Thursday, September 26, 2013

Agents of Snark

Nerds in the know have been waiting for this week with bated breath since just shortly after Robert Downy Jr. and company destroyed New York last summer. The reason? The premier of ABC’s new show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (sidebar, typing out that acronym every time I reference the show is going to get old wicked fast.) The anticipation for this show? Galactic(us). The hype? Hulk-sized. The payoff?

Um. Good? Ish?

Let’s start with the technical aspects. The show is competently written, shot, casted, etc. We are introduced to our heroes, including the cocky super agent, the snarky super-computer expert, the nerd-bait twin British scientists and, of course, re-introduced to Agent Coulson, played with continued understated aplomb by Clark Gregg reprising his role from several of Marvel’s movies. But wait, you say! Wasn’t Agent Colson killed off in The Avengers as part of a cheap bit of plot phlebotinum? Turns out there’s more to that story than that, which gives us another required component of a new action-adventure story – the secret Byronic mystery of what happened to Our Hero. “He can never know the truth,” cameo-ing guest star Cobie Smulders mutters to a S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor. Cue intrigue and the sincere hope by fanboys that Smulders’ Agent Maria Hill returns to the show just as soon as How I Met Your Mother wraps its final season.

Her undercover persona is that of a Canadian pop star who sings about shopping at the mall. 

As for the plotting and the actors, what can you expect? As per usual, we have a collection of impossibly gorgeous people acting impossibly gorgeous while gorgeously thwarting evil and tossing around witty rejoinders faster than Hawkeye could notch those arrows in the movie. The pilot resolves around our nascent team hunting down a man who has inadvertently revealed himself to have super powers after he saves a woman from a burning building. Of course, nothing is as it seems and the burning building, the saved woman and even the reluctant super hero are all revealed to have much more going on.Along the way, the Agents recruit the aforementioned beautiful computer-ista who is also trying to hunt him down, though possibly only so that her blog could get a few more hits if she lands an interview with him or something. Her motivations are a little unclear. 

Nothing says "malcontent government overthrowing computer expert" like an unbuttoned cardigan.

So we have action, some high-falutin’ special effects, a bit of the old trademark Whedon dialogue (“with great power comes…,” intones one of the characters, “…a ton of weird crap you are not prepared to deal with.”), and a hint of mystery. Add to it that this is all Joss Whedon, King of the Nerds, being given mostly free reign in one of the nerdiest of playgrounds ever and it should be a recipe for EPIC nerdgasm.

And here’s the thing: For a lot of people, I think it will be. I was left a little…underwhelmed, maybe? I thought the episode was good, even if I honestly had a hard time paying attention to all the scenes. I noticed after about twenty minutes I was reaching down to play with my phone instead of devoting myself to each scene.  I’m a huge comic book nerd and a devoted Joss Whedon fan, but I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been approaching this entire series somewhat cautiously since I first heard about it.

Whedon is uniformly smart in his writing, but smarts doesn’t a good TV show make. I didn’t personally find anything about the pilot that hooked me aside from the Marvel pedigree and the creators’ names. It also didn’t help that the one character that I was most intrigued by is the one that lasted the shortest amount of time, dying before the end of the first episode This could easily be chalked up to pilot-syndrome. First episodes are notoriously hard to make and can easily crush under their own weight or fail to adequately capture what the show’s creators are intending to show going forward. Whedon is also a notoriously slow starter; look at any of his shows that made it past one season and tell me that they didn’t really start to find their sea-legs until much later into their run.

I share Coulson's non-nonplussed reaction to the large hyped-up attention ball in the center of everyone's vision.

I’m not ruling out Agents going forward. Joss Whedon has entertained me enough over the years that he’s bought the benefit of the doubt from me several times over. As to whether or not the show will be your new appointment television (there’s going to be an open spot in a lot of dance cards after Breaking Bad goes off the air this Sunday), that will likely depend on how much you’re willing to stick with a hero-less superhero story and the extent to which Marvel and Whedon’s partnership continues to be a productive one. They’re on top of the world right now, cinematically speaking, with several movies coming out in the next nine months and several more planned through 2018. Whether a weekly show is a rainbow bridge to Asgard too far remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Tim May said...

Wait, which character didn't survive the first episode? I did not recall any character death, apart from the "first subject" and the nameless technician from that hologram.

I was engrossed, but that could be situational; I was at work on my lunch break, hopping from TV to TV during commercial breaks in a desperate bid to be left alone so I could watch, so largely for reasons of circumstance I felt compelled to pay attention when I was there. That could just be my circumstances, though.

In large part, I agree with your whole review. It was good, it didn't live up to the hype, it could never have lived up to the hype, but it still could have been better than it was. It was a bit slow, but this is Whedon, and it'll get better.