From the first teaser ABC has released for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the show about the humans who work with the superheros Marvel is telling stories about in its feature films, like the Iron Man series and the forthcoming The Avengers 2, it’s clear the network wants you to know two things about its new drama. First, there’s a lot of punching people in the face, which makes sense, given that the characters are regular human beings rather than superpowered ones, and Marvel’s profits aside, it would be extremely expensive to do the kind of special effects that mark the action in the movies for the small screen every week.
Second, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), one of the best creations of the franchise, who showed up as a dorky but insistent civil servant in Iron Man, taking on the thankless job of tracking down emerging superheroes, and who was thought to have been killed by super-villain Loki in The Avengers is actually alive and in charge. Simply from a character development perspective, putting Coulson at the heart of the show is a good sign. He was a really terrific original addition to the superhuman universe, a patient, surprisingly funny, likable liaison to a strange new world, and it’ll be good to see him get to wrangle S.H.I.E.L.D. agents without needing to put up with the whims of a Tony Stark or live under the shadow of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (the scenery-chomping Samuel L. Jackson). Maybe there will be some subtlety amidst the punchings:
But as enthusiasm for this project kicks off, it’s also worth looking at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a story about corporate interdependence. ABC, which has substantially built its brand on shows that appeal to women, like the nighttime soaps Revenge and Nashville, has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on its roster because it and Marvel have the same parent company in Disney. One of the logical main characters in the show should have been Maria Hill, Fury’s subordinate, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. with a rich backstory in Marvel comics who was played by Cobie Smulders in The Avengers. Especially given some of the scenes of Hill disagreeing with actions made by her superiors that were cut from The Avengers, it would have been particularly interesting to see Hill have a larger role in the show, and potentially to see her pursue those rifts between herself and Fury, and her doubts about her own actions in the battle against an alien invasion that was the centerpiece of that movie. But Smulders isn’t available because CBS renewed How I Met Your Mother, the hit romcom sitcom that she’s has starred in since 2005, even though this was expected to be the last season of that show. In other words, this may be a show that a lot of us are excited to get. But it’s not necessarily the show that would have been made in perfectly independent conditions, for a partner network that has experience with action, and with the real freedom to integrate characters from the Marvel universe.