Review: Agents of SHIELD TV pilot

Well, I finally watched the pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (talk about an unwieldy name) and it was…ok. I didn’t have any high expectations, or any kind of expectations, so it wasn’t a letdown or anything. And besides, it’s difficult to judge a whole series by just the first episode, so I’ll give it a few more chapters to see how it’s going to shake out. But it didn’t impress me that much.

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A few things that struck me about the show:

One was how utterly devoid of superheroes it was, given that it’s a spinoff of multiple billion-dollar blockbuster movies that are all about superheroes in the biggest way. I suppose the TV budget probably limits what they can do, but still, I’m guessing an awful lot of kids (and adults) walked away from the first episode a bit puzzled and disappointed if they were looking for the Marvel Superhero Brand (TM).

The other was just how uninteresting the cast was. And here’s where I feel like I need to make a statement on where I stand on the Joss Whedon appreciation spectrum. I don’t hate him, nor am I a devotee. He’s hit or miss with me. I’ve liked some of his work, I think he is capable of writing great characters and fun dialogue, and can be very entertaining. But I also get annoyed by his style sometimes, especially when taken in large doses. And the writing on this pilot episode was definitely very Whedonesque. Lots of oh-so-clever, self-aware dialogue and smug attempts at humor. I found it distracting and annoying at times.

As for the characters, Agent Coulson is very much the glue of the show, mostly coming off as charming and likeable. Which is good, because the pilot didn’t do much to make me care about any of the other characters. Both the uptight agent Grant Ward and Ming Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May were rather bland, with not much personality to speak of. And then there were Agents Fitz and Simmons (Oooh so clever! See what they did there?), which were pure Joss Whedom stock character type 24A (fast talking, socially awkward, young scientific genius) split into a male and female counterpart. The sexy computer “hacktivit” Skye, meanwhile, was just a generic Mary Sue stock character #146, gussied up with some Whedon sass.

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Also: six lead characters, but not much diversity? Really?

To be fair, this was just the first episode, and there’s always an awful lot of setup that needs to happen in these things, so there’s no room for character development. We’ll see how it goes in the next few episodes. I’m not sold on it yet, but there were a couple of mysteries hinted at, and there’s always the curiosity factor of seeing just how much of the Marvel Universe they’ll bring into the show.

Oh, one final thought…I guess maybe subconsciously I did have one expectation from the show. Given its pedigree, the high profile involvement of Whedon, and the massive Marvel/Disney hype machine behind it, I guess I expected it not to be as clunky a pilot as was on display. I mean, I do enjoy the CW’s Arrow show, though I have no illusions about it being a great show or anything. But at least when you see lazy writing or cardboard characters on that show, you can chalk it up to its much smaller budget and, well, the fact that it’s on the CW.

And those guys don’t shy away from their costumed superheroes.