I wanted to do a show about people who are not ‘super,’ just working-class people, the people history steps on.
–Joss Whedon on Firefly
A week from now, Joss Whedon returns to take back the Tuesday 8 p.m. spot that was the home of a certain Slayer. His new show’s performance against CBS’ top-ranked show NCIS will be one of the key battles of the new fall season. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may have the Marvel name and a popular character, but NCIS is also about a group of people who battles enemies that threaten the world—and has Mark Harmon. How can some comic book agents compete with that?
S.H.I.E.L.D. has several advantages. It takes place shortly after the event of The Avengers, which dominated the summer movie season last year. It has the “resurrection” of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), a very popular part of the Marvel movie universe, and an appearance from Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who seems unfazed by Coulson being alive. And it has tech that would blow the NCIS guys away.
It also has Joss Whedon as executive producer. He directed the first episode as well, while his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa Tanchareon wrote the script. They have a big challenge creating a world that’s a specific part of the Marvel-verse that doesn’t include Iron Man, Captain America or Thor. The agents can talk about them, but they won’t be there… for now. It’s a chance for the regular agents to show they’re super as well, just like the NCIS crew.
Like NCIS, the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew has people that you’d likely see in other action shows: Melinda May, the agent who’s reluctant to return to combat; Grant Ward, the by-the-book specialist; and Fitz and Simmons, the eager “squints.” There’s Skye, who says she represents the public and demands the truth about S.H.I.E.L.D. Never mind she has a laptop that seems to be a bit more advanced than a S.H.I.E.L.D. laptop, she learns she’s no Julianne Assange. She still represents the viewer who gets to see what’s inside S.H.I.E.L.D.
There’s also that small detail about why Coulson isn’t dead anymore. Was he really close to death in The Avengers, and was revived by Stark technology? And will he show up in Avengers 3? We may have to work up to Level 12 (no, not the one in Revolution) to get those answers.
For now, ABC has ramped up the promotion for the show, most recently with a new website. Promos have been running since May, and the pilot’s gotten rave reviews from lucky Comic-Con fans and some TV writers. It’s now a matter of whether the show can maintain a good rating, considering its main completion is NCIS, and ABC allows it to stick around long enough to find its audience. Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the TV arm of the Marvel movie-verse, that seems very likely. It’s more than a TV show, it’s a way to promote the “Phase 2” films starting in November with Thor 2: The Dark World.
Here are some of my ideas for the first season:
- Give J. August Richards a regular gig. He plays the guy who jumps out of the window of a burning building to save someone, and lands safely thirty feet below. That gets S.H.I.E.L.D’s attention in the opener. He can be someone who can work in all departments, starting with Ward. Skye will likely keep telling JAG’s character not to trust S.H.I.E.L.D. If he asks why and she keeps saying “I’ve got my reasons,” we should know them quickly.
- No romances, please. Fitz and Simmons could be a couple, like on Bones, but let them be a bit awkward towards each other for at least thirteen weeks.
- Skye can be amazed by the tech S.H.I.E.L.D. has, but since she insists that S.H.I.E.L.D. “reveal the truth,” let’s have discussions about trusting the public with what S.H.I.E.L.D. does. We may get jokes about the NSA or IRS reading Coulson’s e-mail. Her relationship with Coulson should be similar to Buffy and Giles at the surface, but Skye reserves the right to express doubts about Coulson’s motives, even if they turn out to be right. Naturally, we should see her backstory, including why she prefers living in an RV.
- We get back stories of the main crew, and add some Marvel characters in the mix. TV Guide had some suggestions, and hinted hiring some Whedon alumni like Eliza Dushku or Summer Glau. At least one familiar face will be seen in the pilot, but more Whedon alumni, including writers, should be used on the show.
- Fans of Whedon almost expect him to kill a beloved character sometime in the first season. It should only happen if it also happened in the comic book.
- Although it might be too late to toss in a reference to Thor: The Dark World, I would expect S.H.I.E.L.D. to mention rumors that someone named “The Winter Solider” has started appearing in some part of the world. Naturally that connects to the next Captain America movie.
- The producers shouldn’t drag out the “how come Coulson is alive” plot point any longer than eighteen months. We could have a couple of episodes where Coulson has to hide from people (not the Avengers) who thought he was dead, but after three, it turns into a sitcom plot.
- Oh, and reveal that he named his car Lola after his mother.