Whedon, Marvel deliver knockout punch

Dave Bartlett
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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ rides the wake of ‘Avengers’ success

The previous two TV shows helmed by Joss Whedon haven’t done terribly well.

The cast of ABC’s new series “Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” — Submitted image

I still haven’t finished watching the interesting, if a bit obtuse, “Dollhouse” and Fox’s fumbling sealed the fate of the Sci-Fi-western hybrid “Firefly” before it got off the ground. How the series became a cult hit via DVD release and a followup feature film is the stuff of legends — often referenced on “The Big Bang Theory.”

If Whedon was to have long-term success on TV — post “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” — then he couldn’t really go wrong by signing on with comic giant Marvel and ABC, the network owned by Disney.

That being said, I needed to watch a few episodes before I was convinced “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (CTV/ABC Tuesday’s 9:30 p.m.) wasn’t going to be too hokey for long-term enjoyability. I mean, it’s a superhero show about human superhero hunters, so you have to expect the comic book perspective.

After four episodes (due to a PVR hiccup, I missed Episode 3) this week’s “The Girl in the Flower Dress” really pulled all the right elements together and resolved my loyalty to the show, as it resolved whether the civilian hacker Skye was loyal to the S.H.I.E.L.D. team or not. It also introduced us to the first supervillian of the series, who is still nameless.

Of course S.H.I.E.L.D. is a Whedon project and I’m a fan so it would have had to be pretty bad for me not to be on board.

I also assume anyone who is going to watch S.H.I.E.L.D.  has been watching all along, as it has been heavily advertised since May and is probably the biggest show to hit network TV in years.

The comic book phenomenon continues to grow and the show has used the hype and its budget wisely. It uses superpowers sparingly and makes the principle set an aircraft so the team can believably be anywhere in the world episode-to-episode. Yet it still delivers an action-packed adventure, week after week, with high production values.

Whedon takes advantage of the success of his “Marvels: The Avengers” blockbuster — in theatres a couple of summers ago — so the show gets going quickly, assuming that the audience has at least watched the movie once for the backstory.

Of course, one of the show’s long-term mysteries is going to be the real story behind how and why Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) is still alive following the events of the movie.

Gregg (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”) is great as the senior agent who handpicks the new team around which the show  will revolve. He delivers Whedon’s wit fluidly, yet pulls off the calm-to-a-fault spy who’s immune to pressure.

The rest of the team is growing on me. Skye (Chloe Bennet) is the homeless hacker with a secret and is recruited by the trained operatives in the pilot episode. I like the character and the actress and following this week’s revelations her motivations have been legitimized.

Then there’s Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) who is nicknamed “The Cavalry.” Why she’s pushing paper by choice at the beginning is still another mystery to be resolved, but she’s certainly a more-than capable field agent. I’m also curious about her background with Coulson.

Super spy Grant Ward (Jeremy Dalton) hasn’t been anything but a one-dimensional professional so far — almost an oddity for Whedon. I’m sure his background will be covered in an episode to come as in the pilot there was a brief mention of his troubled family life.

Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) remind me of a modern and non-powered equivalent to the Wondertwins from the old Justice League cartoon (and yes I know I’ve wandered on to DC property). Their enthusiasm and strange bond make them a great counter to Ward and May’s easy attitudes towards violence.

It’s also nice that a couple of actors who Whedon has used in the past (Ron Glass from “Firefly” and J. August Richards from “Angel”) get some screen time in the pilot. And of course there’s also already been a guest appearances by S.H.I.E.L.D. honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who may even join the cast full time once her commitments to the redundant “How I Met Your Mother” finally ends in the spring.

All new shows need to establish themselves and then find a path to grow and keep fans engaged.

With a rock solid foundation, and Whedon at the helm, S.H.I.E.L.D. has the ingredients that should keep it around a long while, especially as new Marvel universe characters continue to charge on to the big screen for the next number of summers.

The question is will other big names be visiting the set of S.H.I.E.L.D. in coming months and years?

Robert Downey Jr., I’m looking at you.

 

Unless you’re in a comic book store, send the answer to the question “Who is your favourite superhero?” and any other questions or comments to Dave Bartlett

at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.

Organizations: CTV/ABC, Episode 3, Justice League

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