‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ Pilot Review: Too Much Procedural, Not Enough Whedon

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.ABC

In Marvel’s ongoing attempt to fill every single part of your life with superheroes comes their new series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (the most annoying title to type ever): a new series from Joss Whedon that promises to downsize all of the superheroics of the films and focus on a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents tasked with investigating and protecting the world from super-powered threats. While this sounds great in practice, the formula definitely needs some tweaking going forward.

After being killed by Loki in The Avengers, Agent Coulson is back, and while Marvel fans everywhere were eagerly waiting to find out how exactly he survived a god’s knife through the back, his explanation of his rebirth is surprisingly un-mystical. It turns out that he was just healing up in Tahiti of all places. Of course, that can’t be the only explanation. We later see Maria Hill and Dr. Streiten staring out into the distance mysteriously while talking in hushed whispers about what really happened with Agent Coulson. I guess you need Level 8 clearence to know all the details about the agent’s sudden reappearence.

Coulson and his new rag tag group of agents are tasked with finding Mike Peterson, a factory worker who uses a mysterious set of powers to save a woman from a burning building, but when Peterson’s powers start to mess with his head — and worse, threaten to turn him into a bomb — the team might need to kill him in order to save innocent lives. Of course, they eventually manage to stop Peterson without killing him and the crew is off to investigate a 0-8-4, whatever that is.

The biggest crime that S.H.I.E.L.D. commits is that it feels way too safe and particularly un-Whedon-esque. It’s as if someone put Joss’ work through a couple of distillations, and the outcome is flat, indistinct and a little tasteless. Whedon’s characters, which usually crackle with wit and charm, are completely dull here, and it is hard to tell whether the writing or the actors are the problem. None of the characters are particularly interesting and are just simple archetypes — like “gruff agent guy,” and “gruff agent girl,” and “wacky scientists.” Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson is the only standout there.

The story feels too much like a standard procedural. If you replaced the explosive super-serum with a pipe bomb, then it would just be an episode of Criminal Minds or NCIS. You might as well call the show Law and Order: S.H.I.E.L.D. When a show like Fringe handled the sci-fi procedural, it wasn’t afraid to get weird and freaky with its material. S.H.I.E.L.D. simply feels way too tame, at least in this first outing.

With all of the bad news out of the way, there are a few inspired moments and nice touches where you can see the show loosen up a bit and get a little more adventurous. We just hope the show finds it’s groove.

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