Thursday, September 26, 2013

Freaks of the Week and Whedonspeak: Agents of SHIELD S01E01 Review



From the very first rumblings that Joss Whedon may be planning a return to television to coincide with last year's Avenging triumph at the box office, I was cautiously optimistic. I'm a casual fan of Whedon's previous efforts, but I think I'm a handful of years too young to properly go back and delve deeply into the annals of Slayers and Hellmouths (although I'm certain to eventually). What excited me about 'SHIELD' was that it promised to use entirely original characters unfettered by decades of Sacred Cow mythology, girlfriends that had to die, villains who had to kill them, etc. Whedon was going to create a party of characters all his own, none of whom had ties to the vast, complicated canons of the comics. This was a wholly new addition to the Marvel Universe that wouldn't have an army of naysayers dismissing it before it could ever take off.

And from its inception, it's clear that 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD' is going to be all the better for that creative freedom. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Breaking Bad it is not; the show is still constrained by the usual problems of US Network television: it's clear there's going to be 20-something episodes (when really shows as big as this are often better when they only have 10-15 tops), every episode is going to be populated by annoyingly good-looking people rather than meaty actors, and we're likely going to see a lot of procedural 'freak-of-the-week' episodes to fill in the long production schedule of the show's season.



Without giving him too much credit, Joss Whedon seems to be trying to tackle these problems head on. While watching episode one, I had the distinct impression that perhaps Whedon had familiarised himself with previous superhero (or vaguely superheroic) TV shows and had analysed where they went wrong. Like "Smallville" or "Knight Rider" or "Arrow" or even that Internet punching-bag of a show "The Cape" (yes, it's a real show, not just a fantasy dreamed up by Dan Harmon), "SHIELD"'s premiere episode features a likable enough fellow stumbling onto abilities that weren't meant for him and ultimately lead to his psychological undoing. After a lot of battering of keyboards, ridiculous technobabble about hacking into mainframes and deleting every trace of someone's identity, the gang of heroes vanquish the villain and save the day. This was practically the plot of every episode of "Smallville"'s first season.

The involvement of Joss Whedon and Marvel Entertainment however has ensured a style, a gloss and sheen that's been absent from any superhero show I've seen since "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" ended in 1997. "SHIELD" is really trying to be upbeat, action-packed and heroic despite the obvious trappings of a TV show.

Character-wise, none of the newbies have impressed me greatly in this opener. Maria Hill, the makey-uppy character that followed Nick Fury around in 'The Avengers', telling him about the plot, is back for a guest appearance, for the simple reason that trying to lure Sam Jackson over to the small screen for a few TV guest appearances is a wildly unrealistic financial absurdity. Cobie Smulders fills the 'Nikita Fury' role well enough and it provides the viewers with a bit of crossover-consistency. Some have complained that this episode went too far hammering viewers over the head with the fact that this is the same world as the one we saw in "The Avengers" and their accompanying films - I thought it was nice. People should remember that not everyone scours websites all day for news and updates regarding what new TV shows are about, and that some viewers need a bit of a reminder as to what they're watching. I didn't feel as though any of it was out of place or forced.

There's a bunch of pretty-young-things rounding out the rest of the cast and I can't really comment on their abilities until I've seen more of them. There's an obvious James Bond analogue, some annoying British (one of them's Scottish, one of them's English, if I'm not mistaken) eggheads and they're rounded out by a genius computer hacker who is basically the exact same character as Chloe Sullivan from "Smallville" or the character Summer Glau played in "The Cape". They're all fine and serviceable, but understandably unoriginal.




The real character-caveat for the show is Clark Gregg's much-publicised return as Agent Coulson. Coulson was always a great inclusion to the Marvel movies insofar as he was an entirely original invention who wasn't hampered by pre-existing fan notions of what he can do or what his history should be. Truthfully, he represents the foundation over which the series will be based and I was pleased that more and more focus was placed on him over the course of the episode. Unlike the films where his character was always harmless and nondescript, in this series it seems like he'll really have an opportunity to shine as the moral heart of the show. I eagerly await the directions the show takes him in and whether it will impact the future of the Marvel films.

While 'Agents of SHIELD' has in no way reinvented the wheel, it's provided a most-satisfying romp into the inner annals of the Marvel Cineverse and I look forward to enjoying the fun-filled action-packed adventures from week to week. Marvel have once again proved that they can be superior in their simplicity.

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