Saturday, September 28, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a show about a special team of humans having to deal with the superhuman. I will be covering this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently the hot Hollywood franchise. It's currently very popular and it has no sign of slowing down. The high-budget superhero movies have taken the very smart approach of being interconnected so that they take place in the same continuity. This means that people who watch every movie will be rewarded and to put all of the characters into the same movie. The Avengers is the culmination of the first phase of the franchise. It is the third-highest grossing film of all time. In many ways, the franchise is like a mini-series. Every installment follows a different character, building the universe, before it builds into a climax that involves all of them. The franchise has made billions for the Disney empire. It makes perfect sense that the people at Marvel would dream about a television series that ties into the movie franchise. There's a lot of money to be made in television and having people invested into a weekly series might tie into even more ticket sales at the box office. It's not just on the business end as a weekly series allows the creative types to explore the Marvel universe. They won't just explore the universe from the superpower perspective but from those who have to deal with them. The lower budget of a television series might be a limitation to how much they can show on a weekly basis but it's also a perfect excuse to tell smaller stories. Sure, we might not be following Iron Man on a weekly basis but we do get to follow the agents who investigate him. That might not be as exciting but it fits television a lot better. If anything, this is the X-files of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Anyways, this is the highest drama premiere for ABC in a few years. It premiered as a big hit. The question is will it keep it's ratings?

The thing about this show is that a lot of people had a lot of expectations. Many people seemed to be disappointed in SHIELD. They were expecting something more but all they got was another television series. Was I disappointed? My theory is that if I expect something to be amazing then I will rarely be satisfied. I try to go in with no preconceived expectations of the quality going in. When I saw the trailer, I saw what this show was going for. There will definably be a serialized element to the show but we'll be covering weekly cases. That's fine for me because television does that really well. What's fascinating is that this is actually following the film formula pretty well. Think about it: every film installment follows a single character. It's like every episode of SHIELD is like a singular film but with a single constant: the organization and it's agents. Basically, my point is that I'm not disappointed. This is basically what I was expecting: a normal television series that just happens to be set in the Marvel universe. I don't really see anything wrong with that. The question is now that people seemed to have realized this, will the ratings hold up? I hope they do because the version of SHIELD we did get is a lot of fun. It's about as meaningful as the Marvel films, which is to say they really aren't, but the focus on characters is there. So the plot of the pilot isn't very complicated. A guy gains superpowers via some weird technology, he changes, and he's threatening to explode unless he can be saved by the team. The pilot only has to show HOW the series is going to work every week. It'll have to be up to future episodes to truly run with it and create memorable plots. Am I excited? Absolutely. SHIELD might not necessarily be great right now but then again not a single Whedon show has had a great pilot. Buffy the Vampire Slayers had a pretty terrible first season. Dollhouse didn't really get amazing until later in it's run. Firefly's pilot was better but still had several weaknesses. In other words, this is about on par with Whedon shows. This is exactly the kind of pilot, as well as the level of quality, that people should have been expecting if they had been realistic.

The real strength of any television show is going to lie in it's characters and their relationships. The team dynamic is what makes any show that depends on weekly cases to survive. SHIELD is setting up all three of them in the pilot but it hasn't nailed them yet. It's going to have to depend on the next few episodes to flesh out the characters, their relationships, and how they work together. The person who brings the team together is Phil Caulson. Just about everybody who saw The Avengers (which is pretty much everybody) knows that he died in that movie. His sacrifice allowed the team to unite and defeat the alien invasion. This is a show set in that universe and it's not a prequel. How is he alive? That's one of the big questions that the pilot doesn't really answer. It's flimsy excuse is basically revealed as a lie right after it's told. Caulson is basically the same as his movie character so he's obviously more developed than the rest for this reason. It's interesting to see what has largely been a side character in the films take the lead in his own series. He might be popular but that doesn't mean he's a strong enough character to carry a show. It's tough to see how well he'll be able to handle it based on the pilot alone but there's a lot of potential. Whatever the case, I'm intrigued to see where the show is planning take him.

The rest of the characters need to be better developed but they each have a role on the team. Melinda May is is a legendary agent who has a very bad/good reputation. It seems like she was a great warrior until something happened that causes concern for her being on the field. She's hired as the pilot but it's easy to see how she might be tempted to get in the action. Grant Ward is an agent who is basically the field agent who generally works alone. He's not happy about being a member of a team. Leo Fitz is an agent who makes cool weapons for Grant to use. Jemma is an agent who basically acts as their medical examiner. The final member of the team joins at the end of the pilot. Sky is a hacker who is obsessed with superheroes. She's clearly going to be the person who deals with technological obstacles. It's smart to give every member of the team a specific role because it gives everyone something to do. For the most part, there is very little dynamic. The only two characters who have any are Fitz and Simmons. The rest are just starting to work together. The actual team might need more development and to develop a dynamic but I'm intrigued enough to keep checking things out. After all, Whedon shows are great once the characters and relationships have been developed beyond their basic introductions. I have no doubt this will be repeated.

Agents of SHIELD is the most hyped new show of the season. It doesn't come as a surprise it opened big. There might have been some disappointment by some viewers but I think SHIELD was still off to a great start. The show has the following to work on: fleshing out characters, developing their relationships, and figuring out a team dynamic. I have no doubt that this will happen as the series develops.

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