Joss Whedon, the creative genius behind Marvel’s The Avengers, one of the most successful movies in history, now brings Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to ABC this September. The series brings back Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), yes he did die in The Avengers, to lead a team of highly skilled agents to investigate superhuman people and events around the world.
The pilot of the show was so guarded that they screened it at the TV Critics tour, instead of sending out DVDs or streaming it on the ABC website. After the screening Joss Whedon spoke with us about his new series.
What tweaks did you make from the film franchise to make it more acceptable for TV?
Honestly, [Marvel’s and ABC’s] biggest note after we presented the thing was they wanted to make sure that our investment in the characters, their interaction and their evolution, was as big as the case of the week, which to me is how I’ve done all of my shows. And that made me very happy.
What’s great about S.H.I.E.L.D. is we have this organization, but these guys are out there by themselves. And that’s what really makes a group bond, and that’s the sort of thing I like to write.
How important is it for the members of this team to not be superheroes? They have great fighting skills but, as far as we know, they are human.
The thing that appealed to me from the very beginning about the show is the idea of the people who don’t have the superpowers, the people who didn’t get the hammer, who didn’t get the super soldier serum.
The idea that everybody matters, that the people that get shunned to the side in a giant epic, that’s only on the screen for two hours, can take the spotlight, the underdog, the common man.
Clark [Gregg’s character] was that, an audience proxy in the movies. I think you can see that from the pilot it’s very much about that sense of, ‘What about the rest of us?
How do we cope with this?’ And so, it was important that our core team are all incredibly good at what they do, and are ridiculously attractive, but they still don’t fall under the category of super.
You don’t really explain how Agent Coulson is still alive, you just say, ‘Oh you faked your death.’
Well, we say that, and then we instantly refute it. It will be something of a drawn-out explanation over several episodes.
Can you give us any examples of upcoming stories?
It’s not going to be some new hero every week. There could be a device, there could be a mystery.
There are so many aspects to what’s happened since everybody in the world found out that there is a superhero team, and there were aliens that invaded New York.We want to be able to change it up every week.
We want to be able to deal with every aspect, the spy stuff, the hero stuff, the heartfelt stuff. We want to make sure that every week you get something that feels a little bit different.
Will J August Richards, who is great in the pilot, be coming back to the show? I was a little disappointed he wasn’t part of the team.
I can neither confirm nor deny whether he’s coming back, but I thought he was great, too. So do that math.
In your other shows, you’ve done episodes that were silent and were musicals, are you hoping to do some of that with this show?
We are not out to pull stunts. We are not out to go, ‘This will be in black-and-white.’ It’s always going to come from the show.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer lent itself to a musical because it was so hyperbolically emotional and so over-the-top in its mythos. None of my other shows really have.
But there is an element of absurdity in the Marvel universe that’s satirical and bizarre.
The fact that we’ll be able to tap into that will keep the show from feeling too self-important or dry.
We definitely want to push the boundaries and give people new stuff, but we’re not just looking for a cool angle.
It’s always going to be built from the characters and their stories.