Tuesday, September 24, 2013

REVIEW: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Pilot

It's been a long time since I've looked as forward to a TV series as I have ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Much of my anticipation is that I am an unabashed fan of the way Marvel has put together their cinematic universe and continues to build their brand by exploring new avenues.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is the first effort by Marvel to carry their big screen success over to the small screen and while I fully expect the series to be an absolute must see, I needed to see the first episode to take the edge off my anxiety.

It definitely did not take long for my anxiety to be relieved.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s pilot was just what it needed to be: a show fully embedded in the current shared universe of Marvel's films while still being able to stand on its own.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will not, apparently, hide from the connections to the larger universe that exists and those connections will add another level of flavor and enjoyment but, one episode in, it's not those connections that make the show a success.  In a show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D you better have some strong agents: this show does.  For all the speculation about who J. August Richards would be playing, he's really just the plot device to bring the new team together while reminding us that the events of the Battle of New York, and Iron Man 3, have impacted the world.  Many fans wondered what happened after the climactic events of The Avengers; it seems Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to address that, maybe a little at a time.

I may not be the most qualified to make this judgement, but I think the show may work for all levels of fandom.  The numerous Easter Eggs make it extremely enjoyable to hardcore fans but just about anybody who tunes in is going to enjoy the interplay among the agents, the gadgetry and Coulson. Coulson is back...he is alive...is he? I'm not so sure and neither is anyone else.  How Coulson made it isn't revealed, just that not even Coulson knows how Coulson really made it. But, Coulson has jokes and Coulson stole the first half of the show in what I believe was a genius move.  Coulson is the bridge that connects this show to the MCU; we needed to see his face and feel comfortable before accepting the show.  Once that was established and we were in our comfort zone, Jed Whedon, show writer and brother of MCU godfather, Joss Whedon, throttled back on the Coulson and let the team take center stage and gave the audience a chance to begin to get to know them.

The individuality of the agents struck me as the show progressed. Ward, Fitz, Simmons, May and Skye have all the makings of solid characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. There will be no confusing any one for the other and, as we go, we are going to really appreciate just what it is that each of them brings to the team and how they are going to, ultimately, come to depend on one another.  While Joss Whedon is not writing every episode he is going to have his hands in the play-dough and Joss Whedon does ensemble like nobody in the business.

As for a spoiler free review of the plot in 25 words:
People are trying to invent superhumans (Extremis). Mike Peterson was just a dude until now; now he's in over his head. S.H.I.E.L.D. saves the day.

Easy enough: I'm sold on the show.  Not because of awesome special effects or because of the schema-activating references to the MCU.  I'm sold on the concept of seeing this team build and take on assignments.  We know that their assignment in episode 3 involves Dr. Franklin Hall.  Comic fans are going to anticipate it and the endgame and maybe there will be a bigger payoff for us.  But I think that the less-involved fan will still get plenty out of each episode and will likely be pleasantly surprised when things take a twist for the weird.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. measured up to my high expectations, every one of them, but it did it by being a little different than what I had in mind.  The bigger MCU references worked well, never felt forced and didn't steal the show, not even Coulson (not the whole time at least).  They might add another layer of enjoyment, but the pilot was all about the agents and I wasn't sure that would be the case.  Turns out after one episode the agents are absolutely the best part of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Gold foil star Marvel/Disney/ABC.