Odd breed of superheroes
MARVEL’S Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should round up all the Joss Whedon stragglers.
His creations raised the bar for teen dramas ( Buffy the Vampire Slayer), elevated science fiction ( Firefly) and upended the horror formula ( The Cabin in the Woods).
Then he got hold of Marvel’s stable of superheroes and made them fun again.
The Avengers, which ended up as the third-biggest movie ever, introduced millions to the sensibilities of Hollywood’s most powerful nerd (besides J.J. Abrams). Now, that movie’s television spinoff arrives minus vampires, spaceships, zombies and Gwyneth Paltrow. No scares, gross-outs or complex mythology. No excuses.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does feature famed faces from The Avengers, including the steadfast Agent Hill ( How I Met Your Mother actress Cobie Smulders), striding through the hallways of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division.
‘‘Welcome to Level Seven,’’ she tells Agent Ward (Brett Dalton), who has been called up to the big leagues. He’s cocky and in over his head, but he grasps the agency’s mission: ‘‘We’re the line between the world and the much weirder world.’’
Paired with the endearing selfawareness and cerebral nods to pop culture Whedon brings to his best projects, it’s the perfect setup for spring’s most promising new TV show.
Disney bought the rights to Marvel’s Avengers franchise three years ago, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and sank resources into the show.
S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t a superhero show. Its heroes are all Jason Bourne and no Jar-Jar Binks.
S.H.I.E.L.D. came into play in the first Iron Man movie, when Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) begged for a sitdown with Tony Stark. Gregg’s performance made Coulson the Marvel universe’s favourite bureaucrat; he appeared in Iron Man 2, Thor and The Avengers, where his death galvanised the good guys. It’s a surprise to see Coulson walking around alive on TV. ‘‘I did stop breathing,’’ he insists. Agents Ward and Hill are part of Coulson’s team tasked with finding ‘‘unregistered gifted’’ humans with superpowers who literally fly under the radar. When one freelancer catapults several stories into a burning building to save a woman trapped inside, breaks the sidewalk with his landing and runs off unharmed, a smartphone video of the rescue goes viral.
According to Whedon, the model for S.H.I.E.L.D. is a beloved episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled The Zeppo, which focused on a character’s tangential storyline while the rest of the Scooby Gang prevented the apocalypse in the background.
S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t land far from Buffy territory, where baby sitters and British bachelors guarded the gateway to hell, or Marvel’s X-Men, where the benevolent mutants teamed against the interesting ones, or even Men in Black.
The show should avoid the disappointing downturn Revolution suffered after Iron Man director Jon Favreau turned in a great first episode.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is more likely to generate catchphrases than Halloween costumes.
The first hour ends with the show’s first gifted subject physically and emotionally devastated, surveying the ruins of his former life.
‘‘It’s a disaster,’’ someone tells him.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Wednesday, 7.30pm, Seven, Prime7.
– SARA SMITH
Chloe Bennett, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton.