Friday, September 27, 2013

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

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D - EPISODE 1

This week Joss Whedon and Marvel's highly anticipated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D dropped. After all the hype leading up to it, can this show possibly live up to expectations? Your Fruitless Pursuits team are onto it! We take a look under the cut as Jeff, Vanessa, Jacinta and Capey all offer different views on how Agent Coulson and Co might shape up.

And if you want more don't forget to tune into the FP Cast podcast early next week for Luke and Courtney's views.

Jeff: I suppose I'll get this started. I enjoyed the show quite a bit, but it felt...weird. It's weird to see what's effectively a big budget superhero b-story on television as an event, it's weird to hear the typical Joss Whedon Pilot Debut notes coming from an established universe, it's weird to see this on ABC in the US, when ABC (while owned by Disney who owns Marvel) isn't exactly where I'd expect programming like this period.

The pluses will be the nods to the extended movie universe and to the comics themselves (I'm calling it now, Coulson is absolutely a robot or Marvel-equivalent), and to the mysteries within (Coulson, whether our Red Tide gal is going to stay on the straight and narrow, etc), but the minuses might be that you *have* to keep up with the movies to keep up with the show. Iron Man 3 was something I saw in second-run over the summer, I probably won't catch the new Thor on time - will it impact my watching of this show?

Overall? It has a lot going for it and a lot of potential. I'll definitely keep up with it (although maybe not basically live) and I'm interested in seeing where this goes, but I am hoping that the wheels don't fall off or it just becomes an extended commercial for the extended universe.

Vanessa: (Warning some spoilers for the Pilot episode)
I'm a long time Joss Whedon fan and I love Marvel as well so you can imagine that this show seemed like a dream to me. Unfortunately the execution of the first episode left a lot to be desired. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt because a large part of the problem was the length of the episode; 40 odd minutes just isn't enough time to introduce so many new characters and set up a season arc. Maybe once we see the second episode things will get clearer and better.

For me, the character development was the real problem. Some characters were awesome - Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson, Ming-Na Wen's Agent Melinda May and J August Richards' Mike he could be Luke Cage Peterson. Most of the other's were terrible; Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward and hacker chick Skye played by Chloe Bennet, and the two scientists who I can't even really talk about right now. Most of the main team fell so painfully flat that it was hard to keep engaged. Even the humour that Joss Whedon crafted for Clark Gregg and that worked so well in The Avengers fell flat when played against Dalton and Bennet. On the plus side Ming-Na was wonderful in the limited screen time she had. She did just enough to keep intrigue whilst giving the impression that she was a big deal agent with an interesting story. Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill elicited a little geek squeal but was so under utilised (yes I know this is because of other commitments) that it was almost pointless for her to be there at all. If the character development and team connection doesn't improve quickly, it will be a real problem in the future.

The world building was probably the best-constructed and paced element of the pilot episode. It drew heavily from the events in the movies while adding a different and more intimate vibe. This made Mike's smaller scale story human and accessible, which is something that Joss has been praised for before. It's always fun to hear references to Iron Man, Thor, Loki and the others and I am pretty sure they were all at least mentioned in the episode to indicate the strong connection to the film franchise and perhaps the possibility of some inclusion in the future. 

Unfortunately, I could not completely buy into the S.H.I.E.L.D organisation itself. They have all of this specky technology and yet a girl living in a van with nothing more than curling tongs and a laptop has hacked their security and broadcasted against them? I am sure the intention was for us to believe she is smart enough to join the team, but the affect for me was to not totally buy S.H.I.E.L.D's technology and functionality. It shattered the internal consistency of the organisation. The acting was poor, the script and dialogue were poor and she was unrealistic. Joss - you are better than this. Seriously, come on. The same is applicable for Grant Ward who read like a soggy piece of cardboard. He wasn't interesting or likeable and certainly didn't seem to have the special black ops skills he was purported to have.

The adversary called the Rising Tide (and we've just had elections, there is a Rise Up Australia group... it was hard to take them seriously) was a little bit of a hash. They could end up being really interesting but right now lack even basic intrigue - or am I getting confused between all of the subplots that were introduced? Regardless what was with them using every piece of film world tech/organic interface we have? - Chitauri tech, Super Solider Serum, Extremis... pin the tail on the donkey? Sounds a little like illogical name dropping to me. Also, how long is this after the Battle of New York? Does this mean that the group behind Extremis in Iron Man 3 are somehow connected?

The thing I found myself interested in at the end of the episode was one line in the forward half - where Agent Hill tells Ron Glass that Coulson cannot know what actually happened to him. Damn you Joss! You are going to hurt us aren't you? Is it Doctor Strange? Maybe it's that Coulson is actually a robot double - a life decoy? That story is what I find engaging at this point and the development of who Melinda May is and how the other Marvel heroes are going to be worked into a more grounded story.

Jacinta: I'm going to jump on the front foot here and say off the bat that I really enjoyed it (though coming from someone who also legitimately enjoyed Angel, that might not be saying much). Be it the fact it was nice to be back in the Marvel-verse again, the fact it was exciting as a Joss fan to have him back on TV, or simply the fact I've watched some actually legitimately horrible shows over pilot season, I spent the bulk of the show with a big grin on my face, and anxious for the story to continue as soon as the episode was over. Ensemble casts are very much Joss's forte, and he doesn't disappoint here. Admittedly, some characters bear similarities to some of his past creations, but hey, who doesn't want to see Faith from Buffy re-imagined as a super-hacker?

This isn't to say S.H.I.E.L.D is without its faults. I was a little disappointed in their 'softening' of Agent Hill. Going from badass in the movie to stiff in the tv show left me feeling a little cold on the character, though I can only assume the kinks will get ironed out down the road now Cobie Smulders' How I Met Your Mother duties are finished and she won't be having to shoehorn other roles around it. The second thing that was pretty offputting was the 'sweaty cosplayers' gag. I admit I'm not the most PC when it comes to nerd stereotype gags, but that one made me cringe. Nerd-shaming is probably not the best idea in a show of this kind, where the bulk of the people who are going to be passionate about it are, well, nerds.

Pilot episodes are never perfect (okay, maybe the Glee pilot was. Admit it, you loved it), but this was a very solid start, and even if people weren't 100% sold on it, I would find it hard to believe that anyone disliked it enough to not continue watching. I'm so excited for the possibilities as the show's storyline navigates its path alongside the movie-verse. Good times ahead!

Capey: It's really hard to tackle a show like this without my immediate bias. I love everything Joss Whedon and I also love the Avengers. Heck, I have the logo tattooed on my wrist. With that in mind, I really enjoyed it. Did it have it's problems? Sure did, but pilots rarely nail it from the start.

It's so very Joss Whedon with snappy writing and oh so smug characters. Even the team's plane headquarters felt a little bit like a familiar Firefly class ship we all love.

Really, it had two jobs. Introduce us to the new characters and firmly show us it takes place in the same world as The Avengers did. Great success on both fronts. I have a good idea on the personalities of each of the team and also have enough intrigue to want to know more. What's the deal with Coulson? (LMD?), Why isn't May in the field anymore?, What's Ward's "family history? and when will Fitz and Simmons get it on?

All the references firmly puts this in the Avengers world. Chitauri tech, gamma radiation, extremis, helicarriers and a certain Black Widow were name dropped at various times. I want to see more of the people living in this post battle of New York world. It's so interesting seeing this epic super hero battles from the humans on the street. A bit like the classic Busiek/Ross Marvels series. It was also great to see Maria Hill again. She seems a little less cold bitch than she was in Avengers though.

The acting left a bit to be desired (Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen aside) but you have to remember this is the first major thing most of these kids have acted in. They'll grow into their roles as we go. I trust Whedon on casting. Always. Oh and it was super great to see Shepherd Book cameo as a SHIELD medic.

I am really keen to see more and watch this cast and premise grow and develop. A lot of shows take a season to find their feet and this one is no different but there's plenty here to keep you around until it does. Also remember this is a network TV show. Don't have the lofty expectations of cable shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Think more along the lines of NCIS meets Fringe and the X-Files.

There's just so much damn potential too. What characters could pop up? I think the Heroes for Hire are a sure bet. Why not super PI Jessica Jones? Why not a certain blind lawyer? Possibilities are endless!

Sidenote; many people I saw online scoffed at the flying car at the end. Flying cars are a SHIELD staple in the comics. Certainly predating Back to the Future. Besides, we saw Howard Stark working on one in Cap.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Jacinta, I'm with you on Angel. There are some days I think it's better than Buffy...