TV Review | New series ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ shows promise

Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a very audacious television venture for numerous reasons. The primary one is that the show attempts to mesh the universe depicted in the superhero epic “The Avengers” (2012) with a weekly procedural format. In this case, however, the central focus of the show is not the heroes themselves, but rather the bureaucratic force behind them: the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistic Division. One obstacle facing this new show is its title, a problem of which the show is hilariously self-aware. When asked why the agency has such a long name, one character quips that someone really wanted it to spell out “shield.”

At the forefront of this new series is a veteran television writer with a huge cult following: Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003) and “Firefly” (2002-2003), who also served as the writer and director of “The Avengers.” Whedon is one of the show’s executive producers and created the series alongside Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is a collision of Whedon-style television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, presenting the opportunity for an entertaining and fresh new take on the superhero genre. But does it accomplish its goal?

For the most part, the answer is yes. It is difficult to translate the epic scale of “The Avengers” to the small screen — even with advanced special effects, the show simply cannot compare to the movie. The first episode contains many fun allusions to the film, but instead of enhancing the show, these actually detract from it. Though the references help to refresh viewers’ memories, they also remind them of the grand spectacle that the show is lacking. However, because the series is focused mainly on a team of human agents, a lighter emphasis on the superhero element of the show is acceptable. In the first episode, the only person with super-heroic capabilities is a guest star. If “S.H.I.E.L.D” continues with this formula, concentrating on humanity rather than reality-defying individuals, it will make the action more believable.

In “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the characters and their interactions with one another are what truly drive the show. Whedon’s shows have always been known for their ensemble casts, whether it was the Scooby Gang in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or the Serenity crew in “Firefly.” The “S.H.I.E.L.D.” team seems to have good chemistry, although, thus far, they have not had much of an opportunity to work in tandem, which sometimes makes the characters appear disjointed. Additionally, the first episode featured various guest stars, including “Angel” (1999-2004), alum J. August Richards as an “unregistered gifted” and Cobie Smulders continuing her role from “The Avengers” as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill. While their performances were excellent, adding extra personalities before establishing a dynamic between the regular characters didn’t allow audiences to get a sense of the ensemble as a whole. Of the group, Chloe Bennett as sassy hacker Skye is the weakest link, being a bit too self-conscious in her delivery of one-liners. The rest of the cast appears to have greater potential. Brett Dalton portrays the smooth and handsome agent Grant Ward with surprisingly good comic timing, while Ming-Na Wen excels as tough veteran agent Melinda May. Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker share palpable chemistry as scientist team agents Fitz and Simmons.

But it is Clark Gregg’s agent Phil Coulson (perhaps better known to movie fans as Agent Coulson), a fixture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who truly shines. Coulson seemingly died in “The Avengers,” and it is likely that his mysterious reappearance will be one of the main plotlines of this season. Gregg’s performance mixes dry, likable humor with force and authority — a difficult task. If the ensemble cast will ever truly mesh together, it will be because of Coulson’s (and Gregg’s) leadership skills.

If the show continues to focus more on the characters rather than the technology, it will mature into good television. However, if it loses itself in trying to attract a mass audience with flashy special effects and superstar guest appearances, then it will lose all of its appeal. “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is off to a promising start; fans can only hope that the talents of Whedon and Gregg can keep viewers coming back throughout the season.

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