So, after months of hype and one of the biggest blockbuster franchises in history as a lead in, Marvel has finally returned to television for the first time in decades with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. For the ever-growing comic book loving masses, last night’s series premiere was a major event. Not only did it represent the next chapter in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the pilot was co-written directed by Joss Whedon the man who made The Avengers and also has a bit of a history creating geek-tickling TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly. So, the show seemed like a “can’t miss” prospect. A series shot at the hearts of fanboys that the Disney owned ABC could count on as a cash cow for years, and is also tied into their billion-dollar superhero empire. So, now that it’s here, is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a worthy small screen companion to the groundbreaking movies being cranked out under the Marvel banner? It’s always hard to judge a TV show based on the pilot, but at the moment, the answer is a resounding, “maybe?”
Predictably, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned out to be a police procedural coming from everyone’s favorite fictional government agency. Given that this particular division focuses almost entirely on superheroes, supervillains, and various other superproblems, it’s not a bad idea for a show at all. And with the no longer deceased (though it’s still never fully been explained why) Agent Coulson onboard with Clark Gregg’s memorably eccentric performance, it even feels like a part of the Marvel Movie Universe at almost all times. The only problem is the superheroes. Sure, they’re out there in the Marvel Universe, but at least in the pilot episode none of the big boys make an appearance. There are references to Extremis, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the events of The Avengers, but no onscreen appearances of any of those characters nor is there likely to be given the cost and… you know, the fact that those folks have movies to star in.
Instead, the pilot focused on some sort of device that turns normal citizens insane and makes them think they are superheroes (even giving them a few powers to help the cause). Not a bad idea by any means and presumably at some point a D-List Marvel villain will be revealed to be responsible. And fair enough. That was, and will always be a major challenge of the series. The Marvel brand is flaunted all over the pilot, and that’s sure to be happening as long as the show is on the air. But if the actual Marvel heroes and villains never make appearances, how Marvel-ish will this series really be? Watching the pilot, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread regarding the show’s future in that regard. Sure, the concept centering on S.H.I.E.L.D. characters in the background of the universe’s superhero theatrics and is a good one. The trouble is with those pesky movies coming out every summer, Whedon and co. can’t exactly recast Iron Man and co. for their series. Marvel Studios have big plans to bring all of their characters into the movies over time, so it’s unlikely the producers will be willing to waste someone like even Dr. Strange on the TV series, and that leave the folks in charge of that show in a trap.
Sure, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team could create their own heroes for the series, but whether or not that’s going to bring in audiences is a reasonable question. This is after all a major production for the struggling ABC network that they are desperate to turn into a hit. The production values on the pilot were undeniably impressive, so it’s an expensive show. It needs big viewer numbers and who knows if that will be possible without the big boy Marvel heroes coming to play. Aside from all that, the pilot was amusing, quippy, sardonic, and self-conscious in the ways all Joss Whedon shows are. It has potential as a procedural, but don’t forget that Whedon will be pretty bust making that tiny Avengers 2 movie and won’t have much time to work on his new show. His brother Jed, regular collaborator Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jeph Loeb (comic book writer behind such books as Batman: The Long Halloween and screenwriter for Heroes, Smallville, and Teen Wolf) are all in charge though and hopefully they can keep the Whedon touch alive. The cast has a few Whedon regulars but is primarily made up of the usual crop of indistinguishably pretty people that star in all network television. Whether or not they’ll all be able to mature into indelible characters is hard to say, but at least they are off to a snarky start.
After watching the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I feel like I know about as much about the series as I did going in. It was a fun hour of television and even quite strong by the usual dreary standards of big network drama pilots. The trouble is that all the pilot really did was establish the logline and run with it for an hour. Clark Gregg is a wonderful center to the series, but whether or not the cast surrounding him can live up to his already iconic work remains to be seen. The show has potential, but that’s still all it really has at the moment. What the creators will be able to do with this material and where it goes is something that we’ll only be able to see in the coming month. Unless Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a monster hit out of the gate, there will be network interference to battle against throughout this season. Hopefully, the team can turn the potential into something interesting because there are plenty of intriguing pieces in place and a delightful tone. This show could be quite fun and if they can somehow persuade some of the Marvel movie actors to make cameo appearances, even better. This is certainly a far superior version of televised S.H.I.E.L.D. adventures than that awful David Hasselhoff Nick Fury movie from the 90s, and that’s a good start. With a little luck, the show might beat out Green Arrow for the title of TV’s greatest superhero series. If not, well Joss Whedon does have quite a track record of failed, yet promising TV shows, doesn’t he?