Spoiler Alert: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 1, Episode 1 of ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” titled “Pilot.”
ABC had so much confidence in their Marvel Cinematic Universe spinoff that they didn’t even bother to send screeners of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” to critics. They showed the premiere to journalists and fans at San Diego Comic-Con, where it was met with great enthusiasm.
And just like that, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was the most anticipated new series of the fall. “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a spinoff of one of the most popular film franchises in history. It stars one of the most popular characters from that franchise in Agent Phil Coulson. Never mind that he — SPOILERS! — died in “The Avengers” film. In fact, his resurrection only added fuel to the fire as fans tried to figure out how he could come back.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is one of the most ambitious experiments in television entertainment, and something that’s only possible because of the synergy between Marvel Studios and ABC, thanks to their shared parent company (Disney). The Marvel movie machine is still churning out hit after hit, so setting “S.H.I.E.L.D.” in that same shared universe is sheer brilliance. It should also all-but-guarantee that ABC will have a huge hit on their hands. Sharing an ongoing universe with a series of blockbuster films should translate into huge ratings. Why wouldn’t people willing to fork over money to see the Marvel Universe on the big screen tune in to see it for free on the small screen? And did I mention Agent Coulson!?
Clark Gregg reinvented his career as the smart aleck S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and now portrays him all over the place, from various animated series to the movies and now in his very own series. At this point, the biggest challenge the creators of the show had on their hands was to make sure the show was accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Despite those huge box office numbers, there are plenty of people who’ve never seen a Marvel movie, and yet ABC would love them to give “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” a try, and they absolutely should. ABC nailed it with this new series. Everything about this premiere worked.
It certainly helped that “Avengers” screenwriter and director Joss Whedon was more than willing to return to his television roots and helm this pilot. He developed the show with his brother, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, and helped them pen the pilot. Whedon’s signature snappy dialogue and light-hearted charm can be seen throughout. While we don’t know these characters yet, we could still recognize Whedon’s stamp in their dialogue and interactions. It was like stepping in on the ground floor of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” again, only instead of a Scooby gang fighting vampires, it’s a covert government group facing off against the strange and unusual in the Marvel Universe.
Cobie Smulders made a bridging cameo as Maria Hill, the role she played in “The Avengers” film. As she explained, “The battle of New York [as seen in “The Avengers”] was the end of the world. This, now, is the new world.” This is a world of superheroes. And more importantly, after the battle of New York, the world is aware of the existence of superheroes, which changes everything.
I couldn’t help but see the show as a cross between “Heroes” and “Fringe,” with a huge “X-Files” inspiration. Already, in the pilot we met our first “freak-of-the-week” in Michael Peterson. A single father and out-of-work factory worker, Michael was convinced to be a guinea pig by a mysterious organization that was experimenting with creating superheroes. While he was granted powers, they were unstable. And while he did act as a superhero in the pilot’s opening scene, he later proved that he was all too human when he attacked his former foreman at the factory.
Michael survived the pilot, meaning he could return at a later date. But more important, the shadowy organization behind the Centipede device that gave him his powers was established as a larger presence that’s going to become a thorn in the sides of our new favorite agents.
While everyone on the team is basically a new recruit, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” still managed to offer up a character that the viewers at home could more easily relate to. Skye is a brilliant hacker and a bit of a revolutionary, but she’s also a S.H.I.E.L.D. outsider. By putting her on the team, she can be every bit as stunned as we are by all the cool gadgets the team seems to have — James Bond’s Q would be so jealous!
Everything is in place for a hugely successful series. While it’s tied to a larger film continuity, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is already employing an episodic approach. With the goofy characters of Fitz and Simmons acting as scientists and investigators, the show can be a superhero crime procedural. This is what works on television today: likable characters in open-ended procedural shows. There is no tight continuity that we can see yet — though the mystery of Coulson’s resurrection has even more depth than he realizes — which puts audiences at ease. For now, it looks like it’s going to be a ride for hardcore Marvel fans and newbies alike. After all, if Agent Coulson is having that much fun flying Skye around in his car, why shouldn’t we be having fun as well?
- It was great seeing “Firefly” alum Ron Glass as the doctor who reluctantly cleared Agent Coulson. He and Maria Hill know something about Coulson that he doesn’t know about what happened to him between his death in “The Avengers” and this premiere, so … mystery!
- Skye had her own unique take on Uncle Ben’s classic words of wisdom to a young Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. She told Michael Peterson that “with great power comes … a ton of weird crap that you are not ready to deal with.”
- Speaking of Michael Peterson, he was played by Whedon player J. August Richards, known as Charles Gunn on “Angel.” Looking forward to more cameo appearances from other Whedon alums!
- Extremis was seen in “Iron Man 3,” where it had similar explosive properties.
- Agent Simmons asks Agent Ward if he’s “excited to be coming on our journey into mystery.” “Journey Into Mystery” is the comic series that Thor debuted in.
- Already so many Easter eggs, I’m sure there are plenty that I missed, and plenty more to come!
The adventure continues on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.