It rarely happens, but ABC debuted a night comprised entirely of new programming on Tuesday, hoping that their big-name new property would meet its lofty expectations and with it launch a number of other shows that are arriving with considerably less fanfare. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D kicked things off, with two comedies in the form of The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife sandwiched in-between the two dramas, with Lucky 7 (a remake of BBC One’s The Syndicate) closing out the night.

We’ll address the two sitcoms in a later post – one I liked, one I didn’t – and for now focus on the dramas. While SHIELD didn’t quite meet the wildest of ABC’s expectations, it still did extremely well in a tough time slot (opposite NCIS and The Voice) and registered the highest ratings for a drama since 2009. That’s great, right? Well, let’s not get too excited, the show from 2009 that debuted slightly higher was V, and the quicker we forget about V the better. Still, it’s an encouraging start, and that show isn’t going anywhere any time soon. That’s more than can be said for Lucky 7, sadly, which could be a contender for the first cancellation of the season.

For that reason, I won’t spend much time on Lucky 7 before moving onto the show I know you’re all far more interested in. It’s a shame that America clearly had no interest in Lucky 7 because I actually quite liked it, or perhaps more accurately I liked what it was aspiring to do. It’s a blue collar drama, for a start, which is a refreshing change of pace, and while telling the fun story of a Boston lottery syndicate hitting the jackpot, it takes the time to establish its characters and explore their economic struggles to begin with, before they win the money.

Some of the dialogue is a little on the nose at times, a few of the characters feel either thinly sketched and/or lacking in credibility, and it’s not as polished as it could be around the edges, but the potential’s there. Well, the storytelling potential was there, but there doesn’t look to be any ratings potential, and I’d be surprised if this makes it to even a third or fourth episode before ABC pulls it. On the bright side, it might convince me to go back and check out The Syndicate, which apparently has a third series commissioned, so those who liked this pilot needn’t necessarily be completely frustrated.

There is another version of this story out there, and it stars Neville Longbottom and Stacey from Gavin and Stacey! It is a shame for Lucky 7, though, and particularly for actress Lorraine Bruce, who also starred in the British version and made the transition seamlessly. This could have been a star-making turn.


But now we’ll move onto Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (which I’ll be referring to simply as SHIELD from here on in), which on a movie site like HeyUGuys is probably the most anticipated show of the new season. I’ve been reliably informed that we’ll also be running a full review of the show elsewhere on the site from someone much more well-versed in Marvel than I am, but I’ll be coming at the show from the perspective of someone who’s a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and who just wants to see a good TV show.

And, well, a good TV show is what we’ve got. It might not be a great pilot, but there are a lot of things to like, a lot of things to be optimistic about, and a lot of problems that while clear and present don’t seem insurmountable. For a lot of people, that should be enough to stick with SHIELD for the foreseeable future. There’s a huge inbuilt audience who will (like me) be intrigued enough by the show’s links to a bunch of movies that they like to stick around just as long as it isn’t downright bad. So rejoice; SHIELD is absolutely watchable.

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Let’s start off with the positive aspects, and address the things that work in the pilot. This is a Joss Whedon-created show – although he’ll be taking a backseat week-to-week, handing over the reins to Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen – so we get the snappy dialogue, subverted clichés and drama infused with humour that we’ve come to expect from him. For those reasons SHIELD absolutely feels like it exists in the same universe as The Avengers, even if it is a universe being realised on a much smaller budget. We’re following the suits who have operated in the background of the movies as they respond to a world that now knows about the presence of superheroes, gods, aliens and the like, following the Battle of New York in The Avengers. The references to events or concepts from the films feel subtly integrated enough that the show should be accessible enough to newcomers, while feeling connected enough to the movies to satisfy fans. The driving force behind the villainy in this pilot episode, for example, is the Extremis virus, last seen in Iron Man Three, but for those who haven’t seen the film will just be a hastily explained MacGuffin.

And aside from Joss, SHIELD’s other greatest asset comes directly from the movies too in the form of Agent Phil Coulson. Back from the dead – and cleverly that’s set up as a big mystery moving forward, rather than shoddily explained away (as I feared it might be) in the opening moments – Coulson is a superb lead, who sets the tone in each and every scene. If Coulson’s serious, then we know the stakes are high; but if he’s flashing a cheeky grin and quipping, then we know we’re in for some fun.

Clark Gregg came alive in The Avengers when Whedon finally got his hands on the character, and Gregg’s clearly enjoying every moment and relishing this unexpected opportunity to lead a network show. Cobie Smulders is also a very welcome presence in her one scene, and we can only hope that once HIMYM comes to a close that she’ll entertain the idea of coming on board for Season 2 (assuming SHIELD gets there). We probably shouldn’t get our hopes up for any other higher-profile actors from the movie series popping up for a cameo, but I can’t help but get excited about the prospect of a Sam Jackson or a Mark Ruffalo, or even the likes of Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Jon Favreau or Kat Dennings dropping in for an episode and getting the nerd juices really flowing.

Back to the rest of the main cast, and they’re fairly hit and miss. The biggest problem in the pilot appears to be Brett Dalton’s Agent Grant Ward, who may as well be an Agent of B.L.A.N.D. (zing!) instead. He doesn’t even pop with the Joss Whedon dialogue, which could be a problem, but it’s also not as if Whedon shows haven’t adjusted to turn around dull characters before. Or they’ve been jettisoned entirely. So, you know, options! Chloe Bennett’s Skye is on the complete other end of the spectrum. She has fun with the quips, but that’s almost all her character is, and at no point (despite the pilot implying that we should) did I take her seriously. Both characters seem to suffer a little from both the writing and the performances, so they’re going to take some serious wrangling with in the weeks to come. No such problems with the rest of the ensemble, though. I really liked Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge as Agents Fitz and Simmons – although I’m sure they’ll annoy some – and Ming-Na Wen’s Agent Melinda May was interesting despite being used economically, and had an interesting back-story hinted at which piqued my interest.

Week-to-week, the show will do well to take the approach to SHIELD’s cases as it does in the pilot. J. August Richards may just be the episode’s MVP (so it will be a shame if we never see him again) as a man who mysteriously has attained superpowers, but finds that they start affecting his personality and he suddenly becomes a major threat to the safety of others. The case is underpinned by Marvel mythology, but driven forwards by character, emotion, and a strong performance. That’s important, because as much as viewers are going to tune in for all the Marvel-y bits, it’s going to be strong storytelling that keeps them interested, and it’s this part of the story that’s the best part of the pilot. I can take or leave all the fancy tech, planes, cars and the middling action beats; we’re going to need compelling cases each week for individual episodes to engage and succeed.

Speaking of the fancy tech, planes, cars and middling action beats; they’re all things that will need to improve too, because for some viewers, that’s what they’re watching for. It’s going to be hard to impress movie fans with action on a small-screen budget, but SHIELD is just going to have to try and be a little inventive. Trying to distract us with the tech won’t work, because it was all a bit rubbish, wasn’t it? I might have liked Fitz and Simmons, but I had no time for their technobabble and gizmos. Everything was just a little bit too silver/blue/black and shiny and polished, and that permeated the rest of the show. I was yearning for a bit of colour; a bit of ostentatious superhero spandex.

For that reason I quite warmed to Coulson’s Lola in all her lovely red glory, although I’m not quite sure of what I made of the Back to the Future riff at the end. Should we be expecting time travel to become a factor? If it does, I demand more Hayley Atwell! I’ll definitely be sticking with SHIELD for as long as it’s on (it would take something fairly drastic for me to give up on it), so I’ll be checking back in on the show fairly regularly. And, of course, it’s already hit UK screens, and Channel 4 are going hell for leather in promoting this one so we should all really be tuning in on Fridays at 9. Oh, and I spotted a Saturday repeat too, so there are lots of opportunities to watch. Feel free to let us know what you thought of the first episode in the comments.