TV review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.01 — “Pilot”

Agents of SHIELD pilot

Trying to judge the worth of a show by its pilot alone is a fool’s errand to begin with. Plenty of terrible pilots end up becoming great shows. (See: 30 Rock.) Plenty of great pilots end up becoming terrible shows. (See: The Killing.) Trying to judge the worth of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by its pilot seems like even greater folly thanks to absurd weight of expectations at play here. It’s a small-screen spinoff of Marvel’s mega-hit The Avengers, and it’s spearheaded by that film’s director, Joss Whedon, who has some previous experience creating entertaining and meaningful television. (What I’m saying here is he’s responsible for some of the best TV ever, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.) So be it for one reason, the other or both, you may have come into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with a level of anticipation that can’t possibly be met by just a one-hour pilot. With that said, we’re all still allowed to have an opinion, and mine is … it was a perfectly agreeable hour of television that featured no giant warning signs that the show is doomed.

The concept of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is this: Now that the world has been turned upside-down by superheroes, gods and giant green rage monsters, Nick Fury’s top-secret government agency needs a specialized team ready to deal with the fallout. That includes monitoring the emergence of new super-powered folks and watching out for the possible misuse of any of alien tech or magical doohickeys that are suddenly available in a post-Avengers world. Leading this team is the presumed-dead Agent Coulson, played just like he is in the movies by the estimable Clark Gregg. The show’s pilot finds Coulson assembling his team of soldiers, hackers and scientists while trying to deal with a unemployed laborer suddenly imbued with super-strength.

One thing’s for certain: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not going to be shy about utilizing its connection to the Marvel movieverse. The pilot alone makes use of The Avengers‘ invading Chitauri aliens and Iron Man 3‘s Extremis program in building its plot. Cobie Smulders cameos, reprising her role as Maria Hill, Fury’s right-hand woman. The Avengers themselves and the incident in New York are all slyly referenced. But that kind of thing could grow old fast. To thrive, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have to build characters interesting enough to sustain the show on its own. Having Gregg around helps. His droll comic timing is used to great effect here. And I did like Skye (Chloe Bennet), the computer hacker, who shows signs that she could develop into a spunky but helpful thorn in the team’s side. (Think Buffy‘s Faith in her post-evil years.) But everyone else is a giant “to be determined” right now.

The show also plants a couple of good mysteries in the pilot. Foremost is an unknown sinister group that’s using illicit tech to experiment with turning normals into superheroes. More interesting are the hints that even Coulson doesn’t know the details surrounding his miraculous recovery after his death in The Avengers. He thinks his heart picked back up and he went off to Tahiti to recuperate. But Hill makes it clear that “he can never know” what really happened.

That line of dialogue alone is enough to get me to stick around. Well, that and the behind-the-camera talent. Whedon is off working on The Avengers sequel and will only be consulting from here on out, but he has a host of his regular colleagues working on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., including his brother, Jed Whedon, and sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen, who co-created Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, as well as Jeffrey Bell, who was the showrunner on Angel for its final two seasons. It’s a good team of people.

At the end of the day, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a new TV series that kicks-off with the Marvel logo and wraps-up with the Mutant Enemy one. (Grr Argh.) Even if the pilot didn’t push all of your happy buttons, I’d say those are good enough reasons to give the show more than just 60 minutes to prove its worth.