Is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the next great Joss Whedon show?

Fanboys (and girls!), start your engines -- Joss Whedon is back on TV, and this time he brought the Marvel Universe with him. Hot off the massive success of The Avengers, Whedon has taken the helm of its spinoff series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The show launches him once more into the fray of television, where he's had stellar successes (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and tragic failures (the beloved yet murdered in its crib Firefly). Of course, television has also been the scene of some of his most middling work -- Dollhouse, looking at you here -- proving that not everything he touches on the small screen turns to gold. This past Tuesday, the much anticipated Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered on ABC, and because it's never too early to pose wild theoreticals and pass premature judgment, the question arises: Is this the next great Joss Whedon show?

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If you didn't catch the pilot, it picks up shortly after the events of The Avengers film. The world is reeling from the revelation that superhumans walk (and fly) among us and the good people at super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. are doing their level best to manage this brave new world in which we find ourselves. The story kicks off with the introduction of one of these heroes, a heretofore unknown superhuman who saves the life of a woman after an explosion destroys the top floor of a building. This also serves as our introduction to a young woman named Skye, who seems to have an unhealthy fascination with both superhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D. She follows the mysterious hero and tries to convince him to go public with his superness before the men in black of S.H.I.E.L.D. take him away.

Meanwhile, we get an introduction to the rest of our team, including a sullen, badass lone-wolf field agent; a pair of loopy super scientists; a paper-pusher with a past that finds her reluctant to return to field work; and, of course, our fearless leader, Agent Coulson, who died in The Avengers movie.

Wait, what?

Yeah, if you've ever read more than, say, two dozen pages of a comic, you'd know that death is almost never forever, especially when it's a popular character, so it's no surprise when we see Coulson and he tells Loner McBadass (aka Grant Ward) how his death was faked for the Avengers' benefit. Before long, the whole team is together and headed into the field to capture Skye, who turns out to be a super hacker (naturally). Things happen, she's convinced to help S.H.I.E.L.D., and finally we get to the real meat of the pilot. There's no reason to get all spoilery here for those who missed it (you can still see it by any number of means both legal and not, after all), but suffice it to say that by the end of the hour, the good guys have come together to work as a team, the bad guys are still a mystery, and lots of shit gets punched to pieces in a big, climactic fight. So, you know, pretty normal superhero stuff.

Is that an issue? It could be, if you're tired of the constant onslaught of superhero cinema and aren't ready to commit to an hour a week of it at home. Of course, it is a show set smack dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe, where demigods battle gamma-irradiated monsters in the streets of New York, so... what did you expect? Whether you consider that an issue or not, there are some actual issues. Apart from Coulson and Skye, the characters are flimsy and cliche or forgettable. The two super-genius scientists, Fitz and Simmons, are barely more than a double-headed caricature of the flighty mad scientist trope, but at least the actors manage to distinguish themselves a tiny bit. The lonewolf tough guy is a generic, off-the-shelf lone-wolf tough guy and worse, the generic tough guy that plays him is as lacking in charisma as his character is in definition. As for the "former field agent with a legendary past turned administrator turned field agent again"? Well, she's on screen for a total of maybe two minutes, so she gets a pass for now, but it's worth noting that her character, again, is something of a cliche.

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This is Whedon we're talking about at least wait a few episodes before decrying all the characters as shallow and forgettable.... character development is still a thing right?

Matt Morava
Matt Morava

I liked it and really didn't think I would.


This series will live and die by the shadings of the characters, and the story arcs that they follow.  As far as characters are concerned, they each need to be different.  Human beings with flaws and qualities that are organic and real.  The story arcs, in long and short form, need to be grounded and relevant.  Despite the fact that superheroes and their antagonists exist in this series, mankind, and the societal issues that surround mankind should be prevalent.

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