“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is arguably one of the most anticipated shows of the new fall season. And with Joss Whedon as executive producer and co-creator (along with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, experienced Whedonites), it comes supported with the combined fandoms of Whedon and Marvel comics. Before I get down to the praising, here’s my tiny criticism: this pilot is jam-packed. And because of that, the first half moves at a break-neck speed that leaves it feeling rushed. It’s The Avengers in micro but with the added problem of needing to introduce the majority of the characters and deploy them as a team in 30 minutes. Once the team comes together, the pilot actually catches its breath and settles into the final action sequence. And from there, I was hooked.
Whedon fans, rejoice!
Whedon vehicles seldom come without a familiar face or two, and in “S.H.I.E.L.D.” we get J. August Richards from “Angel” and Ron Glass (Shepherd Book) from “Firefly.” And even though this show seems like a meta-pop culture reference just by existing, we still get a barrage of other references, with my favorites being Terminator‘s T-1000, cosplay, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
If that’s not enough, perhaps the strongest indication that we’ve got the Whedon persuasion going on is the subversion of genre norms. The introduction to J. August Richard’s Michael Peterson character initially plays out like an early episode of “Heroes.” By the second half, instead of rising to embrace his abilities for the common good, he does a good job of demonstrating how power corrupts (“it’s an origin story,” he explains about his actions). Similarly, his act of heroism is tainted by the revelation that the woman he rescued at the outset is connected to his tech (she’s his doctor).
Whedon fans, take heed!
Yes, Joss Whedon’s name is splashed in all the right places, but the show still lacks a certain, obvious Whedon-y stamp. Not that it’s a problem, but initially the pilot plays as a really good impression of Joss Whedon writing; I found that distracting, especially all of the humorous bits. The lines had the same rhythm of a typical Whedon quip, but it lacked his voice. In other words, (and this might sound harsher than I intend it to come across) it sounds like Buffy fan-fiction I wrote in middle school. It’s striving for Whedon but failing, especially if you are experienced with the real deal.
Tie-ins from the Marvel Universe
I think I’ve seen all the Marvel Phase One movies and as a result have working knowledge of the callbacks to those plotlines in the pilot. Honestly, the baseline for what to watch prior to getting into the show is The Avengers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more references that went straight over my head. But that’s okay, because I may have missed them but I didn’t feel like I was missing them, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think any of the Marvel Easter eggs in the pilot would significantly hurt a blank slate fan from tuning in, which is very good. However, knowing the references definitely enriches the viewing experience. Some of those things:
- The attack on New York from The Avengers. The world has now seen superheroes and aliens. It’s a brave new world where these figures are revered like the fictional heroes that they are: just like in our reality, you can own your very own Hulk figurine, but in Marvel’s world you get to worry about meeting him in person. (Sort of like, “So They Say” from Joss’ Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…am I right?). Their exposure is a direct link to the mission statement of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. team and the show itself.
- Maria Hill. Further linking us to The Avengers film, Cobie Smulders reprises her role as Maria Hill, who along with Agent Phil Coulson, provides a direct link to the movie universe. With “How I Met Your Mother” ending, it’s possible that Cobie will make herself available to “S.H.I.E.L.D.” in subsequent seasons. Right now I feel optimistic in predicting another season since the premiere drew in the largest audience for a network drama debut in four years.
- Speaking of Agent Coulson, he is indeed back. While we initially get a lame explanation about how Nick Fury faked Coulson’s death to rally the Avengers and a running joke on Tahiti, something else is up. (“He really doesn’t know, does he?”). The guess on everyone’s mind seems to be: Life Model Decoy.
- Chitauri. The opening action sequence in Paris finds agent Grant Ward on the hunt for a piece of Chitauri tech, the alien race that invades New York in The Avengers.
- Best nickname for/allusion to Loki?: “Asgardian Mussolini.”
- Dr. Erskine. The doctor who perfected the super soldier serum used by Captain America in World War II is name dropped when the team attempts to figure out the tech on Michael Peterson.
- Extremis. As part of his transformation, Michael Peterson is revealed to be suffering the effects of “Extremis,” the tech developed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3. The explosion that kicks off the pilot is also revealed to be caused by another test subject under the effects of Extremis.
It’s no surprise that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” gifts us with a diverse, compelling ensemble. Along with Coulson, we meet: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), an agent who can obviously kick-ass but was perfectly riding a desk job for unknown reasons; Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), another agent with an implied troubled past; Skye (Chloe Bennet), a blogger who (again, for reasons unknown) wiped her identity clean; and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) as the geniuses in charge of all things science and technology. I am particularly excited to see what the show does with Iain De Caestecker, if only because I really miss “The Fades” and I’m excited for this to be his new gig.
I’m incredibly excited to see what this season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has in store and personally have high hopes for its trajectory and longevity.
I realized something previewing NBC’s new cop drama: I’m not invested in procedural dramas anymore. I crave continuity, and the piecemeal components to season arcs that procedural shows offer just doesn’t cut it. Now there’s the odd exception. There are some shows that have the opposite vibe, like “Hannibal,” which often has a serial killer of the week but also manages to address its complex narratives lines on an episodic basis. But enough of my epiphany, because procedurals aren’t going anywhere soon.
I’m not sure why, but this season new network pilots seem to be the definition of cookie cutter. I almost feel like I was at the development meetings and helped the writers fill in the notes from the network brass. Imagine you are there too; there’s a whiteboard displaying words and phrases to stimulate your imagination. It says things like “re-imagining,” “gimmick,” “unorthodox method that produces results to the chagrin of superiors,” “humanizing yet surprising hobby,” “team with personalities to be filled in as needed because they exist to bounce off the main character” etc (imagine these with less snark). I honestly feel like I just described “House” and countless other shows with a titular, larger than life character. But I apparently also described “Ironside,” a show that debuted in 1967 on NBC. A show that I hadn’t heard of until today so it’s difficult to believe that NBC is hinging on nostalgia for success.
I feel like I am being harsh to a very watchable show, but these days, shows like “Ironside” seem more and more like relics of the past (especially if it is). At the very least it actually belongs on a network with the initials CBS. Blair Underwood stars as Robert Ironside (he’s in a wheelchair GET IT?! His name is IRONSIDE so you won’t forget), a police detective who has “a different view of the world” and a penchant for violent methods. There’s your gimmick and unorthodox method; Ironside continually clashes with his captain over his decision-making. Hobby? Coaching hockey, of course. Team? We’ve got Spencer Grammer from “Greek” who gets things done; Pablo Schreiber, who gets to play a more savory character than Pornstache on “Orange is the New Black”; and Neal Bledsoe from “Smash,” who luckily left his stock market job to be a detective, which happens to come in handy for the pilot’s case.
Speaking of the pilot, the initial case is fairly convoluted for a first outing. I paid attention, but I almost had to pay too much attention to understand how every avenue of the case unfolded. However, if you dig the main cast, understanding the ins and outs of one case isn’t all the necessary. I was more invested in the cast than the case so that might also explain my issue with understanding the case. (Ah-ha and hence my issue with procedural shows in a nutshell: I’m much more interested in the established show characters than I will ever be about why this body is in that field killed by that person I won’t see again…) Also, Peter Horton (from Children of the Corn) seems to be more focused on directing television than acting in it these days; he directed this pilot as well as numerous episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” among other shows.
Verdict: Good cast, better-than-average pacing for a procedural. If you are into detective shows and/or damaged main characters, check it out. There’s a lot to like here, especially if you aren’t burnt out on case of the week scenarios.
It’s that time again: pilot season. Over the next few weeks, some network shows will get trotted out online to increase buzz before their fall premiere dates. I like this system because it gives hardcore TV obsessives (re: me) a chance to either isolate the new shows we want to add to our schedule or start ignoring the shows that don’t deserve our time. ABC apparently released three of its new comedy pilots today (“Trophy Wife,” “Back in the Game,” and “The Goldbergs”) but “The Goldbergs” has already mysteriously disappeared from the internet…before I could screen it for myself. That’s unfortunate, because out of the three sitcoms, I’d wager that I’ll watch more than one episode of “The Goldbergs” based on ’80s nostalgia alone. As for the other two…
I can only assume that instead of taking any perceived comedy risks (like low-rated but awesome none-the-less “Happy Endings”) ABC executives had one idea for this season: start with its Emmy-winning success “Modern Family” and work backwards until something slightly different emerged. And thus “Trophy Wife” came into existence.
You know how Gloria on “Modern Family” is often joked about as being Jay’s trophy wife? And how she has to adjust to marrying a man who already has two grown children with families of their own? Well, imagine that scenario, except the children are younger and we enter the story a bit earlier in its transitional period. We join Kate’s (Malin Akerman) world on the day she finally starts making headway as a stepmother to her husband’s three children. You see, only one short year ago, she met Pete (Bradley Whitford) and instead of being scared away by his two ex-wives, she ended up married to him and entangled in his modern family. Ex-wife #1 Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), mother to the older twins, appears to be a workaholic surgeon with a clear disdain for Kate. Ex-wife #2 Jackie (Michaela Watkins) plays the ultra-kooky mom to the adopted Chinese son she has with Pete. Kate has her best friend Meg (Natalie Morales) to lend an ear when she has to vent about these exes and her failed attempts at being thrust into the role of stepmother.
“Trophy Wife” isn’t quite as sprawling as “Modern Family.” I’m guessing that we’ll stick to seeing how the two ex-wives interact with the core unit of Kate, Pete, and the kids, rather than catching glimpses of their lives away from the couple. And, unlike “Modern Family,” there are no talking heads or other mockumentary devices. Kate narrates the pilot and I am curious to see whether this will continue in every episode or if it was just meant to ease our transition into her world.
I’ve always liked Malin Akerman, and after recently discovering my great love for “Childrens Hospital,” I know she has the comedic chops to carry a sitcom. Similarly, I think Michaela Watkins elevates any bit role she plays, but the pilot forces her to play more caricature than character. I would like to see her as a more three dimensional person and less as plain kooky. I only recognize Natalie Morales from her brief stint on “Parks and Rec” but I hope they find organic ways to keep her character involved in the weekly plots.
My verdict: Good cast in a recycled premise. I don’t feel motivated to check out any more episodes. If I hear good things about it after a few more outings, I’ll be sure to revisit it.
“Back in the Game”
Is this supposed to remind me of that Clint Eastwood baseball movie that came out awhile back but everyone said was horrible and I can’t even remember what it was called? (Okay, it’s called Trouble with the Curve, but I literally just IMDb’d it.) Anyway, I’d say that this show is mixed with that movie (in that the protagonist has issues with her father stemming from his obsession with baseball) and with ABC’s other recently departed show “How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life)” (in that the protagonist is forced to move back home after a divorce). Terry Jr (Maggie Lawson) returns home, and is forced to deal with her emotionally scarring father (James Caan) as well as her son’s desire to play baseball. When he is rejected from the team, she offers to coach another team full of other misfit rejects.
This is partially my own bias but I can’t really get that excited over anything dealing with the premise of baseball. But other than being bored during any and all baseball sequences, I wasn’t enthralled by the supporting characters or plot. I really like Maggie Lawson, and she completely sold me on her character’s complicated daddy issues. Out of everything, I would most like to follow the evolution of their relationship, as well as her father’s relationship to his grandson. All of the other adult characters seem a little too outrageous — they need to start resembling real people real soon. (Why was Lenora Crichlow from “Being Human” cast on this show as a wealthy widow/moral support? Is it really just that en vogue to have a random British character floating around comedies these days? I’m looking at you, Lucy Punch on “Ben & Kate.” Sigh, “Ben & Kate.” RIP.)
My verdict: Pass. I can’t watch every show on TV and this just isn’t up my alley.
After such a long hiatus from blogging, it seems appropriate to start back up at my roots: television. Long gone are the days when summer TV is an endless string of reality flops and cancelled show burn-offs. No, now instead of revisiting an old favorite, or checking out a new series, we also have to contend with good (even great) shows premiering in the former off season.
Obviously from the title, I think The Bridge is definitely a contender; hell, it would be a great show in the fall or the spring as well. The premise, atmosphere, and character work in the pilot make it a must-see. Based on a joint Danish/Swedish television series by the same name, it starts with the discovery of a body on the bridge between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Found smack dab in the middle of the border, pop culture has taught us to expect that the U.S. homicide detective Sonya North (Diane Kruger) and her Mexican counterpart Marco Ruiz (Demián Bichir) will both demand to solve the case. Instead, Ruiz quickly passes on the case as he has enough unsolved murders in Juarez. (Now for a few plot spoilers from the pilot)
It seems like Detective North suffers from an extreme form of Will Graham-like lack of empathy and all of her co-workers think she’s a freak. The producers are comfortable with labeling it Asperger’s (something made clear in episodes to come). It becomes clear that her Lieutenant (Ted Levine) most likely casts a protective shield around her position and his decision to retire may endanger her job. We hear bits and pieces about her sister, who seems to have died tragically; a further characterization/plot point to be explored throughout the season. Ruiz seems amused by North’s quirks, as he is soon forced back out of bed to continue the investigation. Half of the body belongs to a different victim, this one from Juarez instead of the US. Whereas North seems socially unstable, Ruiz is on his second wife and is shown to be a concerned father. (But father no more since the whole department knows he recently got a vasectomy = more small character, humanizing moments.) The second victim is one of the many “missing girls of Juarez,” and his proximity to the case pulls Ruiz into the investigation.
Our potential perpetrator, whose POV we also follow throughout the pilot (à la The Fall), is suitably creepy and cryptic in his motivation. Played by Thomas M. Wright (he’s great in Top of the Lake), he affects a voice similar to the one made famous by his co-star Ted Levine (aka Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs). Towards the end of the episode, Matthew Lillard enters the scene as a scummy, universally hated journalist because his car was identified on the bridge the night the body was dumped. Before North and Ruiz can question him, he gets trapped in his wired-with-a-bomb car. There’s great acting from Matthew Lillard in his brief introduction, and luckily his car didn’t explode, so we will see more of him.
Rounding out our new cast of characters is Annabeth Gish, in the most unconnected story to the main plot (so far). Her husband suffers a heart attack in Juarez and get momentarily stopped in the ambulance (on the way back to the US) by the crime scene on the border bridge. Later, just after telling his wife that he wants a divorce, he dies at the hospital. Gish returns to their ranch despondent and finds a key that unlocks a very creepy looking underground area in a part of the ranch she had never seen. So, where could that be leading? Hmm.
While a lot of pilots tend to throw information at you to establish plot, The Bridge struck a fantastic balance between establishing plot and presenting character motivation with a natural flow. An air of mystery surrounds the situation without leaving the audience completely in the dark. With this momentum, it is sure to be one of the highlights of the summer.