Joss Whedon to Make S.H.I.E.L.D. Show for ABC

Ever since the news came down that Joss Whedon would direct The Avengers 2, work with Marvel on the overall direction of its franchise, and make a television show that would be part of the franchise, the last part of the equation has been the biggest question. Whedon began his career in movies, but he truly excelled on television, and a show from him would be a major event, even if it wasn’t the connective tissue in a multi-billion-dollar franchise, and even if, given his track record, his involvement could be a significant way to get more women involved in that franchise, which is currently dominated by men.

Now, it appears we know at least the basic subject of the show:

From ABC Studios, the project is based on the long-running comic created by Jack Kirby and revolves around the secret military law enforcement agency dubbed S.H.I.E.L.D., which stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistic Directorate. Whedon is on board to co-pen the pilot alongside his brother Jed Whedon, and his wife, Maurissa Tancharoen, who all previously teamed on the three-part web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. (The CW will air the Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day starrer in October.) Avengers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastermind Whedon will direct the pilot, should his schedule permit.

That leaves a lot of unanswered questions: Cobie Smulders, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill and would be an obvious main character for this show, is committed to How I Met Your Mother, and I have no idea if her Marvel contract could compel her to do both, or if that would be logistically possible. The same uncertainty is the case for both Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner (who was once under contract to ABC), who as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Black Widow and Hawkeye would also be logical significant characters.

But whatever the ultimate lineup, I think this is a logical choice. I wrote yesterday before the announcement came down that a S.H.I.E.L.D. show would make sense because “it could fill in all the spaces between the big battles with smaller bureaucratic fights and the consequences that follow a throwdown like the one between Loki and his forces and the men and woman at Fury’s command.” It’s also a somewhat safe one that brings elements of the films that are most like procedural cop dramas to television, preserving a familiar tone and structure.

I just hope that that safeness doesn’t mean that Whedon and company will pass up a chance with this safe concept to make the Avengers universe a little less monochromatic, and a little braver and more thoughtful about the use and abuse of power. In the current comics continuity, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director is a woman, Daisy Johnson. Having a whole squad of agents would open up space for characters like Jimmy Woo. And if Samuel L. Jackson isn’t available to play Nick Fury, why not have his son, Nick Fury Jr. feature in whatever lineup gets pulled together? It’s excellent that the Whedonverse means that a woman, Tancharoen, is going to be working on this project at a high level. But it would be even better if that translated into a more diverse, more interesting character slate as well. I can forgive white dudes arguing with each other making up much of a one-off movie. But not a television show, and not for much longer in the franchise as a whole.

I also really dearly hope that Whedon builds on both the tensions between Nick Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. council, and on Maria Hill’s apparent doubts about Fury’s leadership, even if those characters can’t be in the show, in some form. As much as The Avengers are an awesome teamup, it’s relatively terrifying that Fury has essentially pulled them together as his personal army, their functionality dependent on his ability to manipulate them correctly. And it’s even scarier that a quasi-governmental body with nuclear weapons is out there calling shots beyond the scope of the U.S. government. We have a very romantic relationship with both vigilantism and decisive military action in our pop culture that The Avengers relied on to cast a warm glow over a lot of what went down in the movie, and as Whedon did with his exploration of the abuses of the Watchers’ Council in Buffy, or the bureaucrats in Cabin in the Woods, I hope he can be more nuanced about that concentration of power going forward. This is a fantastic opportunity. I hope Whedon makes it mean something.