Welcome to the inaugural installment of the Agents of SHIELD Chitty-Chat Club! There are a few rules before we get underway.
1) I’m not putting the periods between each letter of SHIELD because that shit is tedious, especially when the show itself makes it a point to call out what a goofy, pointless acronym it is.
2) This is a recap for people who have actually watched the show, so if you’re spoilerphobic, this recap will likely give you hives. It might give you hives anyway, who knows. Hives aren’t bad compared to the side-effects of Extremis. It’s like a really bad case of rosacea, except you blow the fuck up, and take a few city blocks with you.
After the jump for the chitting and chatting:
The good news: So far as Joss Whedon pilots go,this is pretty good. It’s miles better than both Buffy or Dollhouse’s premieres, but not quite as well put together as Angel’s premiere, or Firefly’s opening two-parter. As the 44 minutes run down, the requisite boxes are checked off: Pretty people, all way too smartassed for their own good, being put in their place by an older, calmer smartass, and forced to work together to save the world in an unorthodox way. Some of those pretty people have been in previous Whedon shows, so you get a few extra watts of recognition jolting the “squee” receptors in your head. For example: A scientist hanging around SHIELD is played by Ron Glass (SQUEE IT’S
RON HARRIS FROM BARNEY MILLER SHEPHERD BOOK FROM FIREFLY), and this episode’s antagonist, a well-meaning factory worker with explosive psoriasis, played by J. August Richards (SQUEE IT’S GUNN FROM ANGEL).
The rest of the cast aren't Whedon vets, but they’re pretty decent analogues. This show’s gruff, pretty young squarehead (Brett Dalton) might not have as much charm or charisma as David Boreanaz, but the sassy, fast-talking rulebreaker (Chloe Bennet) is very much reminiscent of Eliza Dushku, except she has better presence, better timing, and appears to have a general familiarity with acting beyond the act of posing and then letting words fall out of her head. I imagine Ming Na’s world-weary Melinda May will end up having more than a little in common with Firefly’s Zoe Washburn, too.
And just as the Whedonites will devote some attention trying to call out actors/references to past works, Marvel-brand True Believers will spend time trying to guess which B or C-level superheroes will be showing up. Many thought Richards’ character was going to end up being Luke Cage, until he wasn’t (thankfully - Luke deserves his own show), but I’m betting part of the fun for the True Believers will be guessing who shows up, and when.
What if you’re not someone who has all the words to Dr. Horrible memorized, and you have no idea who occupies the Marvel Universe outside of the 7 combined hours you spent watching Iron Man, Captain America and The Avengers ? You’ll end up with a decent, hi-tech spy show. One that subverts expectations in grin-inducing ways. The typical interrogation scene is calmly flipped on its head with some smirking effortlessness from Clark Gregg, reprising his role as Phil Coulson, whose resurrection is easily-and-lamely explained away until an ominous line from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) makes it likely his return will be the show’s b-plot mystery for awhile.
And while Richards gets to stop the show with a well-meaning, impassioned speech about how superheroes are giants, and regular people are simply there to get stepped on, Whedon, his brother Jed, and his wife Maurissa Tancharoen put a bullet in the grandiosity. Literally. The scene ends with Agent Squarehead plugging Richards in the brain with a science bullet that cures his Extremis. But because it’s a science bullet, he doesn’t die, and you get to have your cake and eat it too. Bear McCreary, who has already crafted at least three cues for this one episode that are better than 90% of all the music for every previous Marvel film combined, turns up the hopeful strings, and you get to legitimately enjoy the cleverness of the ending while also laughing at the idea the good guys are all giving each other the thumbs up and smiling gratefully as a young father lies unconscious on the ground with a glowing blue hole in his head.
It’s not a perfect hour of television by any means – the Science Twins (Iain De Castecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) aren’t so much funny as they are extremely fucking grating, and the exit gag of Coulson’s car being able to do a Back to the Future impersonation is poorly executed and also corny as fuck. But Agents of SHIELD is a scaled down mouthful of the same sort of fun that made The Avengers a fan-favorite. The show may not be standing on stable legs just yet, but with someone as rock-solid as Gregg anchoring the show, that’s likely just a matter of time, and SHIELD has the important part nailed down already: It definitely knows how to have fun.
Plus, it's nice to hear "Grr, arg" on my tv again.