Let’s set the record straight right quick: There’s a reason the brand name Marvel is prominently displayed in their new television show “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Nobody cares about The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Had the same exact show I watched last night, word for word and shot for shot minus any connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe it would probably already be on the chopping block. That’s not to say that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have charm. Joss Whedon, who developed the series and wrote and directed the pilot, is a very endearing writer and there are charismatic Whedonisms that pop up throughout the first episode, but by the time the credits ran I’d spent far more time rolling my eyes than I had pumping my fist.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t all bad. If nothing else it highlights two characters, Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill, that were previously enjoyable in their sidelined roles in the Marvel movies.
Clark Gregg hit the jackpot with 2008’s Iron Man, landing a seemingly miniscule role that landed him a spot in a majority of Marvel’s subsequent movies and a pretty significant role in the crown jewel, Marvel’s Avengers. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson does what he does best: creep around members of a rag tag team dulling out vague nothings and half-truths with aplomb, all the while perfectly straddling the line between super spy badass and straight up dork. Clark Gregg is an actor, and Phil Coulson a character, that at this point probably could legitimately carry a television show in his own right. Unfortunately this show has a few too many burdens for him to lift alone.
Helping with the heavy lifting, however, is Cobie Smulders as Coulson’s counterpart super spy badass Maria Hill. Smulders is awesome. She had a dope car chase in The Avengers and her character and acting instantly made me dread Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow all the more. She’s a tough lady that in even a minor role is able to elevate her character above being just a warm body in a tight suit. For the moment Smulders is limited to guest appearances while she wraps the final season of How I Met Your Mother, but hopefully she’ll join the show as a regular afterwards, because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs a lot of things, including more Cobie.
Unfortunately most of the rest of the cast is pretty underwhelming. It’s hard to fully flesh out characters in a pilot, even when you’re Joss Whedon, but the group of misfits that round out the titular agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rely so heavily on hackneyed archetypes that it’s impossible for me to muster a modicum of interest in any of them.
Tough, pretty boy douche bag that doesn’t work well with others but is reluctantly cast into a team setting by his superior? I’m sure he won’t begrudgingly come to care for his team in his own alpha male way. Check.
Abrasive, obnoxious lady who is both pretty and not a team player? I wasn’t completely sure, but then she explained aloud that she wasn’t a team player. I’m sure she won’t get it on with the other non-team player. Check.
Sassy nerds that are equal parts chatty and British? Check.
Reluctant retiree back for another mission only after being promised they wouldn’t see any action? I can’t wait to find out where and when her entire squad was ambushed and killed and why exactly it’s all her fault but she shouldn’t blame herself. Check.
I of course understand that the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is just that: a pilot. But the ham-fisted character archetypes feel less like spring boards for character development further down the line and more like phoning it in.
There is, however, one character in the pilot that caught my interest. Construction worker Mike Peterson, a.k.a. “The Hooded Hero,” is a single black father trying to make ends meet and take care of his son. He also happens to possess superhuman abilities. When a building explodes Peterson uses those abilities to save a woman from a fire only to be filmed by some lady on her phone (the aforementioned non-team player) and put on the internet.
The Hooded Hero was an immediately interesting concept to me as he offered a much different character than any of the other Avenging-level superheroes. Not a super-soldier-billionaire-scientist-god, just a down on his luck construction worker.
But God forbid we have black superheroes.
Turns out Peterson’s powers are just the result of evil science and the Hooded Hero is actually pretty much a villain. After an impassioned monologue on what it’s like to be an ordinary man with nothing but bad luck in a world with Gods and monsters and heroes (easily the highlight of the episode) Peterson is pretty much wrapped up. Hope you didn’t get too invested, cause that dude’s out of here.
As the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. came to a close I was pretty disappointed. Coulson had some great moments, but I hated every new character on the show save the one who is never going to show up again. Things were looking grim. And then Phil Coulson literally drove away in a goddamn hover car, and things were abysmal.
Not every show can be Breaking Bad. There are plenty of shows with terrible pilots that go on to reach great heights and hopefully Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will do just that. But with a show where the main character is essentially the brand name, my hopes are low.