Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Which I Review Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (1x1)

Like many deeply nerdy people, my relationship with Joss Whedon is a long and beautiful one. It began when I was quite young--early junior high--one night, in my room, flipping through the six channels on my newly gifted television. I came the WB (the CW now) and had to pause when a girl, not much older than I was, ran across my screen in some perposterous outfit and began wailing on a guy with some sort of skin condition. She then proceded to stab in him in the heart with a wooden stick and he exploded into dust. The only thing I remember thinking was, "Cooooooool."
And that's how I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From that point, there was Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse. And then Whedon put out The Avengers, probably the greatest superhero movie of all time (well, at least in my estimation). When it was announced that Whedon was bringing the big screen to the small with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D I was instantly on board. But translating superhero movies to TV is rough; money is tighter which puts a strain on the big blockbuster effects and big names that now make up the Marvel Movie universe. And when the show doesn't actually feature superheros--except those ordinary day to day ones who are just trying to protect the rest of the world--can it actually succeed? 

In case you missed it, though I'm not sure how you could, The Avengers brought in a crazy amount of money a few summers back. And with that in mind, ABC gleefully picked up this pilot, dollar signs in their eyes. Almost as soon as it was announced, the marketing team over at ABC went to overdrive. Posters, Comic Con appearances, promos, photo shoots, and media pole dancing (as Tom and Lorenzo call it) all made their way into the public eye. Twitter accounts for the fictional characters are already up and running and it paid off--biggest drama debut for ABC in four years. And with good reason; this show already has a built in fanbase, and not just comic book nerds. The nerd movement, in the more recent years, has moved out of the basement and into the limelight. People who could never classically be called nerdy (never read a comic book in their life, never watched one Star Trek episode, has no idea what a Death Star is) flock in crazy numbers to these new superhero movies. Look at Tumblr. After the opening of the Avengers, it was like Loki had taken over the entire internet. The fanbase for this show is no longer the skinny kid in glasses who has a mint condition of The Wolverine in a plastic bag, lovingly stored in a glass case. And it turns out, they were right to flock to the show. It hit a lot of high notes. Let's do a first episode breakdown.

The Crew
Agent Phil Coulson: It takes impeccable writing and acting to become a fan favorite when going toe to toe with superheroes like The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, who have stood the test time for so long now. When Coulson "died" in the Avengers the screams of many could be heard. He's witty, charming, determined, passionate and let's face--hella cute. He is responsible for putting together our team of operatives and overseeing them. He also gets some pretty cool toys (someone find me Lola!) But there is an air of mystery about him, something about his supposed "death" doesn't ring true. While he is under the impression that he only faked his death under Fury's orders and then spent a few weeks in Tahiti recovering, a secretive conversation between Agent Hill and Shepherd Book the SHIELD doctor reveals that he really has no idea what happened to him. Might Agent Coulson have been resurrected using some sort of superhero technology? Might he be super himself?

Agent Grant Ward: A black ops specialist formally with level 6 clearance but now promoted to level 7. He has the boyish charm that makes him easy on the eyes but doesn't use it to get ahead; he is obviously very good at his job. He gets some of the funnier lines in the pilot and you can tell that he'll be a fan favorite before long. For the sake of the show, Ward accepted his new position with SHIELD faster than one might like; I was expecting a little more resistance on his part, or at least some dissatisfaction that he is now surrounded by science and computer whiz's, who talk a mile a minute but never appear to actually say anything. I suspect that is character will become more fleshed out as the show moves on (there is only so much you can do in a pilot) and I look forward to seeing him developed.

Agent Melinda May: I can't say much here sadly. May's character is obviously a bit of  legend at SHIELD, Grant knows who she is and expresses surprise that she's "just the pilot" for this episode. Something obviously happened to her in the past that made her give up field work because we first find her behind a desk, in a very dimly lit office (SHIELD can't afford light bulbs or something) monotonously stapling away, refusing to take part in whatever game Coulson is playing. But there is clearly more to her; she manages to disarm men and has superior fighting abilities. Right now she's a bit of a blank slate. Her chemistry with Coulson is apparent--I expect many jabs and barbs to be thrown between them.

Agents Fitz and Simmons (FitzSimmons): These two are either going to be absolutely hysterical or are very quickly going to annoy me with their fast paced techno-babble. On some level it works; the genius's shouldn't have to stop and explain everything to the audience. We need to accept that they know what they're talking about and we don't. But between the fast talking mixed with the Scottish accent, my eyes went rather wide trying to keep up. They come as a pair but I expect their dynamic to be more friendly contentious and competitive. They can praise each other's brilliant ideas but secretly hate that they didn't think of it first. But hey! At least they already come with a ready made 'ship name.

Skye: A tech and computer genius who is a new civilian recruit to SHIELD. Also a bit paranoid and conspiracy theorist. She's responsible for the "rising tide" videos, a red herring for the first half of the episode masking the true "bad guys" (more on that in a bit.)  She has a mysterious past that I'm sure will be uncovered as we go along. Skye isn't her real name and she's hiding from someone or something. She has an obsession with superheros and, from my point of view, obviously longs to be part of their elite team. I see her as being psychologically damaged as a kid, unable to protect herself and thus became enamored of the idea of someone rescuing her. She's quick witted and has some truly excellent lines.

The Plot
It took some sifting through my notes to make sure I really had a handle on the story but: SHIELD is "the line between this world and a much weirder world. We protect people from news they aren't ready for." Think MIB for superheros. After the Battle of New York in the Avengers, SHIELD has gone into overdrive trying to protect everyone from the new dangers. A special elite team has been put together to find unregistered superheros and take down baddies. These new superheros are emerging rapidly, without cause. Someone is engineering regular humans with powers of strength and stamina. The implant gives the operation its code name: Centipede. The first episode really revolves around setting all this up: SHIELD must take down the Operation Centipede and find these new human hybrids and protect them. 

I feel as though this is going to become Monster of the Week very quickly (except here I suppose it would be superhero of the week). Each week, the SHIELD team finds a new hero, protects them and gets ever closer to the Project Centipede ring leaders.
The lack of "real" superheros might also be an issue. I don't expect Tony Stark to Thor to suddenly come whizzing in, but man would that be awesome. People want to see real superheros--fluttering capes, speedos and all--and if you don't somehow give them the real McCoy, the hybrid storyline might get stale. I'm also not sure if it's conducive to weekly blogging, but I guess I'll have to wait and see on that front.
Everyone on screen is far too good at what they do: Ward is the best bomb and black-ops specialist. Skye is THE computer girl; Fitz and Simmons are scary science wunderkinds; May has many tricks up her sleeve. I want to see the human side of these guys too. Let me know that they're just like me--these aren't superheros. They're the one protecting the superheroes.

Miscellaneous Notes from the Pilot 

--I lost track of the number of times I wrote "total Whedon moment" during the watch. Here are a few of my favorites:
------First fight action sequence includes a romantic aria in the background while a pissed off French woman looks more concerned about her ruined breakfast than the three men fighting.
------"With great power comes...a lot of weird crap" BLESS YOU JOSS WHEDON.
------Skye sitting in her van making a "Rising Tide" video when suddenly Coulson and the gang opens the door and just snatches her out of it and then Coulson injecting Ward with truth serum for Skye's benefit. 

--"Don't touch Lola." And with that line, Coulson cements himself a treasure trove of fangirls

--Coulson and his bullhorn. BFFLs.

--So many awesome cool tech toys.

Final Verdict:  Watch it. Even if you haven't seen the Avengers (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?), it's entertaining and fun for all.

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