After watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s become apparent that Joss Whedon is too good at swimming about in lore, whether he’s the inventor of it or not. In this most recent installment of Whedon cackling madly to himself as he inserts as many inside jokes into his series as possible, it’s a lot of the same. I’m not saying the series is bad (quite the opposite), but for those who are not Whedon fans, some stuff may fly over your head like Clark Gregg’s fancy new jet.
Briefly, let’s see what this series is all about. Gregg’s mysterious but weirdly suave Phil Coulson, who’s been in almost every Marvel movie, is back from the dead (but there are unknown factors surrounding his revival, what a shock!). And he has a mobile base filled with very Whedon-y characters. There’s a typical muscled dude who only knows how to fight, two English or Irish (I think their accents keep changing) adorable lab geeks, the lady who voiced Mulan as a legendary assassin, and a hot girl who’s also a genius hacker and part of an anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. group (but Coulson trusts her obviously). Whedon, as per usual, has got us hooked on clever/cutesy dialogue, attractive leading ladies, and oh so many references to the Marvel universe.
I did doubt this show at first, questioning Gregg’s abilities as a leading man. With Whedon’s direction, I no longer have any doubt about Agent Phil. He’s like a friendly uncle who will utterly destroy you with a grin on his face. But the rest of the cast, apart from Ming Na (Mulan) is a little forgettable. The two young action bucks look like shiny but cheap stand-ins for Eliza Dushku and Adam Baldwin. And the two science nerds have as much charisma put together as Topher from Dollhouse. Luckily, the stories are solid and the overall execution is highly entertaining. But it takes some research to get everything.
By research, I mean watching every Marvel film, especially The Avengers. Coulson mentions Stark, a hammer, and a lot of other references to the filmography in question. It’s like the best-executed companion piece ever. Whedon’s not making it easy for regular TV watchers; he wants Coulson’s love of heroes to rub off on the viewer, hopefully inspiring more fans of the mythology Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. references with such reverence.
This could backfire, though. I’m hoping Samuel L. Jackson makes more than a motherfucking cameo, and maybe even an Avenger or two (if the show has that kind of budget). Also, I’m really hoping the reveal of how Coulson survived isn’t weak. Whedon likes to dangle an essential plot point right in front of his fans, but this one is so ridiculous that it has to be treated with the utmost respect to fans. Remember when Dexter Morgan became a lumberjack? If Coulson turns out to be a lumberjack, fans won’t be shiny any longer.
Deep down, though, this new series makes me yearn for Firefly. The formula of an enigmatic captain, loveable scientists, hot chicks with ambivalent motives, and a dumb weapons guy all in a flying house is too similar. Whedon’s real challenge here will be to take a lot of tired material and his own waning formula and pump it with originality and a good number of awesome things audiences have never seen before, and never expected from television’s most beloved but predictable writer.