'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.': Marvel factor keeps ABC episode alive

Published on Thursday, 26 September 2013 22:19 - Written by By Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

I can’t decide how hard I should be on ABC’s new action/drama series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

When it was announced that Joss Whedon would produce a television show spinoff of his box office record-breaking “Aven-gers” movie, I was pretty ecstatic. Whedon has more than proved his chops at creating perfect ensembles for the small screen (i.e. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” for those who aren’t devout Whedonites) and the idea of him having the full support of ABC/Disney behind him (no more unceremonious, sudden cancellations from FOX!) as he expands on the Marvel universe sounded downright tasty.

Now that the pilot (co-written and directed by Whedon) has come and gone, it’s safe to say that “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” definitely is going to have to work to earn my viewership for the full season as this was one very dry affair.

There’s an interesting premise, at least. Set in the aftermath of “The Battle of New York” (aka the action climax of “The Avengers” movie), the world is now fully aware of super-powered humans, monsters, aliens invaders and extra-terrestrial gods. It’s now the responsibility of the, ahem, agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep an eye on the world as it adjusts to these revelations, as well as keep tabs on those who might have more nefarious aims.

To do this, a revived Agent Coulson (remember, he was last seen playing the role of pin cushion for Loki’s spear-scepter in “The Avengers”) leads a hand-picked team of agents. They’ll keep their eyes (and occasionally, hands) on the emergence of new threats and potential heroes, one of which is Michael Peterson (J. August Richards), who may have ties to a shadowy organization known as Rising Tide.

Mostly this pilot episode exists to give proper introductions and establish the scope of the series. Given this is a modestly budgeted television show, it looks like this will tread the ground of a procedural more than a nonstop showcase of super heroics and powers. I’m sure they’ll trot out a Robert Downey Jr. or Samuel L. Jackson cameo for the season finale or something, but this pilot seems to indicate that the show is going to keep things relatively low-key.

And that’s fine, really. There’s plenty of room within the Marvel Universe to stick to the back alleys and such, to explore the weird, the paranormal, etc. Not everything has to always be focused on Captain America saving the world. Although I have to admit, part of why I’m giving this a shot at all is due to the Marvel license. If this were nearly any other show, I’d probably ditch it and not look back. That’s how dry and clunky this episode was.

Dialogue was flat and even downright cringe-inducing at times.. The cast is crowded with far too many personalities being juggled with little time at all for anyone to distinguish themselves outside of a base set of personality quirks/characteristics. At least, Whedon had Coulson established as a character, because otherwise this would be one seriously limp pilot.

But then, that’s also where much of my conflict comes in. This is still just a pilot episode, and pilot episodes are hardly an indicator of how a full series will turn out. I feel like I should be hard on it because, well, it’s Whedon, who should know better how to handle stuff like this by now.

At the very least, I’ll be happy to just have a weekly dose of Clark Gregg as Coulson. His character has become one of the most enjoyable recurring elements of the Marvel movie-verse and it’s due entirely to Gregg’s affable presence, so giving him a chance to shine brighter is fine by me. Here’s hoping that show runners Jed Whedon (yes, they’re related) and Maurissa Tancharoen can actually fulfill the broad potential of something like this, to say nothing of trying to step out of Joss’ shadow.

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on ABC.