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Smarter than your average superhero show

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Above, Sam Hargrave and Ming-Na Wen in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Above, Sam Hargrave and Ming-Na Wen in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In the TV business, there are no sure things.

The dustbins of fall seasons past are filled to overflowing with leftover episodes of shows that arrived with great expectations, enjoyed huge promotional hype, received positive critical reaction and inspired declarations that this or that show was about to become prime time's next big hit.

All the necessary elements were in place. Success seemed inevitable And then... nobody watched. Ratings tanked. Cancellation was swift and merciless.

It's a mug's game, TV is. And anyone who tries to tell you they've got it all figured out is either woefully misinformed or aggressively on the grift.

With all that said, however, there is this to consider: tonight's busy schedule of new-show premieres includes the series that most prognosticators have placed in the fall lineup's "most likely to succeed" slot. The show is Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which premieres at 7 p.m. on ABC and CTV), and if subsequent episodes can live up to the standard set by its very, very good pilot, this action-driven drama could develop into something special, indeed.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. represents the Marvel Comics empire's attempt to carry the success it has achieved with feature-film adaptations into the small-screen realm. The series is a sort-of spinoff of Marvel's The Avengers in that it uses that movie's storyline as a jumping-off point for its narrative journey.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opens in the aftermath of The Avengers' climactic Battle of New York -- and now that the planet has been saved from an alien menace and humanity is fully aware of the presence of superhumans among us, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s roster of non-superhuman agents has been given the task of "protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary."

The team is led by Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who is somehow still around despite having clearly been a casualty in The Avengers' big battle scene; also working for the agency are pilot/martial-arts expert Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), newly elevated agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), laboratory/tech wizards Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) and a computer hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennett), who has been conscripted for S.H.I.E.L.D. duty after her vigilante-watchdog activities became too much of a distraction to be ignored.

The pilot episode, which has been kept tightly under wraps by ABC, is an extremely stylish affair, filled with oodles of action and cool special effects. But what makes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s really appealing is the sharp, smart, funny writing that elevates it beyond being just another superhero show.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fully respects the genre and takes its action-adventure obligations seriously, but it also demonstrates, early and often, that it has a great sense of humour. It's extremely entertaining on every level.

Does this guarantee that Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a huge prime-time hit? Of course not. There are many other factors to be considered, including the fact it's scheduled against TV's top-rated drama (N.C.I.S.) and a returning reality-competition juggernaut (The Voice).

Even for a really good pilot like this, getting viewers to give it a try is the biggest challenge. But hopes are high at ABC, and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fully deserves a chance to make a good first impression.

 

-- -- --

 

Quick pick: Also worthy of consideration in tonight's new-show crop is Lucky 7 (9 p.m., ABC/Citytv), a warm-hearted drama about a group of working stiffs at a gas-station convenience store in Queens, N.Y., whose years of chipping in to the weekly lottery pool finally pay off.

Based on a successful Brit series called The Syndicate, this U.S.-network adaptation boasts a likable cast and a multi-layered storyline that explores many of the ways -- some happy, some not so much -- that winning a huge lottery prize might affect people's lives. Matt Long leads the cast as Matt Korzak, a guy under extreme financial pressure who makes a very bad decision just before his group experiences its very good luck, and now must figure out a way to enjoy the lottery win while trying to avoid the consequences of his earlier actions.

Interestingly, one of Lucky 7's most appealing characters, a put-upon convenience-store cashier named Denise, is played by Lorraine Bruce, an import from across the pond who is also a regular on The Syndicate, which is heading into its third season on BBC.

It takes a lot more than simple good fortune to win big in prime time, and Lucky 7 has done a lot of the little things right. If quality is the deciding factor, this could turn out to be a winning number.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2013 D8

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Updated on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 8:27 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds videos

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