The 2013 pilot season is in full swing, which means the networks are busy making a bunch of shows that will never see the warm glowing light of our television screens, and a tiny handful that will. At this stage, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for any one project when the only information we have available to us are loglines. However, it becomes significantly less hard when a logline includes the name “Joss Whedon” alongside the phrase “Avengers TV spin-off.”
ABC’s S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot just started filming last week, but the buzz surrounding the pilot has been growing since the moment it was announced that it was in development way back in August. Generally, getting excited for a pilot that hasn’t even officially been picked up as a series yet is a recipe for heartache, but in the case of S.H.I.E.L.D., not being excited isn’t an option. Here’s why:
THE PREMISE: S.H.I.E.L.D. will focus on members of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, the agency headed by Nick Fury in the Marvel cinematic universe, which encompasses the Iron Man franchise, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and, of course, The Avengers. If it goes to series, S.H.I.E.L.D. will exist within the Marvel universe, taking place post-Avengers. That doesn’t mean Bruce Banner and Loki are going to be stopping by the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters each week though.
S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t be a story about superheroes, it’s going to be a story about the normal people who live and work in a universe overflowing with superheroes. This is a premise that has the potential to be far more interesting than a series focusing on any singular hero. As much fun as superhero movies are, they can only do so much, both because they’re working with established characters that fans feel very protective over and because they’re movies, which is a nice way of saying, short. By focusing on new characters who are underdogs from the offset, S.H.I.E.L.D. has the opportunity to both introduce new fans to the rich Marvel universe and to explore it in a way that has never been done before.
THE WHEDON FACTOR: With one superhero movie extravaganza Joss Whedon went from being the beloved creator of cult series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, to the most in-demand director on the planet, but it’s not his higher profile that makes his latest venture a must-see for television fans, it’s his pedigree. Whedon has quietly been delivering densely emotional and creative fantasy and sci-fi television for nearly two decades now. Any show with his name attached to it is one worth paying attention to. Given his busy schedule, Whedon won’t be as hands-on with S.H.I.E.L.D. as he was with his previous projects (although he is writing and directing the pilot and already working on additional scripts), but luckily for us the Whedon factor extends beyond Joss these days.
The day-to-day operations of the series will be in the hands of Joss’s younger brother Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. The married duo co-wrote the web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with Joss, and worked together on Starz’s Spartacus series, but it’s their work on Dollhouse that makes their involvement in S.H.I.E.L.D. particularly exciting. Dollhouse focused on a nefarious organization in the business of lending out people for the use of the extremely wealthy, carrying on the grand Whedon tradition of being suspicious of large corporate and/or governmental agencies, and Whedon and Tancharoen were responsible for many of Dollhouse‘s best episodes. There is a good chance that they will explore similar themes in S.H.I.E.L.D. since the agents work within the confines of a bureaucracy and we’ve already seen several of the heroes question S.H.I.E.L.D.’s tactics on the big screen.
THE MARVEL FACTOR: While the major superheroes will be remaining in their own sandboxes, that doesn’t mean the larger Marvel universe won’t be utilized. Disney (ABC’s parent company) is eager to put the Marvel back catalog to work in a manner similar to the way they utilize their own bench of fairy tale characters to populate Once Upon A Time. While this won’t mean much to those of us who only have a cursory knowledge of the expansive Marvel universe, this is the aspect of the potential series that is most exciting for comic book fans.
It’s good news for Marvel movie fans as well. How I Met Your Mother star Colbie Smulders recently stated that she could potentially reprise her Avengers‘ role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill at some point, and Clark Gregg’s lovable Agent Coulson is the series’ lead. This level of synergy is impressive whether you follow every corner of the Marvelverse or not.
THE CAST: Finally, we have the cast. Headlined by Marvel movieverse stalwart Gregg, Whedon and company have assembled an impressive bench. In addition to Gregg, Ming-Na Wen (E.R.) is on tap as Agent Melinda May, a weapons expert, Iain De Caestecker (The Fades) and Elizabeth Henstridge will play a pair of bright, young scientist/engineer types, Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln) will play the highly competent, but antisocial Agent Ward, and Chloe Bennet (Nashville) will round out the cast as Skye.
While longtime Whedon fans were hopeful the cast would be stocked with the usual Whedonverse suspects (you know they’ll start popping up eventually), the assembled cast is a nice mix of veteran actors and sure-to-be talented newcomers. Most tellingly, it’s a cast where the female to male ratio is a 50/50 split, giving S.H.I.E.L.D. an edge over the male-centric world of the movies.
Now that I’ve shared the reasons why I think you should be excited about the pilot, I’d love to hear from you. Are you following every tidbit of S.H.I.E.L.D. news? Are you apprehensive or indifferent about the project? Share your thoughts below.
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