Executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have a one big challenge ahead of them. Imagine having to take a mega hit movie – that'd be The Avengers – and create a TV series based on it, and one that's going to satisfy movie and Marvel fans. ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was created by Joss Whedon, his brother Jed and Jed's wife, Maurissa, premieres tonight and it has the seemingly impossible task of living up to EVERYONE'S expectations.
“We're trying to basically exist in that world, but with people who don't have powers. That's our main objective ... to see a world filled with people with crazy powers and crazy aliens and all sorts of stuff like that, but to be with real people in that world and to see what it's like to be a team of regular humans struggling to solve these problems and keep secrets,” said Jed Whedon, who along with Tancharoen (Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) talked to us in an exclusive interview.
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in the same universe that has been established in the Marvel movies after The Avengers, said Tancharoen.
But featuring real people instead of superheroes? Really? Yes indeed, but these are humans with major skills and some nifty gadgets. So think the Batman without a suit instead of Superman when it comes to the team of agents who are tasked with protecting the world against bad guys, super or not.
In the series, Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel's feature films. He died in The Avengers, but it looks like you can't keep a good agent down. Coulson assembles a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization called S.H.I.E.L.D. Their job is to protect ordinary humans from the extraordinary.
The show opens with Coulson recruiting a computer hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet) to his team. Also on the team are Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), highly trained in combat and espionage; Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), expert pilot and martial artist; Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), brilliant engineer; and Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), genius bio-chemist.
“Our team is made up of six people who are all very uniquely skilled in their own way. But they are people. I think that's what's going to be the fun about this show. We're going to be highlighting the people who live in this world. All the movies, we focus on the superheroes and they save the day, but we want to show how our S.H.I.E.L.D. team also can save the day,” said Tancharoen. “That goes along with our tagline, which is 'Not all heroes are super.'”
While the executive producers are cagey about how Coulson comes back from the dead, he is their key everyman when it comes to the story. “He's a company man and he's definitely a regular kind of guy. There's one moment we always reference, which is in Thor when he takes the megaphone and they're saying, 'Is this one of Stark's weapons?' And he's like, 'Ah, that guy never tells me anything.' That about sums up his character. His weapon is his megaphone and he's just a guy who's seen it all. We think that's a really great starting point for us to build a team around because, A) people already know him from the movies and have grown to love him, but B) he's such a down-to-earth, grounded character that we feel we can build people around him in an organic way,” said Whedon.
“He's our window into our history of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. That was also established in The Avengers with his Captain America collectible cards. That's who he is. Like Jed said, he's a company man. He's loyal to this organization that he's been a part of. He also respects the history of it, which is the nice element to have that character to spearhead the S.H.I.E.L.D. Team,” said Tancharoen.
As far as what themes we'll see during the first season, “I think hope is a big theme of the show,” she said.
“One of the main difficulties of living in a world where there are superheroes and gods falling from the sky ...” said Whedon.
“You start to feel insignificant. I think what we really want to highlight is that people still matter,” said Tancharoen. "We're telling the story of the people whose apartment got crushed by the giant. ... Regular people band together. They can equal someone with superpowers. It's about teamwork and the human connection.”
“We feel that one of the reasons The Avengers was successful is that it had action and all that stuff, the big spectacle, but it also had heart and it had humor. We're trying to make this show a show the whole family can watch. We think each week will be surprising and we think each week it'll be rewarding,” said Whedon.
“I know why we, personally, as viewers like to go to the Marvel movies, and that's because there's the wish fulfillment there. There's the adventure, and then there's also those grounded moments between people. And then also it's really funny. Hopefully we'll be able to deliver that every week as well,” she said.
To accomplish all that for Marvel's first television series, there's an impressive group behind the scenes. “We all have our own S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Pretty great. I mean, Jed and I have had the experience of overseeing our own little projects and things like that, but this of course is on a much bigger scale. We're in such good hands having the wise and talented Jeff Bell (Firefly, Angel) by our side, as well as Jeph Loeb (Smallville, Lost, Heroes). And then, I don't know, that guy Joss, he's okay,” joked Whedon. Joss Whedon is Jed's brother and the guy that wrote the screenplay and directed The Avengers movie, not to mention Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.
“We're having a lot of fun. I think the thing Jed and I have always been drawn to is extreme storytelling. That's taking relatable, human, emotional moments and putting them in extreme circumstances. Now we're doing a show that exists within the Marvel universe, which is nothing but epic. So we can take a moment between two people and have the world coming to an end in the background and that's the fun we like to have,” she said.
“We're trying to be creative with the stories we tell. We think of it in terms that we're not being held against other shows. We're being held against the movies. One of the things that we don't have is 250 million dollars,” said Whedon. “So we have to be creative with how we show this world through a different lens, is the way we keep putting it. If there's a giant attacking the city, we won't be with the giant as much as we'll be with the people on the ground telling stories about the fallout and the survival that goes along with these huge superhero events.”
Here's an interview with Joss Whedon about the new series:
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs on ABC at 8 p.m. ET tonight.
Can the series possibly live up to your expectations?