Review: Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Series Premiere

By September 25, 2013

Agents of SHIELD - Cast

When ABC’s premiere of Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” began with the trademark sound and sight of flipping comic book pages turning into the Marvel Studios logo, it felt like we were in a movie theater for the latest continuation of their cinematic universe. Thankfully, despite some writing missteps and clear evidence of a lower budget than its big screen counterparts, this first TV endeavor inside that comic book universe holds a lot of promise.

The series uses Joss Whedon smartly since his strengths have already been proven in ensemble shows like “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (and even the short-lived “Dollhouse”), and we meet the whole crew of main characters in the pilot, complete with special guest star Cobie Smulders reprising her big screen role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, but that’s not the biggest link to the big screen film series.

Clark Gregg makes quite the entrance as Agent Phil Coulson, and then immediately mocks the cliche of entering a room from a dark corner, just for cinematic effect. His introduction comes after Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is pulled from duty in France to take on a new mission in East L.A., working with a team that includes Coulson, whose existence following his “death” in The Avengers is supposedly only revealed to those with Level 7 Clearance, and that’s something that the big screen superhero ensemble hasn’t been given.

Agents of SHIELD - Hill & Coulson

But there’s something that Hill and Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass from “Firefly”) are keeping from Coulson regarding his recovery time that he can never find out. So from the beginning there are some solid threads that should keep fans interested for a whole season. In addition, the pilot also introduces a talented computer hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet), who has been monitoring S.H.I.E.L.D.’s activities (in a very fangirl way) following the attack in Manhattan from The Avengers. It’s her work that helps lead S.H.I.E.L.D. to a potential new “hero” who jumped from a four-story burning building, rescued woman in hand, unscathed.

And while S.H.I.E.L.D. initially hopes that he can use his powers for good, he actually learns that his gifts are artificial, made possible by some unknown organization who has harnessed a new, unstable version of Extremis from Iron Man 3. That’s about all you need to know without spoiling the pilot. The good news is that there’s plenty of reference and ties to the cinematic Marvel universe from conversations about The Avengers to a recovered Chitauri device, and it really grounds the TV series in the film world.

However, because this is a TV series, there are elements that feel much weaker and inferior by comparison. While there are some truly well-written scenes and sequences, there are too many cheesy, contrived lines, especially from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s case of the week in the form of the aforementioned superpowered man played by J. August Richards. The character is given a weak, rushed pity party of a storyline that feels like it was built for TV while everything else around it feels like it was built for movies. Hopefully this is something that will get better as show gets more serial and less procedural.

Agents of SHIELD - Fitz & Simmons

Thankfully, the rest of the ensemble, which includes Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who has some sort of history with Coulson and had to be brought back into the field, makes for some solid chemistry. Specifically, the nerdier field agents Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are perfectly cast, and interact well with the rest of the team.

As for the humor, some of it feels like it’s straight from Whedon’s mind (calling Loki the Asgardian Mussolini), but others feel like cheap imitations. At the very least, Gregg as Coulson makes everything work fairly well, even the less than stellar pieces of dialogue splattered throughout, and the show is hardly a failure for those small shortcomings.

In the first episode, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” does a fine job of engaging viewers and immersing them in the Marvel universe, albeit on a smaller scale. We’re not sure just how big this series will get in scale or in hero presence, but right now it feels like a nice blend of Marvel and “Fringe,” which should keep all the right viewers interested for at least an entire first season, especially following the stellar ratings from the series premiere. The pilot isn’t perfect, but few rarely are, and there’s plenty to enjoy, making for a promising new entry in the popular Marvel universe.

What did you think of the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series premiere?

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Ethan Anderton
Some of his favorite films include Ghostbusters, The Empire Strikes Back and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while his favorite TV series include LOST, Mad Men, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Arrested Development and Saturday Night Live.