MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (T.V. pilot review)


One of the most anticipated new series of the fall TV season (if not the most anticipated) is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Picking up where Marvel’s The Avengers left off Okay, wait, time out.  We all know Marvel rules Hollywood these days so there’s no need to shove it down our throats like Lee Daniels’ The Butler, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village or John Carpenter’s Halloween/They Live/Prince of Darkness/Ghosts of Mars/Escape from New York/Escape from L.A./Starman/Christine/The Fog/The Ward/The Thing/Big Trouble in Little China, etc.  The Carpenter joke got annoying, right?  Ditto for the preponderance of pretentious pre-title possessive nouns, but I digress.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not perfect.  It has some kinks to work out.  It also has the potential of being a great, fun, entertaining show for comic book geeks and mainstreamers alike.

In the wake of the Avengers’ Battle of New York, S.H.I.E.L.D. has assembled their own team.  Their mission — locate new super powered individuals, who seem to be popping up every day, before organizations more shadowy than S.H.I.E.L.D. locate and turn them to the dark side.  The first such individual is an unemployed single dad who gains Extremis powers left over from Iron Man 3.

Coulson in Lola

“L-O-L-A Lola, lo lo lo Lola.”


Everyone’s favorite secret agent man, Phil Coulson, is back from the dead and in charge from the moment he says, “Welcome to Level 7.”  Before attempting to save super dad from suffering the same fate as most Extremis victims, Coulson has to recruit pilot/martial artist Melinda May, as well as British braniacs Fitz and Simmons.  Rounding out the team are Agent Ward, a loner spy with “poopy” people skills, and Skye, a hot computer hacker who knows more secrets than S.H.I.E.L.D. does.  Through her one-woman conspiracy theory movement, The Rising Tide, Skye seeks the super-powered truth that she believes to be covered up by the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (Didn’t think I knew what the acronym stands for, did ya?).

Joss Whedon and his brother, Jed, co-created the series (based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creations).  Joss also directed the pilot, which features all the Whedonisms one could want — witty dialog, ensemble casting, fun action, a Firefly alum (Ron Glass).  The gadgets and special effects are top notch, particularly a closing shot that’ll make Back to the Future fans experience déjà vu.  The cast, led by Clark Gregg, are personable and fun.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is not that bad, but still warrants mentioning.

"Why are we inside a honeycomb?"

“Look me in the eye and answer honestly — Why are we in a blue honeycomb?”

At times the episode feels indecisive about who the window character is – the character whose eyes we the audience see this brave new world through.  Frodo served this purpose in The Lord of the Rings.  Luke did likewise in Star Wars.  Here we get two sets of eyes as personified by Ward and Skye.  The first half of the episode features him, the second half features her.  It feels jarring, but hopefully now that the pilot is over, the series will focus on one or the other.  Not both.

The set-up of this episode, as evident by this exchange…

SKYE: “I’m not exactly a team player.”

COULSON: “We’re not exactly a team.”

…leads one to believe that the central theme of the series will be disparate people putting aside their differences and coming together for the greater good.  However, by the time the climax moves into slow-mo nods of approval from the various team members, the theme already feels like it’s done and over.  Perhaps that’s for the best since this was already explored, albeit with costumes, in The Avengers.

Remember Joey, the short-lived spin-off of Friends that followed Matt LeBlanc’s character to L.A. in pursuit of his acting dreams?  I’m trying to forget it too, but one thing I do remember is that it never referenced a single friend.  No e-mails from Chandler or phone calls from Rachel.  Not even a congrats gift for when Joey got his big break in a Pacino film (I remember more than I should, damn it).  The producers tried to prove that Tribbiani was strong enough to exist on his own.  That’s admirable, but it’s unbelievable that he’d have zero contact with his so-called best friends.  That’s not the case here.


“Who’s unemployed after HIMYM’s final season? Not this girl!”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has so many references to the Marvel Universe — Avenger action figures, Chitauri alien tech, allusions to Stark Tower and Gamma radiation — that it’s almost too many.  By the time someone utters, “With great power…” we more than get the point.

Every series needs a few episodes under its belt before finding its legs and this one is no different.  I don’t doubt that the above quibbles will be ironed out before we dive into the mysteries that lay ahead, the big mystery of course being Agent Coulson’s resurrection.

Loki killed him in The Avengers.  He died in Nick Fury’s arms.  Or did he?  Yes, for about 40 seconds before being revived and relocated in order to motivate the feuding superheroes into uniting.  Or so Coulson believes, but before you can complain of how faking his death cheapens the impact of his death, we get a tantalizing hint that something deeper is at play.  It comes courtesy of Ron Glass’ doctor and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill…

DOCTOR: “He really doesn’t know?”

MARIA: “He can never know.”

My guess (possible spoiler alert) is that Coulson did actually die but his brainwaves were transferred to an L.M.D.  For those who didn’t grow up reading S.H.I.E.L.D. comics or who missed Tony Stark’s split second reference in The Avengers, L.M.D. stands for Life Model Decoy.

Welcome to Level 7 indeed.






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