectly matched opposites: Ward is an all-serious Agent that prefers to work alone and doesn’t believe he’s the right guy to lead any team, let alone a team dedicated to dealing with super powers; Skye is obsessed with discovering all she can about super powers and exposing what she thinks is some S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy to hide the truth. Skye’s internet and hacking skills lead to her being captured by S.H.I.E.L.D., but it seems Coulson is more interested in recruiting instead of silencing her. Coulson also recruits former-bad-ass Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) to be their “pilot”, although its clear he’s interested in her other skills, and super-science-team Leo Fritz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Agent Ward mistakes the duo for one person, “Fitzsimmons”, when he first meets them, but it’s an accurate mistake. Their banter seems like sibling rivalry, or someone with an arguing split-personality, and they steal every scene they appear together.
I have to mention guest star J. August Richards, even for fear of spoilers, because he actually carried the emotional weight of this episode. While everyone else is getting acquainted and cracking jokes, Richards’ character has to deal with the premise of the show: super powers. Richards delivers the best speech in the show, and reminds the viewers that the world HAS changed. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but people that are already criticizing this show for being too silly or cheesy were clearly not paying attention to Richard’s character.
Visualization: Super powers have a history of appearing in TV shows for decades, with mixed results. Clearly, Marvel/Disney are playing it conservatively by focusing on “normal” people, which should help keep the budget down. But if the pilot episode is any indication, they must be spending an impressive amount on special effects. This show looked great, and not just depicting super powers. The carrier jet that serves as the new team’s “home base” is a great set. Agents Fitz and Simmons do a great job aping Tony Stark’s crime scene recreation 3D hologram technology (seen in Iron Man 3). Even the “normal” people fight sequences are well choreographed, and the quick pacing of the show means there is never a boring moment.
Sound: Similarly, the sound production is theater quality, with impressive sound effects and a fitting musical score (original music by Bear McReary). McReary has apparently worked on some of my other favorite shows, like Defiance, Battlestar Galactica, and The Walking Dead. I love movies (and TV shows) with recognizable themes, and I’ll soon by humming the Agents theme music.
Conclusion: If I had to voice any complaints, I would say that this episode felt a little rushed. There’s so much to take in, so many characters to meet and relate with, that its hard to believe it fit into a regular length TV episode. I wish they could have done a two hour premiere or something like that. An IGN editor pointed out that this show has to try to cater to three audiences: 1. Fans of the comic books, 2. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and 3. Non-fans of either that just want to watch a good TV show. The quality IS there for the non-fans, and the exposition/ties to the MCU are so slight that they aren’t THAT necessary to appreciate the show on its own merits, but I worry that it still might be a little too much over their heads. Perhaps the next episodes can really flesh out the main characters, and make them strong enough to stand on their own.
Others are complaining about the lighthearted nature of the show, but I actually enjoy it. Why DOES every TV show have to be so serious and dramatic lately? Isn’t deflecting serious situations with humor as valid a defense mechanism as moping and brooding? If anything, Agents looks like it is a show that can be enjoyed by all ages, like a good Disney or Pixar movie. If the quality remains consistent – the writing, directing, acting, visual and sound quality – then Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be THAT show that everyone can enjoy.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered on Tuesday, September 24th, and can be seen every Tuesday on ABC at 7pm, or 24 hours later on ABC.com.
SPOILERS discussed below. I strongly recommend watching the TV show first!
OK one other complaint: the plot device was way too complicated. Trying to cram multiple justifications for super-powers into one device was overkill. It could have been just gamma radiation or just super-soldier-serum or just Chitauri technology or just Extremis – but why all of that?? My suspicion is that the mysterious “Centipede” project/super villain sounds more intimidating if they have a handle on all of that power, but I think it was too much for the pilot episode. Unless that IS the point. Imagine a villain that has an army of super powerful minions that can be “activated” and controlled at any time with the Chitauri technology…okay, I take it back, that is pretty cool. I think it goes without saying that the “doctor” he rescued from that building is not the mastermind.
What about those other “secrets” the cast might be hiding? Here’s what I picked up: Agent Ward has super health. What does that mean? Some sort of super-soldier serum? He seemed more embarrassed than proud of it. Skye was able to wipe out Michael’s identity and has done something like that before – I’m guessing for herself. That’s one of the things that Coulson was impressed with, something about her being completely unknown to them. What secret(s) is she hiding? What DID Agent May used to do, that would give her a reputation that new Agent Ward would know about? Something that motivated her to take a desk job? I can’t think of any secrets that were hinted about Fitz and Simmons. But what about Coulson?!?! Did the real Phil Coulson actually die, and this is some sort of clone or copy?? Hopefully, these and other secrets will be slowly revealed and give more strength and weight to each character and the show overall.