By Kendra James & Arturo R. García
So after what felt like two years’ worth of hype, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D finally debuted Tuesday night, offering up a potentially interesting new platform through which to explore the Marvel Movieverse, as well as a show featuring women of color in both the primary ensemble (Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen) and the creative team (executive producer Maurissa Tancharoen). And that’s without counting the welcome return of Firefly‘s Ron Glass and Angel‘s J. August Richards to Whedonville.
As promised, the show doesn’t skimp on digging deep for its connections to the Marvel movie universe, referencing not just Avengers, but Iron Man 3 and Captain America in major ways. But how did our roving reviewers feel about it? They traded some thoughts after the premiere.
KJ: J August Richards played a smash-everything angry black male who was mad at The Man for keeping him down. Not exactly an original turn of character, even when you add the Extremis treatment.
AG: Agreed. Even though Team TEH JOSS threw everything at us to hammer home that Richards’ character was a sympathetic Regular Joe, the sequence where he confronts Agent Coulson was one instance where the show dipped its toes in the political pool and came out soaking wet.
But as you mentioned on Twitter, that wasn’t even the most face-palming moment Richards encountered Tuesday night.
KJ: SHIELD referred to Richards’ character as an “Unregistered Gifted” at one point, making me wonder if they’re going down the Civil War path. Though without using Tony or Cap, I’m not sure how effective that story line would be. I’m also not sure how deep a network TV show would go in exploring the ins and outs of that whole saga. It could be interesting … just not on the same channel that wants us rooting for Olitz.
AG: As Bleeding Cool noted, Marvel has a trademark on the term “Registered Gifted.” So that means we can expect RG and UG shirts at the mall by holiday time, I bet. I wouldn’t, however, expect Civil War to get much more than a passing reference in this version of the Marvel U; the original hinged in large part on writing Tony Stark as a near war-profiteer, and I don’t see Marvel putting him in that light again.
KJ: And speaking of Tony, so many Stark references, yet no Tony Stark. I really missed my favorite Marvelverse character. Having never been a Coulson fangirl myself — I just don’t get it — I needed a larger character to anchor and send us off down our spinoff path. Using Extremis wasn’t enough– all it did was remind me that, despite the problems we’ve discussed on the site before, Iron Man 3 was a vastly superior movie than this was a show. If given the choice I would have at least replaced Maria Hill with Nick Fury.
AG: Besides the mystery surrounding his return to duty, I was really interested to see how Marvel would move Coulson up the Pyramid of Screaming, since he worked in the movies (for me) as the intermediary between not just Fury and the eventual Avengers, but between everyday humanity and the burgeoning metahuman population. One of the neat little easter eggs in Avengers, for instance, was how quickly he and Thor got along after the Thunder God lands at SHIELD HQ.
So I was gratified to see Clark Gregg get to play with Coulson’s Level 20 Snark upgrade on this show. It beats him turning into a drill sergeant out of nowhere. And I might not just mean “upgrade” in the metaphorical sense; it was a nice touch for Hill (and Glass’ Dr. Streiten) to know something that Coulson, at least, “must never know.” As we saw in Avengers, Hill represents the side of the organization that’s even shadier than even Fury might want to believe.
Also, let me state for the record that if Samuel L. Jackson can’t or won’t reprise the role for SHIELD, then I nominate the voice of Fury’s animated incarnation, Chi McBride, to get in on the fun.
KJ: Art, you mentioned on Twitter that SHIELD is pretty unapologetically American. I agree, in general, but I didn’t really see that coming across tonight. (Man of Steel is sort of my standard for unabashed Americanness these days). Though if they were to latch onto the Civil War thing, that might change.
AG: Fun fact! Both MOS and SHIELD busted up Union Station — well, the former in Chicago and the latter in L.A., but you smell what I’m cooking.
Anyway, I see your point, what with Fitz-Simmons taking their place in the pantheon of Whedonized Super Geeks alongside Fred, Kaylee, Andrew, Topher and Willow, with a special bonus for Anglophiles, to boot. But until the show itself mixes in some foreign locales — roadie to Lativeria, anyone? — I think SHIELD is going to risk looking like the Scoobies than G.I. Joe any given week.
But going back to Hill, the upside to that is, her apparent wish to keep Coulson in the dark about his rehab in “Tahiti” suddenly adds a sinister undertone to the whole thing. If this team was set up for him to “make all the calls,” then maybe it’s an elaborate distraction for him — high-octane busywork/wish-fulfillment for him while she’s moved up the food chain behind his and Fury’s backs. And maybe she’s a pawn in a bigger plan, herself. That would be an ambitious long game, if the series gets the time to let it unfold.
KJ: Tahiti is clearly this show’s Belize.
So far, not a fan of Skye’s character — talk about forced and annoying lines. As Agent May, Ming-Na Wen didn’t do much, and yeah, I wasn’t overly impressed with Richards’ character. The faces of color are there, but there’s only so much they can do when a show lacks in general. There were some Whedon touches in there (Coulson’s shadow bit was perfect), but this was no Buffy Season 2. I’m sure this will get at least a season to sort itself out, but I’m hoping that it’s not *so* bad during that season that it precludes other potentially good Marvel shows from getting made. (#HeroesForHireOnFX #Murdock&AssociatesOnHBO)
AG: To be fair, Buffy had to go through Season 1 before it could unleash Season 2. Whedon shows are notoriously slow starters; it took Dollhouse exactly 6.5 hours to start delivering — remember “There are three flowers in a vase“? — so I figure it’ll take about that long for SHIELD to sort itself out. With the Marvel/Disney brand behind it, it might get even longer than that. Now what I want to know is, what makes Agent Peggy Carter more of a viable character for a TV show than Misty Knight and Colleen Wing?
But Skye herself was written in such a way as to do Bennet no favors. It’s tricky enough for her to be the new entry-point character for the audience. But for Bennet to have to play that and a supposedly paranoid “anarchist” was too herky-jerky a mix for the writers this time out. Here, again, the story didn’t hold up when it tried to be topical. So even if it was highly implausible for an alleged anti-government operative to throw in with the very administration she’d been fighting, at least it spared both the audience and the actress from any more awkward “manifestos.” Maybe those rumors about heavy rewrites aren’t too far off the mark.
KJ: Overall, I don’t quite get why they needed to create a show with entirely new characters when Marvel has such a rich cache of minor characters perfect for television to work from in the first place.
If you’re really looking for a great spy show featuring an Asian woman in a lead role, I highly recommend Nikita. 60+ episodes of Maggie Q going hard on a weekly basis for a secretive spy agency that’s a lot more threatening and fun than the S.H.I.E.L.D being set up over on ABC.
If you’re looking for a hero show, the CW’s Arrow isn’t as diverse and there has been some questionable casting, but what POC characters they do have certainly aren’t wasted through the course of the first season. Amanda Waller, one of DC’s longest standing POC characters, is also heading over there for S2. It’s not the best show on television but I can genuinely say that I enjoyed the pilot a good deal more than what I just watched.
AG: The easy (or cynical) theory for basing a show around this bunch of newcomers is, it’s cheaper to do and presents less outward risk than messing with characters who have established fanbases. Best-case scenario, Glass becomes a recurring player, members of the team get cameos in the next round of movies and some of those street-level characters make their way into Earth-199999. Worst-case, the show folds in a year or two and Coulsonistas won’t care, since they got Their Guy back.