INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: Marvel poised for a TV takeover with ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’

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First Posted: 9/30/2013

With comic books dominating movie screens, it was only a matter of time before the same happened to television.

Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC pulled in over 12 million viewers last week, the largest network drama debut since 2009, and that number jumped to over 20 million through repeats and DVR recordings. It also received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, but was the pilot episode really as good as everyone said it was?

For the most part, yes.

A lot has been said about how important and groundbreaking this show is. First of all, it’s a direction continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the string of films Marvel Studios has released since 2008’s “Iron Man,” so it shares characters like Agent Phil Coulson, a new fan-favorite who appeared in most of the movies leading up to “The Avengers.” Secondly, its success could pave the way for much bigger-budget shows based on superheroes, or in this case, those who have to live in the same world as these characters. And last but not least, it opens up the door for cameos from major stars and introductions of brand new heroes and villains who have yet to be adapted into this medium.

But what about its entertainment value, its watchability? Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the mastermind that brought “The Avengers” to life along with TV cult hits like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” it’s full of snappy dialogue and fun, well-built action scenes, so it gets things off to a rousing start. Coulson, played perfectly by Clark Gregg, is really the reason to watch this show, his quirks making every scene intriguing or just plain funny. He has assembled a team of all-new characters I felt like I already knew, which may not be a good thing. Each one is built around Hollywood clichés, so their lines and actions were predictable, but I think this will change as they are allowed to develop and mature, or if Whedon has anything to say about it, die an untimely but emotionally impactful death.

The Easter eggs for hardcore fans were abundant, from the obvious play on Spider-Man’s “With great power…” mantra to references to Extremis technology, recently featured in “Iron Man 3.” It helps to have seen the films leading up to this, and chances are if you’re watching you probably have, but I think as long as you enjoy super spy or sci-fi stories, you’ll be able follow along just fine. You may just want to watch every episode twice to pick up on everything squeezed into those 45 minutes.

While I’m excited to see more superhero action as our non-powered cast tries to contain and/or control their massive impact on the human race, I’m hoping for some classic espionage action as the series develops as well, harkening back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the classic Nick Fury comics. Hacker group Rising Tide could be the perfect villains for that, especially now that one of them has joined the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. That said, I hope that characters like Mike Peterson, who is trying to control his powers in the pilot and is taken in by Coulson’s team before he kills someone, returns at some point so the show doesn’t adopt a “freak of the week” formula, defeating a new threat each episode and then moving onto the next without fallout or consequences.

I remain optimistic, however, because of Whedon’s involvement and the overall feel of the pilot, polished with better-than-average special effects for television. While I think a little too much was revealed in the trailers leading up to its premiere, it still kept my interest and made my fanboy senses tingle with plenty of fine details and its future potential, especially when they unravel the mystery behind Coulson’s “rebirth” after his noble death in “The Avengers.” It’s no wonder that DC Comics is copying the idea with a potential “Gotham” police series – Marvel has hit the nail on the head with this clever smaller budget segue into a greater entertainment universe. All they have to do now is drive it home with a solid first season, and with Thor’s hammer in hand, they may be poised to do just that.

-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]