Joss Whedon knows superheroes. He is, after all, hailed as somewhat of a real-life superhero himself among us comic book geeks, having brought to our screens a handful of critically acclaimed, but tragically short-lived sci-fi dramas. “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and its mildly less successful spin-off “Angel” aside, Whedon’s work rarely made it past Season 1. Now that these shows have been relegated to Netflix and DVD, newcomers may be more familiar with Whedon’s 2012 summer blockbuster “The Avengers," which Hulk-smashed its way to box office glory.
This Tuesday, he returned to our televisions with "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," sort of an "NCIS”-meets-"Heroes" action-packed romp, and one that takes place several months after the events of "The Avengers." While it doesn’t feature any of the big-name superheroes from the movie, it does come complete with the witty banter and nerdy references we’ve all come to know and love from Whedon.
The pilot opens with a bang – literally. While Mike Richardson, a down-on-his-luck dad, is trying to bond with his young son, the upper levels of a nearby building are rocked with a massive explosion. He leaves his son in the hands of a friendly hot dog vendor and rushes off to help the survivors.
It turns out Mike isn't just your run-of-the-mill single dad! He's suddenly heroically scaling the side of the burning building — smashing his hands into the bricks with super strength and making his way into the inferno above. Inside, he scoops up an unconscious woman and leaps out of the window, landing dramatically several feet below. Mike makes a quick escape once he realizes he’s been caught on film, leaving the woman behind. Apparently would-be superheroes aren’t all that familiar with CPR.
Cut to Paris, France, where there's a high-stakes S.H.I.E.L.D. mission underway. Token hottie Agent Grand Ward is hunting down a mysterious organization known as Rising Tide, who have gotten their hands on a piece of alien technology. (Yes, nerds, it's a Chitauri neural link left over from Loki's attempted demolition of Earth during the final scenes of "The Avengers." Tie-ins galore!)
Brand retrieves the package, but not before taking out a couple of thugs who try to get in his way. He dispenses of them without breaking a sweat and with a few sharp one-liners to boot. Welcome to the wonderful world of Whedon, folks.
Back at an undisclosed location, Ward is being debriefed by none other than Maria Hill (“The Avengers” guest star Cobie Smoulders, who will no doubt be a smouldering regular once her commitment to "How I Met Your Mother" ends.) Moments later, we’re reminded again that this series will be dripping with Marvel movie connections: this time it’s with the return of fan favorite Agent Coulson, who was last seen fatally wounded by Thor’s brother, the trickster god Loki. Turns out Coulson’s death was faked in order to unite the Avengers (because apparently the ultimate destruction of the planet by an alien race isn’t enough). It’s hinted that there’s way more to the story than even Coulson himself knows, but that’s for later episodes.
They are joined by jaded S.H.I.E.L.D. employee Melinda May and two positively perky tech whizzes from across the pond, Fitz and Simmons (watch for the “Harry Potter” reference). Now the team is complete, they set off to track the rise of the “unregistered gifted,” or those who possess some form of superhuman ability. This week’s freak of the week is — unsurprisingly — Mike from the first scene.
The filmmaker who caught Mike’s daring rescue on camera, Skye, who has been stalking — er — tracking Mike in order to warn him about S.H.I.E.L.D., gets stalked — sorry, tracked — down by the S.H.I.E.L.D. team and taken in for questioning. But it’s not really questioning, because Coulson wants her in his corner too — and it is soon revealed she’s a member of the mysterious Rising Tide organization.
Skye isn’t just a pretty face — she’s got all sorts of information on Centipede, a company creating superheroes out of regular citizens. May, Fitz and Simmons do a tech-heavy scan of the explosion site, and discover that the explosion wasn’t an accident at all, but in fact a laboratory experiment gone wrong. A Centipede subject self-destructed due to the unstable nature of the product — and guess what? The same thing is going to happen to Mike unless S.H.I.E.L.D. can get to him in time and save the day.
Elsewhere, Mike is visiting the woman he saved in hospital; as it happens, rescuing her was no coincidence because she’s the doctor who performed his superhero-conversion. She explains that the experiment failed, and that he is extremely volatile, but Mike will hear none of it and basically announces that he’s about to become the greatest superhero the world has ever seen. Then he jumps out of the window. Dramatically. He likes to do that.
Once again, Skye’s intel proves invaluable, and the team tracks Mike down — but plans go awry and May is knocked unconscious while Skye is held captive by Mike, now completely insane. Luckily, while Fitz and Simmons are desperately attempting to find an antidote to Mike’s condition, she manages to send S.H.I.E.L.D. the coordinates to her location — L.A’s Union Station, where things get really exciting.
There’s a chase, Melinda May kicks some serious ass, and Coulson dodges a flying van door a little too quickly (foreshadowing, perhaps?) Soon, Mike is cornered, and Coulson talks him down before Ward fires a shot that hits Mike right between the eyes!
Don’t worry guys, it’s a fake out. Fitz and Simmons came through for us in the form of an antidote, and Ward only tranquilized Mike.
Everything is wrapped up neatly with Mike cured and soon to be reunited with his son. Coulson offers Skye a full-time position at S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s skeptical at first, but I think she comes round when Coulson pushes a button in his car and it flies off into the horizon.
Yes. Coulson’s car can fly. Because what’s more awesome than that?
But that's all we get for now — a tremendous teaser for the rest of the season. Tune in weekly on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.