If Whedonites were concerned about the longevity of their beloved writer/director/producer’s new small screen venture, they can now breathe easy: unlike ill-fated cult favorites Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, odds are good Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking at a long and successful run (knock on wood). The drama premiered Tuesday, September 24th and hooked in 12.2 million viewers, sprinting to the front of the time slot’s lineup for viewers ages 18 to 49 — to which Nielsen ratings data points as the most highly valued demographic among advertisers. With a fast-paced, solidly acted premiere episode as cheeky and well-written as might be expected of a Joss Whedon and co. original, ABC seems primed for a hit among far more (and more mainstream) viewers than the King of the Geeks usually drew — before his tour de force directing 2012’s The Avengers, anyway.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up immediately after the Battle of New York which concluded that multi-superhero Blockbuster, but it’s not a straight sequel — which is as it should be, since this isn’t a live-action comic but rather a government procedural about a team of agents who handle unclassified cases. The premiere episode centers on the unexpectedly resurrected (or perhaps not so unexpectedly, given Whedon’s history) Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his efforts to assemble a team for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — including the apprehension and eventual recruitment of Skye (Chloe Bennet), hacker extraordinaire of borderline anarchist group The Rising Tide and whose intel aids in the effort to restrain misguided and newly-super Mike Peterson (breezily portrayed by Whedonverse alum J. August Richards). Despite the lack of Avengers cameos, this feels like a 45 minute movie. It’s glossy, explosive right out of the gate, and clearly made with a hefty pilot budget (one scene was shot on location in Paris). But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. packs more quirk than your typical big screen venture, backed by a script that’s as self aware as it is tongue-in-cheek. And viewers may cling to the gratifying possibility of appearances by more high-profile super heroes in future episodes, especially with the introduction of a potential ongoing story-line that recalls the Extremis plot point from Iron Man 3. Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill also surfaces for a couple of lines at the beginning of the episode.
Whedon infuses plenty of his signature flavor: there are quips enough for every character, and a satisfying number of snappy back-and-forth exchanges — especially between the unlikely duo of Coulson and Skye and the delightfully synergetic pair of scientists introduced as Fitzsimmons. Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) memorably remarks to her partner in her British accent, “I’m not Hermione, I can’t create instant paralysis with that.” And there’s Coulson’s knowing assertion that Skye is no different that the “sweaty cosplay girls standing around Stark Tower.” An ending that hints at Whedon’s history of tearing viewers’ hearts outs also promises new and interesting alliances and adventures. Comic book nerds, Whedon geeks, and laymen alike will want to keep watching.