Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant


Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – The Pilot Episode

I’m not usually a fan of the big networks, especially ABC, because they take everything to the lowest common denominator in order to try and please the highest number of viewers, which ultimately, always ends up homogenizing the material.  But like it or lump it, ABC was the network that just aired the pilot for the new show, Marvel’s Agents of S.h.i.e.l.d., a spin off from the Marvel movie universe featuring Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Phil Coulson from the law enforcement/espionage group S.h.i.e.l.d [Shield].

Shield stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — the show gets a great early joke from this acronym when one character asks another what the name means to him. He answers, “It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out Shield.”  At any rate, ABC does some things right with the show, but it also does some, well, ABC-type things.

On the positive side, I love the idea that they’ve fostered here and in Iron Man 3, that the battle at the end of The Avengers is simply referred to as ‘New York,’ and that it set the stage for worldwide knowledge of superheroes and aliens.  The characters in the Marvel TV/movie universe are now living in their own post-9/11 world, which helps bring a level of reality to the material.  And regarding Agent Coulson, who died in The Avengers — at first I was wary of how they were breezing over his existence, but later scenes showed that they have a bigger story in store for dealing with his resurrection (my guess is clones.  It’s clones, right?).

The show also elevates some of the action to a higher level for TV, which is always a concern with shows like these.  Even the half-decent Arrow on The CB has trouble getting around staging some realistic action scenes, try as they might.  Shield has a few cheesy effects here and there, but overall, they manage to bring the idea to the screen well.  It was also more violent than I’d expect.  Agent Ward sure kicks the living hell out of that baddie in the kitchen.

On the not-so-great side of things, it falls prey to the homogenization I talked about before.  Shield is marred by its ‘ABC-isms.’  The main bitch for me here is going to be both casting and character.  Aside from Clark Gregg’s everyman face, you have a cast of smoldering, hunky secret agents and young, beautiful scientists.  I know, I know — calm down, it’s just a TV show, right?  People on TV are supposed to be beautiful!  I disagree — while I certainly don’t mind a well-placed beautiful woman here and there, stacking that kind of casting gives any show a fake, glossy feeling (think of a show like The X-Files — casting ‘TV ugly’ actors like Duchovny and Anderson made that world seem that much more realistic).  Shield did the smartest thing possible by casting fan favourite Gregg, but threw a lot of street cred away to please audiences in focus groups and middle America by casting lame, hot, young actors.  And this casting affects the plotting to a degree; now I’m supposed to believe that a hot, but dumb-seeming woman that can’t deliver any lines without sounding as ditzy as Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite is one of the world’s top computer hackers?

Speaking of the dialogue, we tread into further ABC territory — it’s overly expository and on the nose in places.  Is America really as dumb as ABC thinks?  They use comedy well, but they also botch it a few times too.  The show has the same smarty pants one-liners that The Avengers or even something like producer Joss Whedon’s Buffy series had, and it’s great that it wants to bolster the action with some fun.  However, sometimes the lines feel like they’re trying too hard to be clever, and it steps on the tone in some more serious moments.

Overall though, I think the pilot was a pretty good foray into this world for the small screen.  ABC-isms aside, they’ve elevated the superhero television genre to a slightly higher level than something like Arrow.  And hey, not everything can be an HBO show.  Can it?

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About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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