Along with reviewing their mission parameters from their first season in the field as showrunners of Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen continue to declassify certain secrets of the espionage agency’s new incarnation, little by little.
In an exclusive conversation with Comic Book Resources to mark the ABC TV show’s home video debut yesterday, the married showrunners get candid about “AoS'” first season shakedown cruise as the series found its specific form of Marvel mojo during its initial 22-episode run, ironing out the kinks and always including the quips along the way. They also offer some tantalizing data from the dossier for Season Two, including getting their creative mitts on Marvel fan-favorite Mockingbird, additional new faces in Agent Coulson’s world and even their desire to find some story link to the universe-within-a-universe provided by “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
CBR News: Now that Season One is ready for everybody to dig into en masse, what has you excited for the fans of the show being able to watch with a closer eye to see all of the little dots they had to connect throughout the run?
Jed Whedon: Well, that’s a good way of putting it. We had a pretty major reveal in the middle of our season, so we think we’ll have fun going back over and seeing how we laid those things out and how we’ve planted those seeds early. And hopefully, they’ll enjoy watching all of them again.
Maurissa Tancharoen: I think it will be nice to sit down and watch things the entire season. I mean, I’d like to try to do 22 hours in one swoop!
Every first season for every show is sort of a shakedown period where you discover things about how the show’s ultimately going to work along the way. What were the cool discoveries from the conception of Season One through to the execution?
Whedon: You’re right that there’s a certain amount of learning curve in terms of what you can pull off. We were trying to do a big show, a big Marvel property, on a TV timeline and budget, so in terms of how to make the shows — that was a huge learning curve, but I feel like we settled into that nicely. But the actors, they really inform the characters, and we had a sneaking suspicion about a bunch of them. We were proven right in most cases: the FitzSimmons dynamic, which we were really hoping would pop, did, and we were really delighted with just how their relationship developed. And with Agent May, our goal was to make her cool by not giving her a lot to say and playing it mostly in looks and Ming[-Na Wen] did a great job at that and really projected strength so we can lean in and write to her character that way. And then one of the big ones in terms of growth was Brett Dalton’s turn as Ward. We had a lot banking on that working and seeing one of our characters turn as a personal price to something that in a film was a massive — buildings collapsing and helicarriers crashing into the water — and in our show, it had to be a personal betrayal, so we had a lot riding on that and were thrilled with how he portrayed it and the fan reaction. It’s not always that you set out with a group of people and at the end of the year it kind of played out the way you wanted and everybody still likes each other. We’re very fortunate to have both those things happen.
What lessons from Season One are you carrying into Season Two?
Tancharoen: Creatively, we’re on the same path that we were on from the outset. Of course, being last season, it was the first season show learning curve and we had a few bumps in the road. And I do believe we got to a nice sort of happy place between story and the Marvel factor. And also just the way the season progressed and the things that we revealed creatively was right on track, right aligned with what we had planned. So now, diving into Season Two, which we very much had in our minds as we were creating Season One, we’re diving into a new paradigm, just as far as the way the world perceives S.H.I.E.L.D. and how we have to operate and how Coulson has to rebuild it. And of course, just as far as just having a philosophy or a mode in which we approach a story, there’s always moments of levity. There’s always humor, so that no matter how dire the situation is for our team as we begin the season, you can still rely on those moments of humor to be there.
Whedon: In terms of a learning curve, one of the things was keeping that levity. We tried at the end. We had a lot of dire things happening and a lot of urgency and a lot of momentum. We were curious about how to balance sort of the humor and the lightness with the dire things that were happening. And finding that balance is one of the things that we’re proud of in the back half of the season. We’re definitely trying to continue that in the early part of the second season, keeping that momentum and keeping a sort of a wry look at things while things are dire.
You’ve added a number of new characters to the roster for Season Two since we last spoke. Can you tease some of plans and intentions for some of them? For example, we’ve of course heard about Adrianne Palicki playing Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird. What do you want to say about that character and that actress at this stage?
Tancharoen: Well, we’re very excited to have the beloved character, Mockingbird, on the show. Adrianne Palicki was a perfect fit for the role. She was someone we pictured from the beginning. It’s thrilling to have a nice, sort of skilled, sexy spy in the mix. And I think with the handful of characters that we have added to the show, it’s just to illustrate what the new S.H.I.E.L.D. may look like. Coulson is operating with limited resources, so he has to bring people into the fold. So it may feel like we’re expanding a lot, but really, the people that you will see are basically the people we have at our disposal.
Whedon: We used to be a ragtag group in a huge machine that was churning. Then, they were agents who had support. Now, that we have less, we sort of see all of them. So while our cast is getting bigger, it’s actually because S.H.I.E.L.D. is getting smaller, we’re using every resource we can.
A character like Mockingbird — similar to Deathlok last season — is also a significant marquee character that you guys have been able to get your hands on. Tell me what got you excited about playing with a character that could have easily gone to the cinematic side of the universe?
Whedon: Well, obviously, we all exist in one universe, and if we didn’t, we could have any character we wanted. We could kill them and do what we wanted with them. It is nice that we’re all in one universe, so when we get something, it does have weight. It does exist in the Cinematic Universe and we’re in constant communication with features, and there’s a database of what they’re using, what they plan to use, what we can and can’t use. We just try to carve out our little spot, and Mockingbird’s a good example of someone who we can really lean on as a major character.
Tancharoen: Right. And in the Marvel Universe everything is fluid. The show was basically born out of what has been already established in the Cinematic Universe, so as much as we have benefitted from having characters that you’ve seen in the film[s] appear on our show, there is always a possibility for the reverse. So we do think that all our characters have potential to crossover at some point and there’s always that possibility, and Mockingbird is a nice, exciting new character for us to have that does have crossover potential.
Tell me about the fun of being part of that bigger Marvel “War Room.” You pulled off such a neat trick with dealing with the repercussions of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Is that kind of storytelling still in play as Season Two comes along?
Tancharoen: Absolutely. I mean, that’s what it means to be in the Marvel family. They’re very much about us all being connected. So we’re in constant contact with features, and they know what we’re doing, and we know what they’re doing. We can’t say much about that, but it’s safe to say it’s always respected.
Whedon: We’re hoping that they won’t release another movie that destroys the organization that our show’s based on.
Tancharoen: Yeah [Laughs], that destroys the title of our show.
Whedon: We don’t anticipate that happening again, so we’re good.
Further afield, everybody got so excited about “Guardians of the Galaxy” this summer. Have you said, “Is there a way that we can play with things that film gave us?”
Whedon: It is very far removed. I think, of course, it’s all connected, and we want to play with it, but I think if we were to, it would be in more of an Easter egg fashion at this point. It’s literally a different universe within our universe.
Tancharoen: We also believe that there’s always a way.
Whedon: Yes, yeah.
Another recently announced name you guys will be working with is Henry Simmons. Can you talk a little bit about what Henry’s going to be doing on the show?
Whedon: He’s another new face. He’s going to show sort of the — one of the things that we’re doing is that now that all of S.H.I.E.L.D. is sort of under one roof, you see parts of it that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen last season. And he represents that. He’s a mechanic. He’s sort of the hands-on, blue-collar aspect of S.H.I.E.L.D. that we didn’t get to see much of last year.
And you’ve got some known names from the villainous side — Kraken and the Absorbing Man. Tell me what you’ve got in mind for your bad guys in Season Two.
Whedon: We will not! We will not tell you a thing! Yes, we have some very fun characters to play with, and as you said, some known actors filling those roles. So we’re thrilled with what we’ve been able to pull off so far, and with the footage coming in, we think the audience will be pleased.
Tancharoen: Either way, I think everyone saw that towards the end of the last season, we were very much living in a serialized version of the show, or just we were diving into serialized aspects of it. And Season Two will be starting with from that point and answering a lot of questions that we queued up through the season and at the end of Season One.
Do you have more resources in Season Two on a production level? Are there things that you got to scratch the surface of production wise in season one that you can kind of go whole hog with in Season Two?
Whedon: We learned a lot of lessons. A TV show is such a big machine, it takes a while to get all the parts in place and well. And we’re there now.
Tancharoen: Granted, we’re all aware of the limitations of a TV schedule and budget, but I do think we found a really nice sort of balance of everything and a system to adhere to when it came to how we basically produced all these episodes, and we’re very much going into the season with that formula in mind and maybe even attempt to do more.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season 2 premieres September 23 on ABC.