If a viewer comes to the new ABC action-adventure drama “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” with no prior knowledge of its universe and mythology beyond the awareness that it is related to the superheroes of the mighty box-office world of “The Avengers,” it might seem strange that none of the main characters are, in fact, superheroes.
And even though co-executive producers brothers Joss and Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tanchaoren, and Jeph Loeb aim to feed newbies a lot of information in the pilot for the series, which is in the “Avengers” universe but intended to be a discrete enterprise, you might feel a little confused at first about references to things like the Battle of New York.
Premiering Tuesday, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” — which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division — is about the support team for those glory hounds with the colorful suits. This team handles the identification and shepherding of newly hatched superheroes as they come into awareness of their powers and also battles with a shadowy organization — naturally — called Rising Tide.
No doubt, every member of the team has a super skill set. The surprisingly alive Agent Phil Coulson (the typically wonderful Clark Gregg) — who appeared to die at the hands of Loki in “The Avengers” — is a savvy team builder and unflappably calls the shots. New recruit Skye (Chloe Bennet) is a computer hacker extraordinaire. Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) is an expert pilot and martial artist. Agents Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), genius engineer and scientist, respectively, work as a bickering but effective team. Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is super handsome and is also good at espionage and stuff.
MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
But none of them can bend anything with their minds. It’s like making a James Bond TV show about Charles Robinson, Q, M, Miss Moneypenny, and the smartypants-and-bureaucrats brigade back at MI6 — or Whedon’s own “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” gang without the actual Slayer.
The pilot suggests an ability to shift from the comedic to the dramatic without much fear of whiplash, which is perfect, as that has been Whedon’s sweet spot since his “Buffy” days.
A signal to that balance comes early, with a nice bit of Whedonesque silly business in the introduction of Coulson, whom Gregg plays with wry understatement. (It is intimated — by a visitor from “The Avengers” — that there is more to Coulson’s story than the simple faking of his death and that this mystery will be a continuing thread throughout the series.)
Because it is a pilot and there is so much exposition and introduction, as well as a case of the week featuring Whedon alum J. August Richards (“Angel”), it’s hard to say how compelling this will all ultimately be. Everything works and the actors range from fine to good — although the fast-talking chatter between De Caestecker and Henstridge gets old quickly — but it doesn’t exactly crackle with excitement. It’s fun, but a little flat in spots.
For the Whedon faithful, of which I am one, there is reason to be optimistic, as all the pieces are in place. And many viewers just might spark to the relatable idea that behind every flashy superhero is a normal person supporting them with brains and know-how.