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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1.01 "Pilot" Review: Meet the Team

    Tonight was the debut of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – perhaps the most anticipated new show of the fall – or maybe that’s just me. I’m often worried about getting too excited about a new show for fear that it couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations. I’m happy to report that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. definitely lived up to my expectations. I’m going to really like this show!
Tancharoen, Jed, and Joss Whedon
    It certainly didn’t hurt that Joss Whedon directed the first episode and co-wrote it with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Jed is Joss’s brother and Maurissa and Jed are married, making it very much a family affair. The three have collaborated before on The Avengers, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Doll House. The Pilot feels like a movie, and I hope that the series can maintain that high level. Special effects are excellent, and the sets are also really well done. The show just felt – big. It had me wondering what the budget was on the Pilot and how that would compare with the budget for the rest of the season.
    As you might expect with any Whedon project, there were lots of great shout outs to other Marvel properties and The Avengers in particular. But the dialogue was also crisp and smart and the action moved along quickly. There were lots of laughs, but there was more to the story too. It felt like the characters were enjoying themselves as much as I was.
Richards and Bennet
    The episode opened with the signature Marvel comic flip-pages. A voice over brings the audience up to speed and we focus on action figures of the superhero stars of The Avengers in a comic shop window. We’re immediately plunged into the action when a down on his luck single dad suddenly turns superhero and rescues a woman from a burning building after an explosion. He’s careful, however to hide his identity. Mike (J. August Richards) keeps his hood up to avoid being seen, but a mysterious woman (Skye, played by Chloe Bennet) documents it all with her phone. The action then shifts quickly to Paris where Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is working a case. We immediately see Ward using some pretty cool gadgets and then are treated to a spectacular fight scene! I want to know who is choreographing the fights and doing the stunts for this show! (stay tuned – that’s going to be my homework for this week...).
Gregg as Agent Coulson
    We shift then to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and are treated to a nice guest spot from Cobie Smulders as Agent Hill. I have to say that Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson always seems like he’s having a ball and he brings that joy to the character in such a genuine way. Coulson’s first appearance is everything one could want as he steps out of the dark corner. Another great surprise in the Pilot was the appearance of Ron Glass as Dr Streiten. Glass, of course, worked with Joss Whedon on Firefly and Serenity. While Coulson tells Ward that his “death” had been used as a team building exercise and a motivational tool, Hill and Streiten seem to hint at something more sinister or at least unnatural when they comment that Coulson still doesn’t know and that he can never know. We learn that the Avengers still don’t know he’s alive because they aren’t level 7 clearance. I’m really hoping that either Coulson now has some super power himself or there is some other explanation for his miraculous recovery. What I fervently hope is that this Coulson isn’t some kind of super-android. I did love that we still get Coulson's own geekiness, especially over Lola. And I loved that Lola had that very cool surprise at the end - very much like her owner - there is more to her than meets the eye.
Caestecker and Henstridge
    It wouldn’t be a Whedon project if the team wasn’t full of un-obvious characters. Well. Maybe the character-types are somewhat obvious – muscle, beauty, tech-geek, doctor/biologist, engineer, veteran – but the characters are unique. The muscle, Ward, doesn’t really want to be there. Dalton does a great job with the fight scenes but is also great in the comedy scenes, such as when Coulson gives him the truth serum instead of Skye. Skye, is the newest recruit, so she will be an excellent vehicle for the audience (us!) to learn all about S.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson sets about recruiting her because he sees something in her. There’s already some fun chemistry between Bennet and Richards and between Bennet and Gregg. The science portion of the team are Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). These two appear to be the only ones who actually want to be on the team. They have terrific chemistry and great comedic timing as well – these two are going to be very entertaining to watch. Fitz is a bit OCD and had one of the best lines of the night: “By luck, I mean unappreciated genius.” It was great watching Simmons geek out over the alien metal that was literally dripping gamma radiation. Rounding out the team is Ming-Na Wen as Agent Milinda May. May wants no part of the team, but Coulson convinces her to come back out into the field – just to drive the bus. However, she manages to get thrown into a wall and do some great hand to hand fighting. It will be interesting to have her backstory fleshed out. Wen of course has a long history from ER and more recently had a great role on Stargate Universe.
Wen as Agent May
    The story had some great twists. It seems like Mike has super powers until we learn about Centipede and see it stuck to his arm. It also seems like he’s simply managed to rescue some woman – though I did think it was curious that he knew to rush into a burning building. We are lead to believe that Skye is part of the big bad – Rising Tide. Later we find out that, in fact, the woman Mike rescued is the Doctor who attached the centipede to him and she knows there is something seriously wrong with her experiment. As it turns out, the Doctor is part of some larger, sinister group. In the end, it takes the whole team to bring down Mike and save the day. The final scene has to belong to Gregg, however – not that he doesn’t own every scene he’s in though! The climactic scene is fantastic as Coulson explains to Mike that it isn’t the super powers that make heroes like the Avengers heroes: “It’s not what they have; it’s what they do with it. You’re right. It’s what’s inside you.”
Gregg and Richards
    Finally, just a shout out to the cleverness of the dialogue. There were so many great shout outs to comics in general and The Avengers in particular. I’m sure I didn’t get them all, so feel free to add to this list in the comments. Here are the ones that I caught. Ward is compared to Romanoff – The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Mike is referred to as the “Hooded Hero” – this resonated with Arrow for me. Skye tells Mike that “With great power  - comes a lot of weird crap.” Of course the proper Spiderman quote is “With great power comes great responsibility.” Fitz and Simmons ask Ward if he’s ready to join their “journey into mystery” which is the title of the first comic issue that Thor appeared in. There is a shout out to the New Mexico operation from Thor and Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. from Iron Man 2. The alien metal dripping gamma radiation had to be a nod to the Hulk. There’s a nice nod to fans when Skye is described as a groupie – a sweaty, cosplaying girl. And in a moment that felt very super-meta, Mike replies to the doctor’s remarks that his losing control is “a disaster” by saying that “No. It’s an origin story.” And of course, this Pilot is the origin story for S.H.I.E.L.D.
     I thought this was a great start for the series. Next week they are off to investigate another mysterious object, and I can’t wait to find out what it is. What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.? Will you be waiting as eagerly for the second episode as the first? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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