That Joss Whedon’s upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. show is in development at ABC is less a matter of it being a fit for the network, which focuses heavily on female-centric and family dramas, and more a matter of corporate synergy, now that that ABC and Marvel are both owned by Disney. At the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena yesterday, ABC president Paul Lee got asked how an action show will fit into his lineup, particularly after the cancellation of Last Resort, the fairly gender-balanced thriller about the crew of a nuclear submarine. His answer was less than fully revealing, in part because he only has a script, rather than a full pilot—much less multiple episodes. He explained:
Marvel has the ability to bring the whole family around it. The truth about Joss is he has some great relationships in it. So there are a lot of really funny
male/female relationships, some very flirtatious ones that go through it. But it’s also Joss, too, and it’s Marvel, and there’s a lot of action to it. So we haven’t yet seen the pilot. We fast-tracked that before the others. We are going to see it a lot earlier than the others. And we are very hopeful that that’s going to move forward to series, and we will build our marketing campaign early for it. But we do see that as a possibility of a show that we can bring both men and women and kids to.
I am frankly really glad that Lee is talking about S.H.I.E.L.D. as a show that should attract women and families as part of its basic genetics, rather than as as a bonus to go with a core dudebro demographic. But for that to be meaningful—and it’s very different to get women to tune in to an ongoing show than for us to accept a one-off three hours of a movie where we’re in a decided minority—I think he and Whedon have to think about what’s missing from the depictions of women in The Avengers right now, and Marvel has to be willing to let them have at least some flexibility in terms of broadening both the character base and tone of the show.
And one thing that’s missing right now? Aelationships between men and women in this universe that aren’t flirtatious. The Avengers right now is a franchise where female characters are dating their bosses, acting as honey traps, emotionally close to other coworkers in a way that suggests they’re basically in love, or crushing hard on their superheroic fellow soldier only to lose him to entombment in ice. This is not a good argument that men and women can be friends. You’d think that it’s a task so hard as to require superheroics.