Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: Superhero show fails to wow - for now

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If Chris Philpott was a betting man, he reckons his money would be on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D getting a whole lot better.
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. -  Marvel's first television series is from executive producers Joss Whedon (Marvel's The Avengers)
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - Marvel's first television series is from executive producers Joss Whedon (Marvel's The Avengers)

I suspect the idiom "good idea, bad execution" - something of a cliche when it comes to television - will be wheeled out by plenty of viewers after the first episode of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (TV2, Sundays at 8.30pm).

Many viewers will likely dismiss the show because they see it as falling short of the lofty standards of, and unavoidable comparisons to, its predecessors on the big screen.

I'll be honest: I think the premiere of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a disappointment on some levels.

For a start, the show doesn't seem to live up to the talent involved. Joss Whedon, the cult favourite writer/director responsible for The Avengers, and his frequent collaborators Jed Whedon (brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen, have made some of the most entertaining television of the last decade or so, yet S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to lack the instant engagement that Whedon stories and characters have possessed in series past.

Think about shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Firefly - they felt fully formed from the minute they hit the screen. S.H.I.E.L.D. just isn't on that level. With the exception of Skye (Chloe Bennet), we don't really get to know many of the members of Coulson's hastily-assembled team. Compared to earlier Whedon successes, this is a little sloppy.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. also fails to live up to the Marvel standard. Our entire experience with the so-called "Marvel cinematic universe" is based on big-budget feature films like Thor, Iron Man, and The Avengers. For a variety of reasons, mostly to do with budget constraints, S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't look or feel like it fits in alongside those kind of titles.

And sure, it might be unfair to compare. But I suspect most viewers will do it anyway. The viewer at home, plonked on their couch, doesn't care about budgets. They care about quality. And as fun as seeing synthetic super Mike Peterson jump from a burning building might be, it just didn't have the polish of Captain America.

Yet, despite feeling some disappointment in the premiere, there is a part of me which believes in giving a show, especially a show boasting a winning concept like this does, some time to establish itself. I'm feeling down on it, but the optimistic half of my critical brain is pointing out the positives in this first outing, and there are plenty.

I mean, the idea is solid. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a perfect jumping off point for Marvel's expansion into TV, lending itself to both serialised drama and the procedural formula that works best on free-to-air. I've long believed that this is a great idea for a show and, though I'm frustrated by the premiere, I saw nothing to change that opinion.

I think the mix of characters is good. Agent Phil Coulson is a fan-favourite from the films, played well by Clark Gregg. Ming Na is a nice addition to the cast, though her character, May, is an enigma. I also love Fitz and Simmons, the science geeks played by Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker.

The writing is bang on as well. The dialogue is quick and quirky and, despite the setting, comes off as much more natural than it has any right to - and that, in turn, means that the show has the ability to entertain, even if a particular episode isn't centred on a particularly engrossing story or intriguing character.

I think these are aspects that will only improve over time. As we get to know characters like Skye and Ward more intimately, and as Coulson's mysterious healing is revealed, the show will only get stronger and more entertaining.

It stands to reason that the passage of time will allow more tie-ins to the films we already know and love, too. For example, Lady Sif, a character portrayed by Jaimie Alexander in Thor: The Dark World, will be appearing in an episode. Lead star Clark Gregg has hinted at links between the show and upcoming blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel figurehead Stan Lee even makes a cameo later in the season. I mean, as if he wouldn't.

These links to the big screen universe Marvel has established will only enhance the show for viewers at home.

So, feel free to be disappointed with the premiere of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., like I am. But even though I think the first episode isn't as good as it could have been, I'm looking at the positives and considering whether the show can improve in weeks to come. I'm betting it can. And I'll be tuning in again next week to find out.

* Did you watch the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiere? What did you think?

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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