Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Expectations vs. Reality

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Episode 1 Pilot (21)

Now that we’ve had two days to process the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot, it’s time to get down to business: did the most highly anticipated pilot of the year meet expectations? The viewers certainly turned out in droves, giving network television its biggest debut since 2010 (it even beat CBS’ aging juggernaut NCIS in the key demos), and the series surpassed a million Facebook likes before it ever hit the air.

But what about the actual show? With three fandoms (Whedonites, Marvel Movieverse and Marvel Comics fans) to please, plus the Muggles in the audience just looking for something new to watch on Tuesdays, S.H.I.E.L.D. had a lot riding on its slim 45 minutes (give or take) of running time. Now let’s examine the pilot through four lenses, and see how it stacked up to our monumental expectations.

The Whedon Factor

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Episode 1 Pilot (6)

Expectation Level Going In: Medium. Joss Whedon is a busy man and while I adore the rest of the Whedon family, the early time-slot and major network locale, plus the Marvel connection left my expectations for Whedony goodness about moderate. I figured it would be Whedon Lite. Quippy, but not quite as dense as what longtime Whedon fans are accustomed to.

Expectation Level Coming Out: Exceeded. While it was fluffy fun for the most part, the Whedon family’s prints were all over this pilot, from Coulson lurking in a dark corner because the light-bulb was out and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, to the constant hints that every member of the team has a dark past. (Not to mention Maria’s ominous comment about Coulson– are we thinking clone? I’m thinking clone.) Straight on through to Skye, Fitz and Simmons’ very existence (they are all Whedonesque– actually let’s throw May and Ward in there too, the whole team was composed of Whedon go-to personality types with flavors of Buffy, Zoe, Topher, Wesley, Angel, etc.).

There were a few places where it was more Marvel than Whedon, but on the whole I felt like I was watching a Whedon show again and that made me very, very hopeful for the future (both the show’s and in general).

The Marvelverse Movies

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Episode 1 Pilot (3)

Expectation Level Going In: High.

Expectation Level Coming Out: Fair.

Marvel has set the bar high with their film universe. The Iron Man films alone are stunning (well, number two wasn’t quite stunning): the special effects, the character detail, the fun factor. It’s hard to replicate the high-flying spirit of the films on the small screen. While S.H.I.E.L.D. felt like a part of the universe, it also felt like a much smaller part than what we’re accustomed to seeing. I know the network wants the series to stand alone, but it felt more like ’90s era The Adventures of Lois & Clark (which, DC, I know) than the blockbuster world that inspired it– even with the Chitauri tech playing a key role in the story of the week.

This isn’t a bad thing; I like that the show is erring on the side of creating its own world while only playing off of the mothership, but in the future I’m hopeful ABC will trust the audience enough to let the film universe’s influence increase. And hey, maybe they can convince one of the big names to moonlight on the small screen for an episode? (Come on Robert Downey, Jr., you used to be on Ally McBeal, dude.)

Marvel Comics

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast

Expectation Level Going In: Nil. I have read a smattering of Marvel comics, but nothing specifically about S.H.I.E.L.D..

Expectation Level Coming Out: Any comic book fans in the audience? If so chime in on this point in the comments. I’ve seen some negative, positive and neutral reactions from the comic book community around the ye old interwebs, so I’m lost here. I will say, I did find the fact that a secret government agency would put their names on every vehicle they have hilarious. Kind of kills the whole “secret” part.

The Muggles

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Episode 1 Pilot (17)

Expectation Level Going In: Uncertain. Being deeply entrenched in the Whedon and Marvel movieverse fandoms, I wasn’t sure how your average viewer would feel about a weekly television series combining Whedon’s unique brand of dialogue and the complex world of Marvel. Then again, who in this country didn’t see The Avengers?

Expectation Level Coming Out: Even if I had never seen a single Marvel film or episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still would have been all in after viewing the S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot. It was funny, exciting and it had just the right touch of mystery. Sure, a few details like Coulson’s sudden reanimation and the Chitauri tech would have went over my head, but those are details that I’m sure most viewers would just roll with, trusting that they would be explained in depth later. The bottom line is S.H.I.E.L.D. felt special, and it has been a long while since a pilot achieved that heroic feat.


Now it’s your turn: how did Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stack up against your expectations? Sound off below!

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