“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” returns from winter break tonight with a new episode on ABC — titled “The Magical Place” — poised to both pick up the (potentially quite literal) pieces from last month’s cliffhanger, as well as start to pay off simmering storylines like the details behind Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg)’s return to life post-death at the hands of Loki in “The Avengers.”
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” started its life with a hefty amount of expectations, as the first live-action TV series set in the beloved and highly lucrative world of the Marvel Studios films. In its first 10 episodes last fall, the show started strong — 12.12 million watched the series premiere — but also drew complaints from multiple critics and some vocal viewers, including a sense that the show didn’t feel “Marvel” enough to stand next to feature films like last year’s “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World.”
With a new episode nearly here and the previous promise that things get “more Marvel” in upcoming episodes, CBR News gave you, the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” viewers — both dedicated fans and skeptics alike — the chance to ask showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen the questions on your mind. Your Qs and their As follow.
CBR News: Jed, Maurissa, before we get to the fan questions, let’s muse a bit about viewer relations in general. In however much you’ve been able to monitor it, what’s your current gauge of fan reaction — be it Twitter, in-person, general word-of-mouth — to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far? And how important to you both is a strong relationship with fans for a show like this one?
Jed Whedon: They seem to love it on iheartMAOS.com and less so on areyoukiddingmeyouidiots.net, but overall the response has been positive. But there was also a lot of anticipation for this show and inevitably, not everyone got what they wanted.
Maurissa Tancharoen: We hear everyday from people who love the show and are passionate about it. We’re grateful for the fans; a relationship with them is something that’s very important to us. Our first experience with the power of fandom was “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” It was so unexpected and overwhelming that it will stick with us forever. We feel interaction with the fans will always be an integral part of our work. The joyous part.
Let’s get right into it then with the first fan question, from Tonya J., who requests, “Please address the criticism swirling around if you would, as to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “not being or looking like a ‘Marvel’ show – perhaps discuss your vision and direction for the rest of Season 1.”
Whedon: We are definitely a Marvel show. We double-checked with them just now and they told us so. But as to looking like a Marvel show — there is always room to improve on every front, but I think some of the negativity toward our TV show comes with the fact that it is just that — a TV show. Being held up against the Marvel films, which are the biggest, most exciting movies around. We’re generating more content with a fraction of the budget in a fraction of the time, but each episode still has that Marvel flipbook at the top, and the expectation that comes with it, which is very high. And well-earned.
Tancharoen: We’re all proud of what our entire team — from writers to cast to crew — puts on screen. And Marvel is heavily involved in the creative process. Our collective goal is to make a series that people enjoy watching every week. In one season we have the opportunity to tell 22 hours worth of story in the MCU. We’ve spent a lot of time in the early part of the season setting things up, laying foundation. As we approach the back half, some of this set up will pay off. This has been the plan from the start. A plan that consists of a respect for and synergy with the films.
Ian A. is up next, asking, “In the Marvel Comics Universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for centuries and has included some of history’s greatest minds in its ranks. How long has S.H.I.E.L.D. existed in this Marvel Universe, and are there plans to explore the history of the agency?”
Tancharoen: We will dive into the vast history of S.H.I.E.L.D. at some point, but as with all things, we exist in the MCU and must tread lightly when it comes to reveals and storylines they plan to delve into within the films. Coulson has a deep fascination and respect for that history, so it’s only natural that we will explore it in detail in time.
Michael T. looks three months into the future of Marvel Studios and asks, “In ‘The Hub’ viewers were left with a sense Coulson is starting to second guess S.H.I.E.L.D. Was this an idea that came up independent of a similar theme coming up in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ or is it another case of synergy between the movies and show?”
Whedon: S.H.I.E.L.D. is a mammoth, all-seeing, all-knowing spy organization, so the moral implication of that is an unavoidable topic we can’t help but explore in this universe. While our writers have always been aware of the role S.H.I.E.L.D. plays in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (yes, we’ve seen it — it is very awesome) and planned some of our storylines around it, we also arrived upon those ideas naturally on our own. There’s inherent drama when Director Fury and all the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are forced to operate on the fringe of society under a constantly shifting, fluid set of rules, but their moral center remains unchanged.
An even longer-tem question comes from R. Smith: “Has any of the criticism the show has received made an impact on how you intend to proceed with you two year plan?”
Tancharoen: As writers, we only aim to please. Or we aimed to please as children, which is why we became writers.
Whedon: When you’re in a band and you play a song and the crowd goes to the bar to get a drink during that number, you don’t play it again. So we won’t keep doing things if people don’t respond to them, and we take fan reaction into consideration, of course. However, we’ve always had a plan in place that all involved parties feel is both rewarding to those who already love the show, and to those who feel they are not getting everything they want out of it yet. But you can’t please everyone, and when you don’t, they seem to tweet at you.
A viewer known as Biff B. wants to know more about superpowers, asking, “We’ve had a lot of tech or science-based characters show up so far like Akeelah, Mike, and the other Extremis/Centipede soldiers, but are there anymore characters with powers such as Scorch coming up?”
Tancharoen: Yes. Tech served as a great entry into this world for us. Keep in mind, when our show debuted, there were only two humans alive with superpowers in the entire history of the MCU (Cap and Hulk), so we had to be very responsible with how many and how rapidly we began to introduce them.
Following the big news from this past November that multiple Marvel series will debut on Netflix starting in 2015, Geoff I. wonders, “Is there a possibility of a crossover, or at least an on-screen acknowledgment of awareness between ‘AoS’ and the recently announced Marvel series on Netflix?”
Whedon: There is always a possibility… it’s Marvel.
Kyle V. is curious about character development, asking, “We’ve only had a few glimpses into [the main characters’] pasts and motivations, which makes them feel slightly boring compared to the compressed life story of whatever subject they’re investigating that week. Is that a conscious decision, and will we get more definitive ideas of these protagonists in the remainder of the first season?”
Tancharoen: Unlike in the films, we have many hours to explore these characters over the span of many months, and if we are allowed to continue, that only grows. Our intent is to create interest in the characters, along with a desire to know more about them, then peel back the layers slowly but surely.
It’s amazing how much people hate the word slowly these days. All of our characters are spies — with the exception of Skye, who is fast becoming one – and are trained to play things close to the vest. But yes, as the season and show progresses, we’ll be uncovering more and more about our characters… as well as meeting some new ones.
Kevin G. has the other weapon acronym-based Marvel Comics organization on the mind, asking, “What about possible interaction with S.W.O.R.D.?”
Whedon: We would love this, but as of right now, it isn’t possible. Even though Joss [Whedon] created S.W.O.R.D. [during his run on “Astonishing X-Men”] and spent as much time working out the acronym as he did on the entire comic.
Another studio-bending question comes from Steve M.: “If you had the opportunity to use any one character from Marvel canon on the show, regardless of studio barriers, who would it be?”
Tancharoen: Doctor Doom.
Whedon: Or Elf With A Gun.
Tancharoen: Elf With A Gun, definitely.
This is an interesting one because based solely on the domains of the email addresses of folks who sent questions for this, the show definitely appears to have an international audience. JD L. asks, “Reportedly the show was designed to be very exportable to other, non-English-speaking countries. What effects does that have on the writing?”
Tancharoen: S.H.I.E.L.D. is a global organization, so we want to maintain an international feel. But our focus is always on making compelling and entertaining stories that transcend all boundaries! But the translations, subtitles and dubbing are out of our hands. Hopefully, they are accurate. And if not, hilarious.
Whedon: We like “Arrow.” We have friends who work on it. They’re cool. I guess. If they weren’t too afraid to play us in softball, we’d kick their asses.
Last fan question comes from Ayelet E., inquiring, “What is the craziest theory you’ve ever heard about the show?”
Tancharoen: That we have a rivalry with “Arrow.”
Whedon: Our exceptional post-producer, Chris Cheramie, is always voicing his speculations as to where the plot is going. They are deeply woven, inspired, well-thought-out theories that are hilariously wide of the mark. Keep trying, Cher-bear.
Let’s end with this — what should fans be watching out for with this week’s episode back from winter hiatus, ‘The Magical Place’?”
Whedon & Tancharoen: Answers.
“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.