Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Agents of W.H.E.D.O.N.

GenerationX-posterMark your calenders, folks! Marvel again reached a milestone as it ventured into the world of television once more. If you think about it, when was the last time Marvel had a live-action television series? The first thing I think of (and I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one) is the Generation X TV movie/pilot that aired in 1996.

Some of you might remember the Mutant X TV show that actually did pretty well (“pretty well” meaning it lasted for more than one season — three, in fact! — in syndication) but it doesn’t legally count. Effectively, it’s been 17 years since Marvel has attempted live-action television, and 25 years since it’s been a hit, back when The Incredible Hulk was all the rage. So score one for the House of Ideas, as ABC aired Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week to exceptional ratings, with 11.9 million viewers watching the premiere live.

Despite having the name in the title, I can’t bring myself to call it Marvel’s show after seeing the pilot. If anything, this is Joss Whedon’s show, as his earmarks are all over every scene, plot point and casting choice; this makes sense, considering Whedon is, primarily, a TV guy. His name conjures up a list of cult series, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dollhouse, all serving a die-hard audience that will watch his works because of the man behind the camera. Whedon is comfortable enough here (and probably has enough free rein over Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) to work in his classic tropes and story style to make a hit (that hopefully won’t get canceled this time).

agentsofshield-castMarvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired a pilot, by nature isn’t a finished product. It puts the best foot forward, sure, but there’s a lot of leeway in pilots so that they can handle changes from the Powers That Be. The plot won’t be intensive so that it doesn’t seem too complicated, the replaceable actors not too prominent in case someone wants to go in another direction, the sets minimal and the effects quickly budgeted. It’s a pretty tight little pilot, but rather than work from the Avengers movies, I think the show best stands on its Mutant Enemy label than as a product of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The bare-bones concept is that a secret organization protects the rest of the world from the unknown or, as it’s constantly referred to in the pilot, the weird. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel protected us from the supernatural, Firefly and Dollhouse from evil science and authority, S.H.I.E.L.D. seems less like a super-spy organization than yet another ragtag group of quirky characters here to protect us from a combination of the above. Strangely enough (or should I say “weirdly”), the characters seem conscious of this, too; there’s a certain level of self-awareness to Whedon’s humor in which the players known full well they’re fulfilling tropes. Coulson stepping out of the shadows at the mention of his name, Skye knowing how the interrogation is going to go down — it’s those little moments that are either going to draw you in and put you on the same page as the characters or take you out of the drama as if a fourth wall is broken.

This is Agent Ward; it's okay if you don't remember that.

This is Agent Ward. It’s OK if you don’t remember that.

Whedon’s characterization remains the same as with most of his shows: The Avengers avoided those stereotypes because most of its characters debuted in other films and were developed by the actors before the writer/director sat down at the keyboard. Here, they’re more apparent: There’s the plucky young woman several steps of everyone else, the competent yet perpetually outwitted handsome guy, the father figure, the cold woman with secrets, and wacky genius duo. None of these are new to the Whedon milieu and can be springboards to more developed, more interesting characters as the series progresses, as evidenced by the other Whedon crutch of endless secrets. What can Coulson never know? Who is Melinda May, and why is she reluctant to get in the field? What is Agent Grant Ward’s family history? What is Skye’s real name? It’s an easy trick to keep viewers in their seats, even if what is actually known seems a little sparse. We wait to see how the setup pays off, and we’re rewarded with answers … eventually. In the meantime, we can enjoy nerdy treats like name-dropping Hermione and Journey Into Mystery.

There’s a reason this man has a cult following: He knows his audience well and plays to them like an old friend telling the stories you’ve always loved. The question is whether this will appeal to a larger audience for once and expand out of the comfy Whedony cocoon to become a Marvel production. There are references to MCU events like Extremis and, of course, the Battle of New York, but Marvel fans are tuning in for a connected universe. We want to see our heroes and villains on the small screen just like we did on the big one, and it will take some time and effort make that happen.

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Comments

16 Comments

I thought it was OK, but not great. My wife is a big fan of superhero TV shows — Smallville, Arrow, and in a way Nikita — and she was thoroughly bored during the entire show. As in, there was a lot of talking, but not much action. I guess that there’s a wait and see aspect of it, being the pilot and all, but I kinda felt that Sleepy Hollow had a much stronger debut than SHIELD. (And, weirdly, Sleepy Hollow actually felt like a superhero show.)

Agent Ward is kind of a bore so far, but otherwise I liked the Pilot a lot. The show just needs some more Ron Glass.

Coulson can never know that he’s an LMD.

You forgot the Blade series from a few years ago

I love how in every thread about this show at least one person has to float the LMD theory. Listen – that won’t be it, because that’s what you’re expecting, and because “OH MY GOD THE STAR IS REALLY A ROBOT” could not possibly be more lame.

What’s lame about an LMD? For television, it’s a novel concept. A sentient robot who thinks it’s human and must never be told the truth of its’ existence for fear of how it will affect its own self image and corrupt his own agenda? LMD becomes Dark Coulson? I’d watch that.

Generation X? What a disappointment. Max Headroom couldn’t save that movie.

I missed much of the episode,but what I did get to see was definently like Whedon’s other shows. I’m sure he’ll get someone together as a couple, then kill one of them. That’s for sure.

skye’s real name is janet van dyne

It’s weird that so much of the praise Joss Whedon gets is for rigidly adhering to the same character tropes and story beats he has since Buffy. Is more of the same really that ground breaking or exciting?

I was thinking skye was bobbi morse.

the pilot was a snooze fest, laughably bad

It’s not really a superhero show. It’s more of a spy show. None of the main cast have super powers or don a superhero identity. If you are expecting a superhero show at this point, you have been looking at the promos or ads right.

Great pilot. There’s a lot of potential to the series. Coulson really carries it so far. Hopefully once the other characters are built up, they can help carry it as well.

Jay, Coulson helicarries it.

I LUUUUUUURVED that Generation X movie when I was in Middle School. That is all.

Damn you for making me remember that Generation X pilot.

Unless the ratings are super-terrible I expect Agents of Shield will get one and only one full season order after this one completes.

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