The 8 Ball 08.27.13: Top 8 Steps To Success For Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.27.2013
From finding the right pace to reveal the secret of Coulson's survival and balancing out major guest appearances to keeping the show in synch with the films and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 steps that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to take to become a success!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Steps to Success
The summer movie season is officially over and we've entered the dead month of September, when there isn't much to hit the cinemas worth looking at (with a couple exceptions) before October brings out the horror fun. The good news is that as the summer movie season fades away, it leaves the fall TV season in its wake! September is the month when all the networks premiere their new shows for the upcoming season alongside the latest season of shows for many cable networks. For the next month or so we'll be focusing on the fall season and some of the biggest shows making their returns or premieres.
And we'll be starting with a big one. As anyone who's been paying attention to the comic book-related movie and TV world is well-aware, Marvel is expanding their blockbuster Cinematic Universe to the small screen this season with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The series, which will look at the espionage/law enforcement organization that polices the messes left in the wake of the superhero phenomenon, premieres on September 24th at 9 PM on ABC. It's hard to believe that it's only been a little under three years since the last show Joss Whedon was involved with fell off the air for good in Dollhouse, but it has been. Whedon is famous among geeks of course for his abuse at the hands of broadcast networks, whether it's the legendary screwing FOX gave Firefly, the WB cancelling Angel despite it being the highest-rated show on the network, UPN selling Buffy down the river for the last two seasons or Dollhouse's shortened run. This gives us fanboys reason to fear whenever Whedon goes back to television; we've been burned so many times. Still, this is Marvel and it's a spin-off of a billion-dollar movie and several other hundreds-of-million dollar movies; it can't fail, right? ...right?
Okay, the truth is that I don't see how it likely will, but it absolutely could. So this week, I thought we'd take a look at what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to do in order to be a success and not crash and burn.
Caveat: No real caveats this week; the criteria was simple. What does this show need to not only avoid the Firefly/Dollhouse fate, but to resonate with fans and connect with audiences to make it a success on all fronts? This is a little different from my usual 8-Ball as it's not just a list of pre-defined movies, characters, episodes, et cetera. As such, we're going without honorable mentions for a week.
#8: Keep Cameos and Guest Appearances Appropriate
Admit it, Marvel fanboys...the second you heard that ABC had greenlit a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, you were thinking about what Marvel characters could be thrown in. Hell, the second you heard that a S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series was even a remote possibility you were thinking about it. I know that I was. I had visions of Miss Marvel, Mockingbird, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Norman Osborn, G.W. Bridge and many others...not to mention cameos from the movie cast. It's a Marvel fan's wet dream. That being said, it's important for the showrunners to use restraint here. There's a balance that needs to be struck here; we want to see some of these characters played in the series, but if you keep throwing these people out en masse than you have two problems. First, it turns the regular cast members into also-rans and we're not invested in them; we're instead just looking ahead to who will be the next big comic book appearance or movie star to show up. Second, it spoils these characters that may fit into Marvel's plans for its cinematic universe. Now again, that's not to say we shouldn't see these characters when it's appropriate. But Marvel and the writers need to remember to insert them when it fits the story, as opposed to just using them as ratings ploys. That will just come back to bite them in the ass.
#7: Mellow Out on the Whedonisms
Listen, I'm a pretty hardcore Whedonite. There isn't a thing that Joss Whedon hasn't had full control over (yes, I'm not including Alien Resurrection in that list because his vision was compromised) that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed. That even includes the relatively-lesser Dollhouse. So it stands to reason that I'm about as much of a die-hard fan as there can be. But that being said, I would love to see the Whedonisms toned down a bit for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I'm not saying that he needs to neuter himself on this; far from it. There are things that Whedon does very well that should play brilliantly into this show; he can balance ensemble casts well; he's great at keeping the appropriate amounts of humor, action and drama and he does metaplot very well, along with deep characters that you really care about. However, we need to keep in mind that while this will be executive produced by Whedon and he wrote and directed the pilot, it's not a Whedon original. (Also, he's busy with Avengers: Age of Ultron and isn't actually showrunner.) This means that all the little things we've come to expect from a Whedon show have to merge with that of a Marvel show. And that's good; we shouldn't be getting a lot of Whedonspeak, characters dying at any given moment, romantic relationships that are doomed and such. Scoff if you want but there's reasons to be vaguely concerned about this, especially if you look at the "eyes of the audience" character in Skye, she's a "superhero culture"-obsessed hacker who is brought into S.H.I.E.L.D. and is described as "warm, edgy and witty." Now, I am actually not apprehensive about this character but we could easily get a lot of the Buffy snark from her, and that wouldn't necessarily fit in a Marvel world unless done right. I'm not saying the Whedon trademarks should be rubbed out, but they need to make sure not to go overboard with them.
#6: Don't Ignore the Marvel Movies
This is an important one, and it's pretty simple: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the events in that universe impact each other. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in part a response to the emergence of superheroes and in the Marvel films there are some pretty big world-shaking moments. It is important that Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen (who will be the primary showrunners) keep abreast of the events of Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the other Marvel films in order to know how to incorporate them into the TV series in certain ways. While this is not too much of a concern of mine in terms of whether it will happen (certain events in the MCU are referenced in the premiere episode), it is something that is incredibly important because without that shared universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. loses some of its impact. The point of the show is to show the little guys who aren't superheroes being heroic in this brave new world and if we don't hear about the Battle of New York then they have less opportunity to be heroic. And more to the point, it makes the show a more interesting one. However that being said, there is another part of this which is...
#5: Don't Become Too Beholden to the Marvel Movies Either
Look, not everyone who watches TV goes and sees movies. Believe it or not, there are people out there who are interested in seeing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who have not seen any of the Marvel movies yet. (I know; I've spoken to them.) And if you make an effort to cram every minute with inside reference and jokes referring to the films then you're going to very quickly lose that audience. What's more, this sort of goes back to #8. We know that Cap, Widow and Hawkeye are all technically S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in one manner or another, but we're not looking at every single person within the organization. We don't need to make constant references to explain why those three--or Nick Fury or Maria Hill--aren't around. And not every moment in the films needs to be referenced, either. Just because Thor and Jane Foster are going to be doing battle in Asgard in the second Thor doesn't mean that S.H.I.E.L.D. knows that and we don't need to know about it. There is a legitimate concern to be had if Marvel feels the need to use the series as a promotion point for the films. That balance between over-reliant on the movies and under-reliant could be a tough one to strike, but I think they're up to the task.
#4: Make It Look Like it Fits In the Marvel Cinematic Universe
I don't think anyone expects Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be a $200 million production, even spread out over a season. This is a broadcast network show that doesn't need to do film-level battles or a preponderance of CGI. And I am 100% sure that ABC is putting enough money into it so that it doesn't look like Big Bang Theory character home movies. But the important thing is that the film must not only look good, it has to look authentic to what we've seen before. I don't care if we get weekly shots of the Helicarrier (spoiler alert: we won't) or if it's just the S.H.I.E.L.D. team spending the entire episode in a single room (second spoiler alert: it won't be that either). The important thing is whether it feels like that room or that Helicarrier is being used in a way that belongs in the universe. The narrative through-line to the films is important, but a similarity of look is just as important. The precedents established in the film series have to be held to, and any precedents established in the series should be held up to in future films. If that fails to happen then you have a disjointing feel that makes it seem as if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't actually exist in the same world, and that will hurt the show's credibility.
#3: Balance Metaplot and Standalone Episodes
This is honestly the aspect I am least worried about, because both Whedons and Tancharoen have shown many a time that they have not only an ability to work with both metaplot and single-shot episodes, but that they can find writers that do the same. That being said, its importance can't be overstated. Many a serial drama has been sunk because they've been so focused on the overreaching story arc that people who came in late were completely lost; similarly, many procedural shows have failed to click with fanboys because of the inability to hook them in and keep them tuning in week by week. There has to be a balance between the two and S.H.I.E.L.D. is set up very well to provide that balance. The metaplot has already been teased online and in teasers, with the "Rising Tide" taking an interest in the organization and one other big secret (we'll get to that in a minute). But at the same time the show has procedural elements as they investigate reports of superheroes, alien technology and other fallout from the Battle of New York and other events. If the trio can balance those elements--and I believe they can--it will be smooth sailing.
#2: Find the Right Pace To Resolve Coulson's Secret
This is a metaplot important enough to deserve its own ranking. The return of Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is the single-most talked about and anticipated development in the series that we know of. It's been that way since it was announced that Gregg, whose character was of course killed in The Avengers, would be a regular cast member on the show. There are worlds of speculations on how he is up and walking; Fury lied, or he's a Life Model Decoy, or perhaps he's the Vision or a clone. He could be a shapechanger who just looks like Coulson or any number of possibilities. What is important is that they neither answer the question too soon nor take too long. We know for sure that it will at least play out through the first season and that seems like a good time period; it will keep us wondering and the showrunners will surely drop hints here and there to make us wonder even more. But if they answer it too quickly it will lose its impact and if they wait too long they'll make viewers give up. We all want to know what happened to Coulson and finding the right period of time to answer it is a key to the show.
#1: Establish the Marvel World in a Way The Movies Can't
This is #1 for me, and it is the show's greatest opportunity to build an audience beyond just those fans of the movie. Because let's face it; in a two to two-and-a-half hour movie, you can only show so much of the world that surrounds our heroes. There's a plot to get to and an economy of time that needs to be had. However, with a show that is running twenty-two or more forty-minute episodes (after commercials are cut) over a season, you have the opportunity to show so much more. I'm not just talking about comic book characters and the events of the films; I'm talking about the Marvel world as we are supposed to know it. We can see Marvel's New York and what the people in this superhero-laden universe are like. It's something that will build a larger framework not only for the films but for the show itself, and as the audience gets more immersed in the world they will get more invested in the series. We want to see the technology of the Marvel universe; the Life Model Decoys and the alien tech and all that cool stuff, but also the humanity at the core of Marvel's world. If the show can pull this off, I see six seasons and...well, we already have several movies, but you get my point.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Thirteen (1975) Episodes Watched: 621 Last Serial Completed:The Android Invasion - The Doctor and Sarah find themselves in the English village of Devesham near a Space Defence Station. The village seems deserted, the telephones don't work, calendars are stuck on the same date and white-suited figures are wandering about aimlessly. Who are the Kraals and what are their plans for Earth? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.