"Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," 7 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC beginning tonight (Sept. 24)
Three stars (out of four)
Let's assume, for the moment, that you're not a fan of superhero movies, and that you haven't picked up a comic book for decades. Let's say that when you hear "The Avengers," you still think of John Steed and Emma Peel. Let's say you're me.
What, then, will you make of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the annoyingly titled superhero-movie spinoff making its debut tonight on ABC?
I think you might like it. I did, surprising no one more than myself.
That's because "S.H.I.E.L.D." (and I still hate typing its name, which stands for "Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division") makes a point of being accessible. Network television can't target a niche audience; to be a hit, a show needs broad — as in "broadcaster" — viewership. So Joss Whedon, who directed "The Avengers," and his team make a point of giving all kinds of viewers a reason to enjoy the show.
For one thing, it's not about superheroes. The only regular at the moment who carries over from the movies is Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), mysteriously back from the dead. (Cobie Smulders has a guest role in the pilot as the movies' Agent Maria Hill.)
Coulson, as appealing a hero as he is an unlikely one, heads a team of quirky people working to protect the world from extraordinary threats, some of them from the superpowered. The team includes a newly recruited action guy (Brett Dalton), a martial-arts expert (Ming-Na Wen), a hacker (Chloe Bennett), a scientist (Elizabeth Henstridge) and an engineer (Iain de Caestecker). Those last two seem destined to be the show's bantering will-they-or-won't-they cute couple.
"S.H.I.E.L.D." moves at a lively pace, even in the pilot, which requires a lot of setup. There's action, wit and dry humor, and some entertaining if not dazzling special effects. Again accessibly, most episodes will be stand-alone, with an underlying mythology to ramp up the stakes.
With Whedon, who directed the pilot, busy on the "Avengers" sequel, the TV series will be run mainly by its co-creators, Joss' brother, Jed, and Jed's wife, Maurissa Tancharoen. They promise to keep the series open to all while also keeping it in line with the continuing Marvel movie series.
Now, for another moment, let's assume you're a hard-core "Avengers" fan who knows the Marvel franchise encyclopedically and just might have gone to Comic-Con in costume if you had the chance. I suspect you'll have nits to pick. I would too, if this were actually a spinoff of the John Steed-Emma Peel series.