'S.H.I.E.L.D.' Resurrects Agent Coulson

In creating Agents of SHIELD, executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon (brother of Joss) faced an insurmountable challenge. Scaling down the bajillion-dollar Avengers film franchise for the modest budgets of television meant that fans would simply have to do without the elaborate action sequences they'd shelled out to watch in IMAX 3D. But even with lowered expectations, the show's premiere was disappointing.

The pilot's special effects are mostly limited to its opening scene, in which a man unnaturally scales the side of a building, pulverizing bricks with his hands as he climbs. I appreciate that this dude is getting all his superhero activities done in a hoodie and jeans, but compared to, say, a Heroes, the show looks... kind of cheap. Though SHIELD managed to film on location in Paris, that handful of exterior shots only makes the sound stages used elsewhere feel more oppressive.

But let's get to the plot. Agents of SHIELD exists in the same continuity as Avengers Assemble, with the events of the pilot taking place not long after the movie's climactic Battle of New York. In this world, the Avengers are pop culture icons, their action figures displayed in storefronts. This is cool. What does it mean to be a superhero when the existence of superheroes is a given?

Experienced SHIELD agent Grant Ward has been assigned to serve on a "welcoming committee" for the budding superheroes that the organization surveils. By the way, SHIELD—which preserves "the line between the world and the much weirder world"—stands for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division. I'd assumed it was an acronym for Super Heroes: It's Extremely Legit, Dummy.

Ward's new boss is the superb Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Yes, we thought Coulson died in Avengers Assemble, but he didn't, but apparently that's not all there is to it, and I'm hoping someone will explain this to me later, but in the meantime, don't worry too much about it. OK? OK.

To track down the opening's so-called Hooded Hero, Ward and Coulson question (that is, abduct) a hacker named Skye. She works with an underground activist group called the Rising Tide, which fancies itself as a kind of superhero WikiLeaks. After Ward unsuccessfully presses her for information, Coulson produces a loaded syringe of truth serum—which he uses to inject Ward, allowing the staunchly suspicious Skye to ask his colleague whatever she wants. Whedonesque! Before too long, Coulson's recruiting her to join his team.

The kind-at-heart Hooded Hero goes full baddie, throwing a superhuman temper tantrum in Los Angeles' Union Station. Coulson and company identify the cause of his transformation as Extremis, the same super-soldier serum from Iron Man 3, and neutralize its effects without killing the man. If you're going to recycle Extremis—which, yes, I know, first appeared in the comic books years ago—can't you guys at least throw us a Robert Downey Jr. cameo, too?

Image via ABC