Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by Joss Whedon & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
Original air date: September 24, 2013
Airs Tuesdays at 8:00 PM on ABC
With the massive success of the Marvel movies, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives with a guaranteed victory. Since the series is more or less a TV spinoff of The Avengers (the third highest grossing film of all time), it shouldn’t be surprising if it scores big ratings since there’s already a built in audience. It marks Disney’s first attempt to move one of its major franchises to network television with the hopes of dominating the silver screen; and if that wasn’t enough, ABC has relentlessly marketed the show all year long to ensure its success.
It’s the first new series from creator Joss Whedon, writer and director of The Avengers, and the man who became famous for creating such cult classics such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly. Now one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, it’s unlikely he’ll have a lot of time to contribute to the show, but the good news is, he has an army of TV veterans by his side as show-runners, including Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (Dollhouse) and Jeffrey Bell (Angel).
But the question remains, is the pilot any good?
Aside from Showtime’s Masters of Sex, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only drama pilot of the fall worth checking out (sorry Sleepy Hollow fans); but that doesn’t mean it’s all good. The most disappointing aspect is that the pilot seems, for better or worse, muted and safe. Clearly Disney is targeting a family audience, and who can blame them? But for those of us hooked on the darker side of television (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Americans, Justified, to name a few), S.H.I.E.L.D. might not carry much interest long term. Only time will tell; but for now, the pilot gets by with its witty dialogue, charismatic leads and heavy dose of humour injected by Whedon and company.
The series picks up where The Avengers movie left off, with the top secret government organization (it’s an acronym for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) assembling a new team. The episode unfolds in a fairly straightforward fashion, introducing the members of the squad one at a time. There is the antisocial, capable but cocky Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), a solo action CIA type who doesn’t play well with others. There is also a renegade computer genius/hacker, and outsider brought into the fold named Skye (Chloe Bennett). There is the scientist Gemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), an engineer Leo Fritz (Iain De Caestecker), and my personal favourite, the ass-kicking veteran martial-arts master, ace pilot and weapons expert Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). We also meet Mike Peterson (J. August Richards), the super-powered experiment of an unnamed organization who saves a woman from an explosion early on, and finally, we’re introduced to the star of the show (or rather re-introduced to) Agent Coulson, played wonderfully by Clark Gregg
The best decision the creators made, was casting Clark Gregg. Though the actor’s character died in The Avengers, Agent Phil Coulson appears to have recovered rather well from his death (comics fans shouldn’t be surprised since characters rarely stay dead for long). While purists will no doubt debate how he could possibly come back from being struck by Loki’s wrath, his unexplained resurrection does provide a bigger mystery to play out in future episodes. Gregg was a capable sideman in the Marvel movies, and Gregg’s comic timing and charm is very welcome here. More importantly, since the character stood tall standing alongside superheroes and fantastic events – and since we shouldn’t come to expect Thor, Captain America, The Hulk nor Iron Man to appear anytime soon (if ever) – he’s the next best thing to centre the show around.
Much like The Avengers before it, Joss Whedon gives every character a moment to shine. There is just enough insight to establish identities beyond their types without ever overburdening us with exposition. The twins, Fitz and Simmons have their own wonderful dynamic, and Skye steals just about every scene with her cocky but sexy demeanour. Bennet and Dalton in particular seem to work best with the Joss-Whedon-dialogue, especially during an interrogation scene in which the tables quickly turn. And as you would expect from a Whedon project, there is plenty of deadpan humour and snappy dialogue constantly undercutting the drama that unfolds. The female characters are especially well written and there’s certainly no shortage of action and wonderful effects.
Deep knowledge of the Marvel cinematic canon isn’t required to enjoy Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. All anyone needs to know going in cold, is that a big battle took place in New York City and Agent Coulson was presumed dead after the events of The Avengers movie. With that said, the first half of the episode helps bring audiences up to speed, although almost to a fault. There’s an wonderful misquote of Spider-Man’s iconic “With Great Power” speech, as well as mentions of the super-soldier serum that created Captain America, the Gamma Radiation responsible for creating the Hulk, and a mention of Extremis, which played a huge role in Iron Man 3.
There is a ton of potential with S.H.I.E.L.D., and Marvel’s plan for global entertainment domination is looking good. The pilot resembles in various ways, any number of other series from the past, but the primary agenda seems to be to make a superhero version of NCIS (which, conveniently, will be airing at the same time as S.H.I.E.L.D.). Ultimately, it all comes back to Whedon: His clear vision for each character and his immaculate writing elevates the pilot. It will be interesting to see what the other showrunners can do with and without him onboard.
- Ricky D
“I don’t think Thor is a God”
“Haven’t been near his arms.”
“With Great Power comes…a ton of weird crap”
LOLA needs no roads!!!
Many of the actors from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse make appearances.
“No. It’s an origin story.
Watch this stunning publicity commercial for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.