Oh, yeah, how could I forget about potentially the biggest television show of the twenty-first century? I am, of course, talking about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There are plenty of new and interesting programmes being shown on the big networks this year but none of them are bigger or more engaging than Marvel’s foray into television. Am I hyping it too much? Possibly. However, this show isn’t like other shows and it hasn’t been built up in the same way.
With most shows, an idea is shopped around all the different networks and if one picks it up, a pilot is made. If the pilot is any good, the series is green lit and a series is produced. That’s a very general summary of how a programme goes from idea to reality. It’s a lot tougher than it sounds. But Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was born in a different way. Firstly, it didn’t have to be shopped around the networks. Marvel Television is a division of Marvel Entertainment, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company to which the Disney-ABC Television group is also a subsidiary and the ABC Television network is a division of that. In other words, it is all owned by Walt Disney, so if Marvel were ever to have a live action television show, it would always be on ABC. This is not unlike how Warner Bros. television shows such as Smallville and Arrow usually end up on The CW.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also differs from the usual structure because it was created through the films. Sometimes television shows get so popular and so expansive that spin-offs are created. The Originals, a new television show coming to The CW this fall, is a spin-off from The Vampire Diaries, which centres on the Mikaelson siblings. ABC also have Once Upon a Time in Wonderland a spin-off from the main series, Once Upon a Time, which unsurprisingly focuses on Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And this isn’t a new concept. Angel was a spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as was Private Practice from Grey’s Anatomy and Laverne and Shirley was a spin-off from Happy Days.
Unlike all of those though, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t get started in television. Instead it was born through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been a part of the comics, sometimes a force of good and sometimes an annoying hindrance to the heroes. It is only natural that they would appear in the films too, by bringing the heroes together but also working their own contingencies. They show up most prominently in Thor and The Avengers, though they make an appearance in Captain America and the Iron Man films and will appear in the Captain America sequel The Winter Soldier. That means that pretty much anyone who has seen a Marvel film in the last five years will know who and what S.H.I.E.L.D., even if it is just as Samuel L. Jackson in an eye patch.
A television show such as The Vampire Diaries or Grey’s Anatomy relies on its current viewer base to be involved enough with the programme that they would want to watch different characters in a similar setting. They are probably hopeful that, within time, the spin-off will generate its own fan base. It’d difficult to compare because success in television and films are calculated differently but compared to the three million people that watched The Vampire Diaries last year, The Avengers made $1,511,757,910 at the box office. For The Vampire Diaries to generate that much money, each viewer would need to pay nearly five hundred and ten dollars every time they watched the show. It could be argued, therefore, that without having a single episode aired, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. already has a bigger audience than anything currently on the American networks and it already has a global fanbase.
So ratings for the pilot are likely to be through the roof. So what, right? After the premiere, the novelty will wear off and traditionally superhero television shows haven’t managed to sustain their success (cough,Heroes,cough,Mutant-X,cough,Alphas). Well, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bucks the trend there too because it will tie into the film universe. Joss Whedon’s brother Jed suggested that the series will ‘weave in between the films and try to make them more rewarding on both ends’. So imagine you spent all year watching this cool TV show about superheroes and something that happened in the show was mentioned or had an effect in next Thor film or part of New York was destroyed in an upcoming Avengers film and the finale of the show had the agents scrambling on the ground level trying to evacuate the area and ensure the safety of the innocent citizens. Not only does it enhance and build up the movies but it makes the viewer think “I’ve got to watch this show next week’.
I’m not worried about the fact that television shows about superhero groups tend to be short lived because, unsurprisingly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t actually be all about superheroes. The show will actually revolve around a group of agents, just as the title implies, discovering new superheroes and identifying threats. Imagine then, that the group of agents locate a superhero that ends up becoming a part of the Avengers Initiative in a later film. But, for the most part, the show will centre around five agents (six if you include Agent Coulson who runs the division); Ming-Na Wen as a female pilot/weapons expert, Brett Dalton as a black op specialist, Chloe Bennett as a computer hacker, Iain De Caestecker as a weapons technology specialist and Elizabeth Henstridge as a life scientist. Cobie Smulders will reprise her role as Maria Hill but won’t be a regular.
So far that is pretty much all that’s known about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It will follow a case per episode format, like pretty much every cop show nowadays. Some shows, such as Person of Interest have managed to make the format interesting though. It won’t be unlike the monster of the week format that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel used. Though therein lays my biggest concern. As much as I like Joss Whedon’s work, I don’t want this to become Firefly with superheroes. Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods was great and it actually didn’t feel like anything he had ever done. With The Avengers however, I could see aspects of the ensemble dynamic and strong, female characterisation peering back at me. There’s nothing wrong with either of those styles but because Whedon utilised them so often much of his work becomes rather samey. Angel and Cabin in the Woods were actually interesting because they were different and much of Whedon’s usual themes and styles were pushed to the background.
The potential for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is enormous. Undoubtedly, some people won’t like it but I do believe that this programme has the potential to be one of the biggest and most viewed shows in recent memory. It will all come down to the premiere. If the first episode can capture enough of what people are hoping the show to be then that will be enough to build upon. On the other hand, if it is terrible then Marvel has missed a massive opportunity and Whedon has another failed television project for his already sizable list.