Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads up S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division), the secretive government agency that deals with the proliferation of superheroes and alien tech that has so significantly altered humankind’s approach to preventing conflict. Coulson was killed by Loki in The Avengers and his apparent resurrection for the TV series raised more than a few eyebrows. In a very smart move, the means by which Coulson survived his mortal wounding is a focal point of the series’ story arc. The initial references to his rehab period in Tahiti (“It’s a magical place,” Coulson keeps repeating) prove to be far more than an easy way to explain the character’s continued existence.
Not uncommon among Whedon’s projects, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. features a ragtag, dysfunctional “family” of sorts which the patriarchal Coulson oversees. Chief among them is newcomer Skye (Chloe Bennet), a former free-information movement hacktivist with mysterious origins and razor sharp instincts. Den mother Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) flies the insanely tricked-out S.H.I.E.L.D. plane. Rounding the team out are field agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and a pair of science experts collectively known as Fitz-Simmons (Iain De Caestecker plays Leo Fitz and Elizabeth Henstridge plays Jemma Simmons). The latter duo is almost too cute to bear in the early episodes. But like everyone (save Clark Gregg, already well-established in the Marvel films), the cast settles into their roles over time.
Occasional appearances by actors from the Marvel feature films goes a long way towards tying Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in with the Cinematic Universe. But the late-season events that correspond directly with the game-changing events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier are what really make the series essential viewing. Going into too much detail basically veers a bit too far into spoiler territory. The Winter Soldier recently dropped on home video right along with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the last third or so of the series makes for a great companion piece with the film. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) appears in the pilot episode and becomes integral as the series continues. Bill Paxton has a blast as dubious S.H.I.E.L.D. agent John Garrett, who appears later in the series.
The first season DVD set includes three commentary tracks with various participants and a number of featurettes and visual effects breakdowns. While it basically recaps the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 43-minute “Assembling a Universe” is a fun way to refresh oneself with all the work Marvel has invested in this evolving film and TV series so far. There’s also a gag reel and a few minutes of deleted scenes.
Season two of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres on September 23 on ABC. With the groundwork laid by the uneven, but ultimately very enjoyable, first season, there’s a reason to expect great things to come.