Wednesday, September 25, 2013

TV Snap Judgment: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Tuesday night was the premiere of the show I was most excited about among all the great-looking new shows premiering this fall.

Yep, I, and millions of other nerdlings around America, finally got to see the first episode of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and you know the best thing about it? It lived up to the hype!

Now, of course, while I was watching "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." last night, I was declaring it the best show ever in the history of television, but I am prone to doing that. In the cold, cruel light of Wednesday morning, I am willing to entertain the fact that the show was not exactly perfect. It was, however, very good, and if the rest of the season lives up to the premiere, we'll be in good shape. If it really settles into a perfect rhythm and balances the overarching mysteries with the freak-of-the-week, it will be unstoppable.

"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." follows the non-superhero part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, or S.H.I.E.L.D. Specifically, it follows a team lead by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who handpicks a quirky team of operatives to help protect normal humans from the superheroes, vigilantes, aliens and other bad things that people now know about thanks to the events from "The Avengers." It's basically the story of the normal people in the bureaucracy that clean up the mess from all the fun and exciting fights that heroes like Iron Man and Captain America fight. It's sort of part spy movie and part superhero movie, with a little bit of sitcom fun thrown in the mix.

One of my absolute favorite things about every Joss Whedon project I've ever watched (which is to say, most of Joss Whedon's projects) is - and this is a super corny and cliche way to say it - the balance of humor and heart. It's true, though, but not in a cliched way. Whedon's projects are not warm & fuzzy very often - they're quippy, sarcastic and full of underdogs and morally complicated heroes. It seems to me that's what this show is going to be going for, too. There were several moments of self-aware humor and lots of great little quips, which, let's face it, is needed on a show like "Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D." I don't want the show to 

Characterwise, Whedon & Co. (Joss is being heavily assisted by brother and sister-in-law Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and TV veteran Jeffrey Bell) are lucky this time, because they've come with a pre-loved lead character in Agent Coulson. The vast majority of the audience is familiar with Coulson, who has been popping up in superhero movies since "Iron Man" in 2008 and warmed (and subsequently broke) audiences' hearts in "The Avengers" last summer. He really is a perfect lead character for a TV spinoff show, especially because Clark Gregg plays Coulson with such deadpan perfection. 

The other members of the team are less fleshed out, although I'm already seeing some delightful potential in them. Skye (Chloe Bennett), a hacker reluctantly recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D., is smart, sarcastic and kind of wild, making her a perfect foil to the by-the-book pretty-boy agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). Then there's Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who is plucked from a desk job by Coulson to serve as pilot and occasional butt-kicking expert, and, rounding the group out, the wacky comic relief of FitzSimmons, aka British computer geek duo Leo Fitz (Iain de Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). Grant doesn't have much personality yet, other than being sort of an annoyingly uptight rules-follower, but I'm hoping that he learns to loosen up a little bit while still being charmingly befuddled when the other characters start doing their own thing. FitzSimmons are a super cute duo with some great chemistry for the witty banter needed for their characters, but I do hope that they're deployed with a deft hand - too much quibbling between the cutesie British characters just might be too much. Personally, I love Melinda May, who is more world-weary but still very, very adept at being incredibly awesome.

The first episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was a good mix of the introduction and growth of characters, fighting the first baddie of the season and establishing a couple of deeper mysteries to chew over this season, but I must admit that I am just a little bit afraid that somebody at the top could make "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." into just another bland show. I have a lot of faith in Whedon and his team, who have a tendency to buck convention and turn tropes on their heads. The fact that this show is the biggest hope for a major network this fall and a major component of a multi-billion dollar franchise means that there is bound to be a lot of meddling from the brass at Disney. Of course, there's the plus that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is likely not going to get canceled after 11 episodes are aired out of order. It comes with a built-in audience of the correct demographic and advertisers out the wazoo trying to tap into that. But if someone at the top gets spooked, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." could get severely neutered.

In fact, you can already see just a little bit of it. While "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was an undeniably Whedonesque premiere, it didn't quite have the same "throw-caution-to-the-wind" fun that some of his other shows have had. In a way, that might be good, because as much as I love Whedon, his shows can be pretty uneven from episode to episode. But some of his biggest risks, like having a musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," have been the things that have really set his work apart. There probably won't be the same level of experimentation in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," because it's too important to the network. Ah, the price of fame.

Overall, though, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." made me incredibly happy, and I will definitely be staying tuned. What did you think of the premiere?

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