Post-’Avengers’ adventures

‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’, Mar­vel’s small screen ‘Avengers’ spin-off, comes to M-Net this week

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING - LES­LEY GOLD­BERG

MAU­RISSA Tan­charoen and Jed Whe­don talk about Joss Whe­don’s fol­low-up to The Avengers and the pres­sure of writ­ing and pro­duc­ing Mar­vel’s first live ac­tion TV se­ries, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Pre­mier­ing on M- Net on Wed­nes­day at 8.30pm, it is set in the world of The Avengers and Mar­vel’s other comic book movies ( Thor, Iron Man, Cap­tain Amer­ica) but tells its own sto­ries about the agents of the se­cre­tive in­tel­li­gence or­gan­i­sa­tion that has ap­peared in count­less Mar­vel comic books since the 1960s.

The se­ries was cre­ated by ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Joss Whe­don, his brother, Jed Whe­don, and the lat­ter’s wife, Mau­rissa Tan­charoen – the trio be­hind Emmy-win­ning Dr. Hor­ri­ble’s Sing- Along Blog and Doll­house.

We spoke to Jed Whe­don and Tan­charoen to get the scoop on Agent Phil Coul­son’s (Clark Gregg) mys­te­ri­ous re­turn to life af­ter his ap­par­ent death in The Avengers, the pres­sure of work­ing with Mar­vel and more.

So much about S.H.I.E.L.D. has been kept un­der wraps. How much of that comes from Mar­vel? Whe­don: Plenty (laughs). Tan­charoen: All of it (laughs). It’s a rule when you’re wel­comed in the Mar­vel fam­ily that you have to un­der­stand that you’re go­ing to be liv­ing in a code of si­lence. There ob­vi­ously are ben­e­fits to it be­cause you have peo­ple an­tic­i­pat­ing what you’re fi­nally go­ing to come out with. It’s taken us some time to get used to it.

Has that helped or hurt the show in terms of cre­at­ing ex­pec­ta­tions?

Whe­don: We are big fans of not spoil­ing things, and we think the less peo­ple know, the more they want to know and to a cer­tain ex­tent that goes against what most net­works usu­ally do. ABC em­braces that with their S.H.I.E.L.D. logo bill­board and the sim­plic­ity (of its mar­ket­ing cam­paigns). Know­ing very lit­tle in­trigues peo­ple. We know that peo­ple will have eyes on it, so we like the se­crecy.

Tan­charoen: Be­ing Mar­vel’s first live- ac­tion tele­vi­sion show, there are al­ready so many eyes on it. And there are many, many ex­pec­ta­tions. And hav­ing the Mar­vel se­crecy adds to all that.

The se­ries has been called a pro­ce­dural with an ad­ven­tur­ous twist. How ac­cu­rate is that?

Whe­don: Some­what. This isn’t about the case of the week. It’s about our peo­ple be­ing the case of the week and we’re go­ing to take them on adventures and have cool gad­gets. We’re go­ing to have mon­sters of the week and chal­lenges, but we think it’s about our peo­ple more than the case, solv­ing the mys­tery and the clue.

Tan­charoen: The cases will have a be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end, but there will be mythol­ogy woven through­out.

Can we ex­pect vil­lain of the week?

Tan­charoen: Mar­vel is a vast and di­verse universe.

Whe­don: There are gods and aliens. So we have a lot to play with. There’s a spy as­pect of the show and S.H.I.E.L.D. is some of the most sci- fi in the Mar­vel universe be­cause it’s about gad­gets. We have a lot of dif­fer­ent things to play with. It will be a mix­ture of both… some of it will be mythol­ogy and some will stand alone.

The pi­lot episode sets up the story about Level 7 clear­ance and bring­ing Coul­son back. What kind of bal­ance will we have in terms of set­ting up that cen­tral story?

Whe­don: We’re go­ing to try to tease it out slowly enough to make it thrilling and not drive peo­ple crazy. A lot of shows will keep hav­ing a hatch within a hatch or keep ask­ing ques­tions with­out giv­ing an­swers or pay- offs. We’re def­i­nitely fo­cused on pay­ing off any­thing we bring up and mak­ing it as re­ward­ing as pos­si­ble.

Tan­charoen: I like to look at Coul­son’s jour­ney to the an­swer as a sort of ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis with a Mar­vel twist.

Is there any­thing that fans should be read­ing or watch­ing from the Mar­vel universe?

Tan­charoen: We’re hop­ing that the gen­eral au­di­ence, those who haven’t seen the Mar­vel movies,

Smal­lville will be able to come to the show and en­joy it as much as Mar­vel fans will en­joy it. If you are a Mar­vel fan and you’ve seen all the movies and have read all the comics, then it will be all that more of an ad­ven­ture for you. (It helps) if you’ve seen all the movies – es­pe­cially The Avengers – be­cause we take place on the heels of the bat­tle of New York, so the world is a dif­fer­ent place; peo­ple are rat­tled be­cause they know there are aliens and su­per­heroes. That’s a huge part of our show. The team of our reg­u­lar peo­ple are go­ing to help the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion cope and push through this new sort of way of life and their new view of the world.

What kind of rules ex­ist in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe?

Tan­charoen: We can’t ever say “mu­tant”.

Whe­don: There’s a data­base that’s tai­lored to our show with the prop­er­ties we can use as well as the prop­er­ties that are owned by other stu­dios and things that are flagged for ma­jor fran­chises. There are cer­tain ar­eas we can’t go be­cause we don’t want to step on the toes of the movies. We’ve had free rein. There are cer­tain rules in terms of the Mar­vel brand. Mar­vel is very fo­cused on be­ing grounded – and it is our world with the one twist that they’re su­per­heroes.

There’s no Me­trop­o­lis, there’s no Gotham. It’s New York City and Chicago, and in the cin­e­matic universe the process of pow­ers is pretty young. They say it’s only been a cou­ple of years since Iron Man in terms of our time­line in the universe.

So the idea in our world that pow­ers ex­ist is new to the pop­u­la­tion and S.H.I.E.L.D.’ s job de­scrip­tion. It used to be keep­ing those things se­cret and that has now changed, so we’re deal­ing with some of that.

ABC’s Paul Lee has said re­peat­edly that this show ap­peals to fam­i­lies. How are you mak­ing this se­ries ac­ces­si­ble for non-comic fans?

Whe­don: We have plenty of “Mar­vel cool” for the 14-year-old and the emo­tion for his mom. But we re­ally be­lieve the hu­mour is what makes the Mar­vel movies so suc­cess­ful. We’ve talked many times about the end of The Avengers and there’s 20 min­utes of ac­tion. But when you walk away, you re­mem­ber The Hulk punch­ing Thor out of frame, the Hulk beat­ing up Loki, the team com­ing to­gether and Hawk­eye call­ing out moves to Iron Man. You re­mem­ber those hu­mor­ous mo­ments, so we think the hu­mour is the cen­tre for ev­ery­thing to rally around.

Tan­charoen: That’s a huge rea­son as to why all of Joss’s shows have been suc­cess­ful and why ev­ery­one re­sponded to them. You have th­ese very strong and poignant mo­ments and then they’re al­ways un­der­cut by the hu­mour. There’s al­ways levity.

Co­bie Smul­ders reprises her role in the pi­lot. Why was it im­por­tant to bring some­one else from The Avengers in so early on?

Whe­don: We’re bring­ing back Coul­son (Clark Gregg) and there’s a ques­tion mark as to how that hap­pened. We don’t want peo­ple to feel like we dis­re­garded The Avengers. We thought it was im­por­tant for his char­ac­ter to show that this isn’t some spin-off.

This ex­ists in the world and he’s the same guy. Plus we like Co­bie (laughs).

Tan­charoen: Hav­ing char­ac­ters like agent Maria Hill (Smul­ders’s char­ac­ter) le­git­imises his re­turn, as well as the show, right from the top. This isn’t some spinoff. We’re tak­ing this se­ri­ously. We’re pay­ing re­spects to what did hap­pen in pre­vi­ous movies and we’re not dis­re­gard­ing any of that. This is a new story we’re telling from that point on­ward.

What’s the script process like? At what point does Joss weigh in?

Tan­charoen: Al­though he’s not here on a day-to-day ba­sis, his pres­ence is al­ways felt. He sees ev­ery story, he sees ev­ery script and he weighs in on ev­ery­thing. So we are in con­stant con­tact with him, thanks to the in­ter­net (laughs).

Is there one piece of ad­vice Joss has given you about showrun­ning?

Whe­don: The main thing for him is that we build the story from the emo­tion first. He will not re­spond to the story if we pitch him the moves. He wants to know what the char­ac­ters are go­ing through and what they’re feel­ing. If we build it from that, we’re in a good place. Mak­ing sure that we’re putting them through their cases and mak­ing it re­al­is­tic with how they’re re­act­ing. The char­ac­ter is way more im­por­tant to him than the other stuff, so those are our march­ing or­ders.

Tan­charoen: The tagline “Not all he­roes are su­per” is some­thing he came up with on a car ride to a meet­ing we had with ABC.

That is the heart of the show. It is about the lit­tle guy. It is about the per­son who doesn’t feel spe­cial be­cause the guy stand­ing next to him is able to punch holes in a build­ing.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

IN­TEL­LI­GENCE: The cast of – Ming-Na Wen as Melinda May, El­iz­a­beth Hen­stridge as Jemma Sim­mons, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Brett Dal­ton as Grant Ward, Chloe Ben­net as Skye and Clark Gregg as Phil Coul­son.

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