October 1, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Agents of SHIELD”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on AGENTS OF SHIELD:  Remember The Avengers?  Well, this isn’t about them.  (Mostly.)  Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is a familiar face, but the rest of his squad is new:  pilot and general badass (her nickname is “The Cavalry”) Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), slightly uptight soldier Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), engineer Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), biologist Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge)–Fitz and Simmons finish each other’s sentences when they aren’t speaking simultaneously–and the wild card, super-hacker and anti-government activist Skye (Chloe Bennet).  Their mission is to protect the world against all manner of potentially menacing technology and creatures.

Episode 2:  Co-creator Joss Whedon is off making the next real Avengers movie, so the script for the show’s first regular episode was by his co-creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, along with fellow Executive Producer Jeffrey Bell.  The McGuffin of the hour was an object found in an Incan temple in Peru, but which actually made use of technology devised by the Nazi scientists Captain America was fighting against in his movie.  The Peruvian soldiers, headed by one of Coulson’s exes (guest star Leonor Varela), who appeared on the scene to protect the SHIELD team from rebel attack at the temple were, of course, actually after the mysterious and powerful object themselves, and they took over the SHIELD plane transporting it for government examination and destruction.

The plot was little more than skeletal, and as the series goes forward, that could prove to be a problem.  But tonight it was just an excuse for the new team to begin its bonding process.  Agents is directed at a family audience, and perhaps the dialogue was a bit by-the-numbers as it patiently explained that if each of the members contributed his or her own piece to the escape plan, together they could solve problems that a single member couldn’t alone.  And, of course, our heroes did exactly that, doing their respective parts to regain control of the plane and the object.  Basic stuff, but it’s as necessary for the show’s cast as for the SHIELD team to become an effective ensemble, and it was painless thanks to the dry humor of the script (Coulson’s ex accuses him of having a midlife crisis by heading a team made up of young, attractive members), idiosyncratic characterizations, and plenty of bang-pow action.  The hour gave us the show’s first hint of romance (Ward likes Skye more than he’d expected to) and intrigue (Skye may be planning to betray SHIELD, although don’t bet on it), as well as a cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

Regular season budgets are lower than those for pilots (and mere lint compared to those for movies like The Avengers), but director David Straiton did a fine job of making the mid-air fight sequences and Peruvian shootout look convincing enough.  (It helped that the McGuffin didn’t do much more than glow, so it didn’t need a lot of special effects.)  Gregg is an ideal Joss Whedon (and company) authority figure, a more genial version of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Ming-Na Wen had some good moments in the episode.  The youngsters are mostly CW-fresh-faced for now, but they know their way around comic pauses and banter.  Agents, notwithstanding its huge financial importance to Disney, Marvel and ABC, just wants to be an hour of fun, and it’s succeeding in that.

As for the financial side, the series could hardly have done better in its premiere, with a giant 4.7 rating that only got bigger once a Thursday rerun and DVR/online delayed viewing were counted.  If the numbers stay anywhere remotely close to that level, the series will serve, as its corporate masters dearly want, as connective tissue to the big-budget Marvel franchise movies for years to come.  (Tonight’s broadcast featured an “exclusive” promo for next month’s Thor sequel.)  Action and excitement for the viewers; piles of money for the financiers; Hollywood’s true version of a happy ending.


PILOT + 1:  Resistance Is Futile


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."