Agents of SHIELD: 1.01 - Pilot

At long last, I review the first episode of this long-awaited spin-off from a popular geek property, masterminded by its acclaimed lead creative and featuring a popular lead character recently returned from the dead. After months of anticipation, it's finally time to review Torchwo...

Sorry, I was looking at the wrong notebook.

This is actually Agents of SHIELD - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if you enjoy typing dots more than I do - the massively advertised spin-off from Avengers focusing on Clark Gregg's not-actually-dead Agent Coulson character and a small team of other agents pulled together to look into the strange stuff going down in the new post-superhero world.

It's showrun by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen and is probably the big new launch in US TV this autumn. So, based on the pilot episode alone, how is it living up to all that hype? Spoilers follow, you can catch the first episode on 4OD for another week.


Helicarrier smashes into middle ground

Much internet debate struggles with the notion of a middle ground - something must be utterly awful or completely amazing, so the posts about it can be as polarised and hyperbolic as possible. So it's probably disappointing to many that the Agents of SHIELD debut smacks straight into said middle ground. Is it terrible? No, it's clearly got some way to go before that. Is it amazing? Not quite.

Basically, this is a straight secret-agent procedural, and because it's the pilot, the plot is straight-forward, serving mostly as a vehicle for the character introductions. The good news is that all the set-up is handled pretty well, everyone gets a moment or two to shine, I could remember who the individual team members were, even correctly guess at their names, after the episode finished, which many pilot episodes about people in suits don't manage.

The special effects are strong for TV, the plot is simple enough but has enough twists to generate a little suspense, and the acting is decent. But it really is just a standard procedural, with a few sparks of good banter and the gimmick of involving bits from the Marvel movies - it has yet to rise above that and become magic. I enjoyed the comic book references as much as the next longtime Marvel fan, but some of the dialogue got a tad far away from anything a human might actually say. And I say this as a big Aaron Sorkin fan.

Dull Pilot Syndrome - the reason air travel is boring?

A lot of that may be a result of the needs which afflict all pilot episodes - even Joss Whedon hasn't always defeated dull-pilot syndrome, and he isn't the sole writer here, not to mention: you gotta imagine the pressure from Marvel/Disney on this single episode must have been massive. Once the series itself gets going and we see the characters kicking back off-duty, developing a third dimension, in stories with more space to expand, that could be when Agents of SHIELD starts to really sing.

For now, though, this isn't quite the second coming of Jesus, slightly slow in the middle as it reaches around for all the bits it needs to do, and it's a shame Cobie Smulders isn't available to appear regularly on this show, as she's pretty good here. Hopefully once How I Met Your Mother wraps up, she might be up for coming back.

But don't get me wrong, I'll definitely be back for subsequent Agents of SHIELD episodes, it's very fundamentally entertaining even if it isn't yet Amazing TV, and there's definitely potential for it to massively and quickly improve. A solid B, as they say in the world of grading stuff by letters.

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