TV review: ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ shows plenty of promise

By Ashley Bergner
Box Office Buzz

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

That line from Marvel’s first “Spider-Man” movie has become so famous and is used so often it’s now almost a cliche. However, it’s still pretty good advice for superhero characters — and it’s advice Marvel seems to have taken to heart as a company, as well. Marvel has carefully built a cinematic brand that now produces all-but-guaranteed blockbusters, but they don’t seem to have taken that success for granted. Each movie has been carefully crafted to fit into the Marvel film universe as a whole.

That success has now allowed Marvel to take a gamble, venturing into the realm of live-action TV. ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” follows Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) as he leads a team of agents working behind the scenes of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that assembled the “Avengers” to combat global threats. Rather than focusing on superheroes, the show highlights ordinary agents who have to rely on old-fashioned espionage skills and have to learn how to adapt to an ever-changing world that includes an increasing number of people with super-human abilities.

The pilot episode for the show was written and directed by “The Avengers” director and geek icon Joss Whedon, and it’s arguably the most buzzed-about new show of the fall TV season. The pilot premiered Tuesday night and is now available for online streaming on Hulu. But does the show live up to the hype?

In the pilot, Agent Coulson puts together a team to begin addressing the increase in super-powered threats. There’s Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), an agent who has plenty of combat and mission experience but no people skills; Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who is coaxed reluctantly back into the field; Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), two enthusiastic but eccentric science/technology experts; and a snarky hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet), who may or may not be cooperating with S.H.I.E.L.D. On their first mission, they must deal with a man who has gained superpowers from a device connected to the “Extremis” project, which also played a significant role in this summer’s “Iron Man 3.”

It’s nice to see a spin-off for Agent Coulson from the Marvel films. Clark Gregg was able to take what could have been a small role and made Coulson as much a symbol of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. Coulson is good at playing by government rules and working within the bureaucratic system, but he’s also passionate about helping people, even those who may not seem as important as big-name superheroes like Iron Man. Television is, I think, the best format for a spin-off for Coulson’s character, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his character develops this season (and finding out how S.H.I.E.L.D. brought him back from the dead).

The pilot is a fun, briskly-paced hour of television, and I’m already planning on tuning in next week. The consensus from many of the reviews I’ve read so far is that the pilot for “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was “good” but fell just short of “great,” though to be fair, I think that can be said about the pilots of most TV shows. The new characters may not immediately make as big an impression as Agent Coulson, but there’s plenty of potential for interesting character development to occur, and this could build into a strong ensemble cast. Skye and Agent Ward in particular could become stand-out characters.

It’s challenging to meet viewers’ “Avengers”-sized expectations on a TV budget, but I think the show will serve as a nice companion to the films. So far I like the mixture of superhero and espionage elements, and the show’s themes of government control/surveillance and vigilante vs. official justice are certainly very timely. I hope the writers also keep that quirky, very Whedon-esque sense of humor, and I’d like to see them keep tying the show into the “Avengers” films. It would be great to see some cameos of superheroes or villains from the Marvel comics, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for at least one Nick Fury appearance this season.

So, what did you think? Did you like the pilot? Will you be tuning in next week?

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