Beverly Hills, CA -- The big deal during ABC's day yesterday at the Summer 2013 Television Critics Association tour was the screening of the pilot for what is not only the network's most talked about fall series but also one of the most exciting new series on all of broadcast television, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
Critics had been waiting since Upfront week in May to see this show, which ABC had mysteriously kept under wraps until yesterday, except for a special showing at Comic-Con two weeks ago for approximately 4000 fan-boys and -girls who have been free to say whatever they like about it since that time. After the screening, which took place during the lunch break in ABC's jam-packed one-day TCA schedule, they simply couldn't understand why the network hadn't let them see it before Sunday, either on the network's press site or via closed-circuit in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There was nothing about it that cried out for spoiler protection or secrecy of any kind: No surprising cameos, no shocking twists and turns, no startling moments that nobody saw coming. It was a very effective if straightforward hour of television entertainment that won't in any way be compromised by people discussing any of its details.
TCA members overall liked what they saw but weren't blown away by it. I think many of them expected more from Whedon, a longtime favorite with the group. If the screening had been immediately followed by the actual panel for the show with Whedon and the cast, rather than panels for four other new ABC series (including two dramas that aren't high on any critic's list, "Betrayal" and "Lucky 7"), with the "S.H.I.E.L.D." panel slotted at the end of a long day, the general take-away might have been a bit more positive.
Regardless, the pilot feels very much like the first chapter of an extended sequel of sorts to Whedon's movie mega-hit "The Avengers" and is brimming with references that will delight young and old fans of the Marvel Comics universe. This isn't the place for a full review, but I'll say this: The idea of establishing a television series that exists in the same universe as several successful ongoing feature film franchises and will likely run parallel to them is genius. Also genius is the fact that Whedon did not blow the roof off with the pilot but chose instead to deliver a solid hour of B+ entertainment. I can't count the number of pilots I have seen over the last 25 years that left me (and many other critics) breathless but set the bar so high that the episodes that followed just couldn't keep up. To put this in the language of the Twitterverse, "S.H.I.E.L.D." wasn't good enough to Joss-turbate over, but it was a heck of a lot better than most of the broadcasters' 2013-14 pilots.
Earlier in the day, ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee had a session largely devoid of news … but it did contain tidbits of information about several of the network's high-profile returning series. For example, the "Dancing with the Stars" results show, which is not on ABC's fall schedule, could return as the season progresses. Specifically, Lee said, "We haven't made any decisions about whether we bring back a results show as it goes through." (When "Dancing" returns in the fall the weekly painful elimination that used to occur at the end of the Tuesday results show will occur during Monday's two-hour performance show.)
On the scripted front, there will be changes made to the network's signature prime time soap opera "Revenge," which after a formidable freshman season became hopelessly gummed up with stories of extreme espionage during its sophomore year. Expect a less complicated show when it returns. "I think we stumbled a little bit in the second season," Lee admitted. "The first episode [of season three] is a fantastic episode starting with a magnificent hook. So I do think you're going to see that one enjoying itself in its third season."
Expect changes also in "Nashville," which though well-produced and somewhat popular never developed into a breakout hit. Lee said the shocking events of the season finale will set the stage for a stronger show. "The reality is when you watch that finale it has a completely different mood. There is a sort of impending doom that leads you through to the car crash [involving two primary characters] that's very special. I think they certainly said to themselves let's start to turn over cards more aggressively as we go through it. But they've built their own voice, and they've built a particularly interesting musical voice to that show that is extremely distinctive and very different from other shows that are out there. And you're starting to see Connie [Britton's character] really drive plot, which was something I know the show-runners wanted to do. That particular rivalry that goes on between her and Hayden [Panettiere] is really coming to a head. They really started to find their feet at the end of the season, and we're very excited about next season."
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