(CNN) -- One of the most-anticipated new shows of the fall season, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," is now also the highest-rated drama debut in almost four years.
The ABC program's Tuesday premiere was watched by 11.9 million viewers, and earned a 4.6 rating in the target adult demographic.
That sizable turnout isn't really surprising, given the feverish excitement that has surrounded the show since ABC announced its interest in a "S.H.I.E.L.D." pilot last summer.
Co-creator Joss Whedon, whose career has veered into blockbuster territory with the 2012 film "Avengers," took out time from leading the "Avengers" sequel, "Age of Ultron," to helm "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" pilot episode. Those who watch TV for a living have been more or less satisfied, but a few fans walked away from ABC's 8 p.m. hour disappointed.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is built around Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson, who was thought to have died in "The Avengers." His recovery is one of the storylines that were teased during the pilot, which sees him lead the S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) team.
The idea is that S.H.I.E.L.D. is filled with highly skilled and talented agents whose job it is to look into the "strange and the unknown" happenings, such as the stuff that went down in "The Avengers'" climactic Battle of New York. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are tasked with "protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary" in this post-"Battle of NY" world.
It sounds like it could be the setup for yet another Marvel movie, but Whedon and his team, which includes Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, have scaled down this superhero universe to fit onto the small screen.
The result, at least judging from the pilot, is that "S.H.I.E.L.D." is, well --"okay," said HitFix's Alan Sepinwall in a review. "Quippy in that pleasingly distinctive Joss Whedon way, with a few intriguing ideas about life in a superhero world, but with a cheap look and mostly bland supporting characters. ... All told, it's a much more promising start to things than the first episode of (Whedon's) 'Dollhouse.'"
But in the aftermath of "'Man of Steel,' Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and the interlocking Marvel Universe movies, (which) are so overwhelmingly immense and glitzy ... a show like this can't help but look and feel anemic," said New York Magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz. "But hey, it's TV. ... The show embraces its relative smallness, building much of the action around knowing banter and the occasional close-quarters fistfight."
USA Today's Robert Bianco called Tuesday's pilot a "very promising start," adding that "anyone familiar with Whedon's TV work will be happy to see some of his best traits on display: the sideways humor that surprises while staying true to plot and character; the efforts to ground the fantasy in real-world emotion; the belief that events in past episodes (and movies) must have repercussions in the present."
With "Whedonesque touches evident throughout," the show "looks ready to hew a solid middle path between 'The Avengers' and 'Buffy,'" critiques The Atlantic. "It will never have the scale and budget and cast of the former, and it's awfully hard to envision it equaling the emotional intimacy of the latter. But if it can weave together the strengths of each -- the breadth and mythology and fan interest of the Marvel Universe on the one hand; the storytelling and character-development possibilities of serial television on the other -- it could prove to be something truly special."
Some of those 11.9 million viewers might not be as patient to see how "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." will grow. CNN.com commenters have been emphatically frustrated, calling the premiere boring and predictable.
"I really like Joss Whedon's work. I could see 'Firefly' over and over again and the movie 'Serenity' is great," said TampaMel. "I saw 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' last night. I HATED IT. Will give it one more chance. If it is as bad next week, I am done. So disappointed."
Commenter Blue meanie thought the premiere "felt pedestrian and a bit phony. Seen that and done that before; nothing special or extraordinary, and nothing 'marvelous' about it. ... Take one part 'Gossip Girl,' one part 'Alias,' one part 'Heroes,' mix it up and that's what you got. ...The Whedon-loving geeks will love this and swallow it up, but it's a pass for me."
Maybe "meanie" is on to something. Commenter KWDragon encouraged other viewers to "hate all you want, but I really liked it. I thought it had some good Whedon-esque hallmarks, while keeping in line with the Marvel mythology. Maybe all the 'cool kids' are gonna publicly diss this because it's the thing to do, but I thought it was great. I will gladly fan squee over this show."
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