These days, TV pilots set a frenetic pace. You see the hero's father die in the first act. World-shattering things happen before every act break. So the laid-back, uneventful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot feels like a throwback. We saw the first episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. at Comic-Con, and here are our spoiler-free impressions.
And by "spoiler-free," we mean that if you've watched the promo videos about the show, you'll be fine.
We were excited to see the first actual episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here at San Diego Comic-Con, and we couldn't have seen it with a more pumped-up crowd. The first episode is chock full of geek shout-outs and Marvel in-jokes, including references to a bunch of classic storylines and characters, not at all limited to the Marvel movies.
In a nutshell, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. reintroduces us to Agent Coulson, who died in The Avengers, and we see him bringing a new team together. And as is typical with TV pilots, everybody is kind of drawn with broad strokes, along archetypal lines you've seen before.
There's Agent Grant (Brett Dalton), who's the best there is at infiltration and fighty stuff but doesn't play well with others. There's Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), who's also the best there is at fighty stuff, but she's damaged emotionally and doesn't to go back in the field. There are agents Fitz and agent Simmons, who are British and geeky.
The whole tone of the pilot is amazingly laid-back — there's almost no real danger or suspense for most of it, and where most TV pilots hammer you with "here's why you should care," Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. assumes you already care. You saw The Avengers five times, right? So you're already on board, and we can just hang out and crack jokes.
The actual plot of the pilot revolves around two characters who are on SHIELD's radar — there's Skye (Chloe Bennett), the mysterious hacker who has hacked into SHIELD's systems and has been keeping tabs on some secret superhero stuff that even SHIELD doesn't know about. And there's Michael (J. August Richards) a laid-off factory worker who has mysterious superpowers and may be in danger — or he may turn out to be a danger to others.
As you'd expect, Clark Gregg pretty much carries the whole pilot (along with a cameo by Cobie Smoulders as Maria Hill), and he sets a breezy, good-natured tone, as an authority figure who isn't afraid to improvise. He's clearly the best thing about the series, and he's the only character in the pilot who actually feels fully fleshed out. Just as Captain Jack was a different character in Torchwood than in Doctor Who, Agent Coulson is suddenly a much more sedate, authoritative figure now that he's running his team.
The rest of the team spends a lot of time doing C.S.I.-type stuff, investigating a mysterious explosion and starting to scratch the surface of a conspiracy that we'll no doubt hear more about in future episodes.
There are plenty of fun, laugh-out-loud moments in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot — including one interrogation scene that will have you falling out of your chair. What the pilot doesn't have is a lot of drama or suspense. There are almost no stakes in this first episode, and there's almost no effort to get you excited if you weren't already excited after The Avengers. And yet, all of the pieces seem to be falling into the right place and we're excited to see this team tackle bigger, more frenetic challenges in future episodes.