TV Review - Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This show is basically doing what Smallville and Arrow has been doing for years. It's taking what you know about comic book characters and turning it into a type of procedural, slight anthology series. The difference is that both Smallville and Arrow built up their mythologies from the first episode onward, and did explain things, assuming the audience knew nothing. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't do that. Creators Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen assume the audience already knows the whole mythology by way of having seen all the Marvel movies, particularly The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2013). This might be a negative for some who haven't seen the movies because you won't get certain things, but it's a positive for those who have because it enriches what comes six episodes into the series.

The pilot episode feels problematic, but, looking at where the show is six episodes later, I understand the pilot episode is just a good setup. The opening is very similar to the opening to a Heroes episode, and it misdirects to thinking that this show will be like Heroes and will be about super-powered people, either the recruitment of them or the fighting of them. Yet, it's not exactly that.

Clark Gregg stars as Phil Coulson, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who supposedly died, but now is the leader of a field team that is on the front lines of investigating and dealing with cases involving or related to the Avengers program. Coulson was such a fanboy in The Avengers movie, but, as you watch Coulson in this series, you get the feeling that he's more an older James Bond but of this comic book world.

The first half of the pilot episode did have spy movie elements. Brett Dalton who plays Agent Grant Ward, the 2nd newest member to Coulson's team, is the Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne of the team. He might also be a younger James Bond, only less charismatic, to Coulson's more involved "M". The newest member is Skye, played by Chloe Bennet, a hacker with a group called Rising Tide that is very much distrustful of the government as well as of secret organizations within the government like S.H.I.E.L.D. Instead of locking her up, Coulson decides to use her for her skills.

Rounding out the cast are Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker who play Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz respectively. They're the lab geeks, or they're the result of James Bond's Q, splitting into two people, a male and female who then become love interests for each other. Ming-Na Wen also co-stars as Melinda May, the confidant to Coulson who seems to have a more personal connection to him. May is also referred to as the cavalry. Her martial arts skills come in handy at last minute crises.

Coulson's team travels around in a huge airplane, an airbus or a large cargo plane like a C-5. It's the television budget substitute for the Helicarrier from The Avengers. The show doesn't hesitate to put the airbus under attack. The airplane sequences in Iron Man 3 and World War Z were more effective. Coulson has his own separate form of transportation, a little red sports car named Lola, but, in a nod to the ending of Back to the Future (1985), Lola is a car that doesn't need roads.

In the early episodes, the show is about what a lot of Whedon TV shows are about. It's about the team learning to be a team. Instead of being set in high school like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or being set in space like Firefly, this show is set in the post-Avengers world. Issues of trust, loyalty and competence are all interweaved. The issues of trust and loyalty are particularly in play with regard to Skye who is the outsider who has to become and wants to become an insider because of the realization that something bigger and more important is at stake.

The chief bad guy is actually a rival organization, known as Centipede. Its purpose is to use the science and technology at hand to gain power and money, often in ways that result in death and destruction. Centipede continues its experiments with Extremis, and most of the experiments are on humans.

Episode 6 titled "FZZT" really has the most connective tissue to The Avengers much to the show's credit. What happens is a group of firefighters and first responders who came to clean up after the attack in New York City at the end of The Avengers become sick or infected with an alien virus, as a result of coming into contact with that virus when they interact with an alien artifact. It reminded me of the first responders who became sick and ill after coming into contact with all the dust and debris at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Coulson's team has to deal with these first responders and ultimately try to find a cure for the virus. That makes for a good narrative thrust. It's also interesting because it makes the episode not about action set pieces, and Ward using his gun or his fists. It's more about science and Simmons and Fitz using their intellect and their reason. It also makes a lab an exciting place. It also shows that Coulson's fanboy excitement over the Avengers and people like Captain America doesn't compare to his compassion for the people on the ground who have been affected.

It also drives home the point that this show is not about the Avengers or superheroes. This show is about the first responders or the people who have to clean up after the carnage that is often the result of superheroes doing what they do. This show proves that that can be a good thing because if we are to accept the world that Marvel has created, we should be able to explore various aspects of it and the ground level consequences that could occur once Iron Man and Thor fly away.

It still bothers me that no one in this show or in the movies have yet to bring into the conversation obvious consequences. The battle in New York involved aliens and superheroes like Thor fighting. If people in the world witnessed this, how does that affect their beliefs in God for example? Most scientists believe that finding life on another planet would be the greatest discovery in the history of the world, but almost no one here seems to reconcile that. Nevertheless, I like the direction the show is going.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-V.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 8PM on ABC.


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