|What's that, DC? A Gotham TV show without Batman? Sure...|
So, this ASHIELD business, then. Fellow X-book-botherer Abigail Brady tweeted that this was Whedon's best pilot to date. Spoilers: I think she's wrong. It's probably his second best. Certainly it beats "Ghost" (I don't think I've ever seen "Echo", but the very fact I can't remember or care I can't remember pretty much sums up my attitude to Dollhouse), and "City Of" too. "Welcome to the Hellmouth" is harder compare, partially because it was seventeen years ago, partially because very few people knew who Whedon was when it was first shown, and partially because the Marvel connection has jolted my fanboy reflexes, and it's pointless to pretend otherwise.
So while I'm tempted to give "Pilot" the edge, it's a close-run thing. Not that it matters, because "Serenity" blows it out of the water.
The reason is simple, while both "Serenity" and "Pilot" contain enough coalescing plot threads to pique the interest, only the former managed any character beats worthy of the title. I might be wondering what precisely happened to Agent Coulson after the conclusion of Avengers Assemble (given the current story is so obvious I was surprised it wasn't actually in the film itself, I'm glad they're going a different route), and what happened to Agent May to make her so action-shy, but I couldn't give the remotest damn about either of them as people. Which, obviously, is hardly an insurmountable problem forty-five minutes into a television series. But compare this to the first slice of Firefly. Yes, it was twice the length, but we were only a few minutes in when Wash got out the plastic dinosaurs and sealed the deal right then and there. Jayne and Mal hardly took much more time. Not everyone was served just as well, admittedly, but no-one felt like the essentially blank slate of... well, everyone here, really, except possibly Fitz.
The problem is rather exacerbated by Clark Gregg, who frankly is an actor of fairly limited range, and who already feels overextended and uncomfortable. He has an easy-going competent charm, but I'm just not seeing anything else there. The last tine I remember an actor so narrow heading up a TV show was John Barrowman and Torchwood, and that ended up less a train crash so much as a train falling off a cliff and smashing into a passenger plane on the way down.
There are suggestions online that the show's debut is a victim of his own hype, which might be true. One could also certainly argue that my point here isn't that the ASHIELD pilot has problems so much as "Serenity" was utterly remarkable. Both are perfectly reasonable points. We'll see how things develop. But unless Gregg has hidden depths that will soon be brought to the surface, it may not all be smooth flying on the SHIELD Helicarrier.
Update: I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but the pilot does at least get credit for its political message. Of course, it would be nice to live in a world where it wouldn't be political to point out the idea that every motivated, law-abiding person can automatically find work is obviously ridiculous, but alas the right-wing exists, so that ain't happening.