"Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Hill: And what does that mean to you?
Ward: Means someone really wanted our initials to spell out 'SHIELD.'"
...That's actually true.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the long awaited TV spin-off of Disney/Marvel's highly successful and tightly interconnected film franchise (connecting everything NOT currently held by Fox or Sony, that is) debuted tonight on ABC. Here in Phoenix, the show aired on ABC affiliate KNXV-TV 15 at 7PM, which will be its regular time slot for the foreseeable future.
In addition to the brand-name comic book connection, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also brings with it some powerful TV geek cred. Joss Whedon, director of Marvel Studio's crown jewel, The Avengers, (and the creative mind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and Firefly) is functioning as show runner. Much of the long-term work, though, will be handled by Whedon's kid brother and sister-in-law, Jedd Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. The pilot was co-written and directed by the elder Whedon. Fans of his previous work will recognize his characteristic self-referential levity that often comes from left field. The challenge from here will be for the show to sustain the tone and whit while Whedon is off working on other projects (most notably the next Avengers film).
A strong ray of hope comes from actor Clark Gregg, "reviving" his role as Agent Phil Coulson. Gregg first appeared as Coulson in 2008's Iron Man. He has since been a connecting thread in the Marvel universe, making featured appearances in Thor and Iron Man 2, only to be painfully killed off in The Avengers. Coulson's return in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shrouded in mystery. (Spoiler) A casual explanation of a faked death and a recovery trip to Tahiti is followed by an oblique indication that this is not the whole story. Gregg was a fan favorite in the Marvel franchise, and his Avengers death was intentionally heart breaking (another Whedon trademark). His return, mystery or not, is likely one of the biggest attractions to the series.
Coulson's outstanding resonance in the pilot can be attributed to his established relationship with the audience. His appearances in the films have developed the character enough that the audience is ready to see him carrying a show. The remaining cast has not had that luxury. The pilot allows us to meet everyone, but it will likely take a few episodes for the viewers to really connect. It would not be unheard of for a number of these characters to be replaced before the series has run its complete life span.
So far, I'm on board. I imagine there will be episodes I love and episodes I forget. It may not garner the allegiance of Buffy or Firefly, but I can see it holding it's own at least as well as Whedon's forgotten property, Dollhouse.
By the way, Whedon's independent production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is pretty awesome. Also, the pilot includes a few more Whedon alums in the cast. See if you can spot them.