DRAMA SERIES "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Tuesday night at 8 on ABC/7
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Created by Joss Whedon, this picks up from where his big-screen "The Avengers" left off, following the battle of New York with -- surprise -- agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) still very much alive. A new threat called The Rising Tide looms. His new team: agents Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and computer hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet). As with "Avengers," everything takes place in the Marvel Universe, peopled by thousands of characters.
MY SAY ABC introduced this show to the press over the summer with cloak-and-dagger theatrics that even agent Coulson would have admired. The pilot was hand-delivered under guard to the Beverly Hilton, where it was then played to critics who were warned that anyone caught recording would be vaporized, or otherwise meet an end far too gruesome to explain to their spouses or employers. That's an exaggeration, but not by much. Marvel, now under the aegis of Disney, means business with its first TV series. Secrets must be kept because everything, including the fate of the Marvel Universe, seems to be riding on this.
Maybe everything is -- at least for ABC -- although for the moment, there's nothing to worry about. "S.H.I.E.L.D." boasts a must-watch pilot that will forcibly remind viewers of what network TV can still do, if budget is a secondary concern. As with "The Avengers," Whedon's ear and sensibilities match the material perfectly -- that high-velocity back-and-forth snark that illuminates character and motive, even when you don't always know exactly what someone just said.
That's a neat trick, but it may also hint at a broader concern for the average viewer. Just how deeply will this dive into the Marvel Universe, a bewildering place, even for experts? The pilot, which can be a thicket in places, indicates dumbing down will not be an option. And if you didn't like "The Avengers," or don't know who the Fantastic Four are (none of whom appear here), or superheroes put you in a deep snooze, then move along: "S.H.I.E.L.D." isn't for you. But if the success of the "Iron Man"/"Avengers" movie franchises is any indication, it should be for plenty of others.
BOTTOM LINE A blast -- for fans.