Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. premieres big in the 18-49 demo.
Here’s how it is: New York got blown up. And everybody found out about it. Now, the word is out – there are heroes and villains, gods and demigods, who walk the Earth and rule the galaxy. I’m Agent Phil Coulson and I’m in charge of keeping the world safe. Not during the big battles, but every day. Every. Single. Day.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot starts with a quick “state of the union,” narrated by a disembodied female voice that espouses the need for transparency. And then stuff happens – a lot of stuff, very quickly. And similar to The Avengers, it’s really best to just hold onto Mjolnir and ride it out.
From the prolific mind of Joss Whedon (he, the creator of the beloved Firefly, the epic Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the blockbuster The Avengers), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in a post-Avengers world, where everyone has seen the footage of the Hulk, Thor and Captain America fighting side by side to turn back an alien invasion, and leveling lower Manhattan in the process.
It also exists in a world where Coulson lives. Fan favorite, Agent Phil Coulson, whose tragic end acted as a catalyst to unite the wayward heroes against Loki and the Chitari, makes a triumphant return in the first few minutes of S.H.I.E.L.D. When I saw the early screening of the pilot at Comic-Con this summer, Coulson’s reappearance elicited cheers that shook the room. And for good reason; Phil Coulson, played by actor Clark Gregg is the best, unassuming leader on modern TV. Less alpha-male than NCIS’ Agent Gibbs and funnier than Criminal Minds’ Hotch, Coulson is appears to be the opposite of Nick Fury, his hard-ass, take no prisoners boss. But really Coulson is a genial good guy who can be pushed too far and is willing to push back. His exhortation two-thirds of the way during the show when a member of his team claims something is impossible is all we, as the audience need to understand the steel that runs through those unassuming veins.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. quickly establishes the new world order post-Avengers, by introducing us to a seemingly new superhero, played in the pilot J. August Richards (Angel). After his heroics are caught on a cellphone camera by a pretty girl, Richards’ Michael Peterson must keep a low profile. When the pretty girl, Skye, tracks him down, offering to help him take his new superhero status public, Peterson seems initially intrigued, but quickly refuses her help.
On the government side of things, Coulson is building his team. Although his four hand-picked operatives are all fundamentally flawed in some way, it’s the team Coulson wants, much to the chagrin of Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders reprising her role from the feature film). The first to come on board is Agent Ward, a young clean cut spy who doesn’t want to be there. He also delivers one of the best lines of the pilot: when asked what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for and then what the name says to him, Ward quips, “That someone really wanted our initials to spell out shield.”
Ward is reluctantly conscripted, along with Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen). She isn’t interested in going back in the field, obviously scarred by a trauma we will no doubt learn much about through the coming season, but Coulson makes it non-optional, and so May is brought on board to drive the “Bus.”
The Bus in this instance is a giant plane that serves as the agents’ home, command center and base of operations. Like another beloved Whedon ship, something tells me we will come to appreciate “the Bus.”
Rounding out the disparate crew are Agents Fitz and Simmons, normally just referred to as Fitz-Simmons. Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) is the biochemical expert, while her partner, Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is the tech wiz. British and Scottish respectively, the characters have a hilarious shorthand that often finds them bickering and talking over each other like siblings. Their initial chemistry – and their accents – made them instantly beloved. And it seems pretty obvious that they will serve as the emotional center of the show. Similar to Willow and Kaylee, I have a feeling that when Jemma cries, the audience will cry with her.
The quartet’s initial mission is to hunt down the “Rising Tide” – a shadow group that is demanding transparency in light of the attack on New York and, it appears, is getting violent. Before being brought into the fold, Ward is on a European mission, hunting down apparently murderous Tide members.
When it’s revealed that Skye is a member of the “Rising Tide,” and maybe its chief instigator, she is kidnapped and brought in for questioning aboard the Bus. In a hilarious turn of events, and a purely Coulson-esque move, Phil injects Ward with a truth serum so that Skye can question him and therefore, learn to trust them. Reverse interrogation was never so much fun.
It’s revealed that what S.H.I.E.L.D. is really after is Mike Peterson, the supercharged human we met at the top of the episode, who saved a doctor from an exploding lab. Since Skye has made contact and knows his name, she is instantly of use to S.H.I.E.L.D. – it doesn’t hurt that she’s also an expert hacker and has, in fact, hacked S.H.I.E.L.D’s communications before.
Peterson, a down on his luck, single father is searching for a job and growing angrier as the days pass. When he calls the doctor and implores them to allow him to go public, we learn that his super strength is actually not natural, but manufactured through an implanted device on the underside of his forearm, dubbed the Centipede. When the doctor tells Peterson no, he goes on a rampage, putting his former boss in the hospital and attracting more attention by destroying thousands of dollars of equipment. This places him at the top of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s must apprehend list.
No longer thinking logically, Peterson abducts Skye when she returns to her mobile headquarters (aka a souped up van) to send audio files of the explosion back to Fitz on the Bus. Ordering Skye to drive, it appears Peterson’s plan is to disappear with his young son and make Skye help by erasing his identity from every database on the planet.
With the encrypted data Skye sent back to Fitz and Simmons, the team realizes that the explosion in the lab wasn’t caused by a bomb, but was actually another of the doctor’s patients, with a similar Centipede device on his arm, going nova. Realizing this same fate will befall Peterson, Coulson orders Fitz and Simmons to come up with a way to stop him without killing him. When Simmons protests such a thing isn’t possible, Coulson finally lets us see the full extent of his temper: “Don’t ever tell me there’s no way!”
I won’t ruin the last act of the episode and tell you how it all turns out, but by the time the credits are ready to roll, it’s apparent that this ragtag team will work together, whether they like it or not. The only real question is whether Skye will join the good guys, or stay an independent contractor. One has to imagine she’ll be suiting up with the rest of them.
Overall, the performances in the pilot were pretty great. The only weakness I really found was J. August Richards’ reluctant superhero. Unfortunately, he had some of the best lines, (I’m pretty sure there are young and old actors alike who would kill to utter the lines, “It’s an origin story” on screen) and while on paper, they could have appeared cheesy, in the hands of a more talented actor they could have been outstanding. Personally, I’m okay with not seeing Mike Peterson again, but the episode resolves with the possibility that Peterson could reappear.
Brett Ward (Dalton) is the newest of the bunch, having no other major credits to his name. He is handsome, earnest and just uptight enough for the audience to root for and his by the book manner will no doubt clash with all the other members of the team, especially Coulson. Ming-Na Wen (May) who has long been one of my favorite actresses, kicks massive butt as Melinda May and Fitz and Simmons as previously discussed are off to a great and likeable start. Chloe Bennet (Skye) plays her super-smart, super nerd with just the right mixture of self-deprecation and bravado. Her lines could easily have fallen flat were it not for her playful, and at times, snarky delivery.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the pilot is a singular achievement in one-hour scripted dramas: it looks and feels like a 42 minute movie. Moving forward, the show will be in the hands of executive producers, Maurissa Tacharoen and Jed Whedon (Joss’ brother), Jeffrey Bell and Jeph Loeb. There have been some rumors online that Joss has already had to step in to rewrite scripts, but I don’t think we should panic just yet. In truth, working in an established world with already well-defined new characters should make the initial half of the season pretty easy to write. I don’t believe Jed and Maurissa are bad writers, I honestly think they just haven’t been given enough room on other projects to play.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered strong, winning its demo of adults 18-49, even though NCIS still had more viewers. As I stated in my previous article, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a New Joss Whedon Show,” the Live +7 numbers will mean a lot for S.H.I.E.L.D. and are a much better illustration of its success.
During the broadcast, my Twitter (@tamsibling) feed blew up with positive comments and reviews, and so far the feedback, even from critics, has been positive. The real test of the show will be its viewership next week. How much of an audience will S.H.I.E.L.D. retain week over week and will it be enough to put it into the category of “new fall hit.”
Unfortunately, nobody has discovered a super power yet that lets us predict the entertainment future. Which is probably for the best – Hollywood execs would just abuse the privilege anyway.