Unlike many new shows premiering this autumn, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows exactly what it wants to be. It’s a crime procedural with superheroes, and it wants to be popular. As the generic investigative drama rules the US TV airwaves, so does the superhero rule the cinema box office. Uniting the two therefore seems like a fairly safe bet for success, and thus a spin-off TV show of the Marvel film universe was born.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not, however, based around superheroes themselves, but smaller human characters living in a superpowered world. Building on the recognisable Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson from previous Marvel films, the show assembles a team of unknown fighters and tech geeks around him. There is also room in the first episode for Cobie Smulders as Agent Hill, reprising her role from Avengers Assemble, though with the final season of How I Met Your Mother also airing this year it seems likely she will only make occasional appearances.
Agent Coulson is the enigmatic centre of the show, part Bond, part Dumbledore, an intelligent wise-cracker who seems to know everything, except the real story of how he survived his pivotal death scene in Avengers Assemble. Clark Gregg is excellent in the role, bringing humanity and humility to a character, who could so easily come off as a know-it-all when surrounded by normal people instead of superheroes. For now at least, the show owes easily half its success to his charm alone.
The other regulars are a little more of a mixed bag. Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are decent as a pair of geeky scientists who will seem instantly familiar to most genre-savvy viewers. Their friendship may become interesting as the show develops, but for now it’s just the wacky comedy of watching them finish each other’s sentences. Ming Na-Wen is tough, silent and believable as Melinda May, an agent who seems to be a living legend within S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately though, Brett Dalton and Chloe Bennet, who are presumably supposed to be our way in to the show as the new kids in the team, are much more of a blank slate. One is a standard hunk of muscle, who seems to have no thoughts beyond overpowering bad guys, while the other is an over-excitable hacker who succeeds by bending the rules.
In other words, the show is disappointingly procedural. But it’s only disappointing because of the involvement of Joss Whedon, the guy who made Avengers Assemble so much fun and who specialised in subverting established conventions in his previous television work. It seems probable that this high-budget show, carrying Marvel’s reputation, may simply not be allowed to be as unusual and unexpected as a discerning audience might wish – or at least, not yet. The audience ratings for the first episode, both in the US and the UK, have been extremely strong. People like knowing what they’re getting, and a certain adherence to formula is bound to appeal to studio executives. But if the ratings continue strong, we can perhaps hope that by the end of the season these tightly buttoned agents will be dealing with thornier questions than just “How do we stop this guy exploding?”
PHOTOS// evansonline, Disney, ABC