I am very cynical about non-animated TV doing superhero comics correctly, and for a pretty good reason: it's never done superheroes correctly before.
Ever. No exceptions, no wiggle room. Every panel I've seen on superheroes on TV asks some variation on "why can't they get it right?" It's not just the limits of special effects, although limited special effects and budget do unquestionably play a role: remember George Reeves's door knocking? Rather, the problem is one of attitude. There's embarrassment of superheroes' high concept traits that reflects a kind of chickenshit, play it safe conservatism.
Arrow would be Exhibit A: a dead serious procedural where the hero doesn't wear a costume.
Agents of SHIELD is only superficially similar to Arrow, and may require me to re-evaluate the view TV doesn't get it. I had a list of reservations about this show a mile long. I was initially worried it would be a genre spy show that runs away from its comics origins. I was pleasantly surprised to see it didn't. I knew it would call back Avengers and the Marvel movies, but I didn't know it would THIS MUCH. The MacGuffin in the first act is leftover Chitauri tech from Avengers (yes, a big plot point in the series is alien superscience). Extremis from Iron Man 3 is not only referenced, it's the center of the pilot's entire third act.
Best of all, the series captures the Marvel movie tone perfectly: wiseass, rapid fire pitter patter, based around self-awareness and funny timing. It's FUN and funny – something the trailers did not successfully get across. I give it the highest praise I can think of under the circumstances: it feels like a 45 minute Marvel movie.
As for playing it safe with high concept oddities…there was a goddamn flying car.
Agent Coulson reminds me of Captain Picard from Star Trek: the Next Generation. A leading man of integrity who refuses to accept the only way to solve problems is violence, who's most distinctive physical feature is his hairline, who somehow manages to be bigger than life and commanding despite being of medium height, and who has a dashing, action oriented second-in-command.
It reminds me of how the biggest problem with the original 70s Battlestar Galactica is the conflict between civilian and military authority, with the noble military struggling against cowardly, treacherous civilian government, like something out of Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. So a character was added in the reboot (civilian president Laura Roslin) to do this complex conflict justice.
The Moonlighting dynamic is cliché, but it's cliché for a reason: it works. But Moonlighting only worked because Bruce Willis was paired up with Sibyll Shepherd.
Agents of SHIELD is so very Marvel: it's got the humorous, fun tone that made the Marvel movies infinitely more watchable than DC's dead-serious efforts (I admire the Nolan movies a lot more than I like them). It certainly isn't Arrow, afraid to use its universe and running away from wild things like costumes and boxing glove arrows. Heck, remember the single-Dad superhero? He didn't have a costume, but at least he acted like one: hell, he saved one more innocent citizen than Superman did in all of Man of Steel.
In short, it's a success…maybe one of the first decent attempts to translate comics to television. And I'll be watching this week, too.
Things to Ponder:
- How great is it they use the term "superhero?" Most shows run away from that term.
- Project: Pegasus apparently exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Does the Thing work there in between attempts to get his pro-wrestling career going? My Spidey-sense tells me this will be a plot point.
- All of us True Believers caught the reference to Forbush-Man, right? If not, turn in your Merry Marvel Marching Society card!
- Everyone caught how they slipped Journey into Mystery in dialogue, right? Before you think that's nothing special, that's one more fannish, Easter Egg reference than was in all of Man of Steel, that's for sure.
- What gets everyone excited here are the hints there's more than there appears when it comes to Phil Coulson's mysterious resurrection. Here's a possibility a friend told me: what if Coulson is, and always has been, a SHIELD life model decoy? Explains why he seemed to be in several different places at once during the movies.
- This is a small nit, but couldn't they have used ONE canon SHIELD character as a regular on this show? Would it have been so hard to dig up Clay Quartermain, or Jimmy Woo, or Jasper Stiltwell, or the Contessa, or Bobbi Morse?