‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: Can ‘Avengers’ magic make the jump to TV?

Henry Hanks


(CNN) — ABC is calling on a few heroes.

After the monster box office success of “Marvel’s The Avengers” and other superhero movies in the franchise, the network is hoping some of that same magic can translate to the small screen.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” co-created by “Avengers” writer/director Joss Whedon — who also directed the series premiere — is kicking off a brand new Tuesday night lineup for ABC this fall, a night which used to be anchored by the “Dancing with the Stars” results show.

Clark Gregg is back as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) Agent Coulson — one of the main links between the various Marvel movies — who is tasked with leading a new team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to handle the various strange occurrences that happen once aliens invade and a team of heroes battle them in New York City. (Think “Men in Black” or “The X-Files” with superheroes.)

Of course, Coulson’s return comes as something of a surprise because (SPOILER ALERT) he was killed by Loki in “The Avengers.”

The premiere contains an explaination of how Coulson survived — at least, the explanation as far as Coulson knows.

- Advertisement -

It’s just the first of what’s sure to be several plot twists to be part of the series, in typical Whedon fashion.

While Whedon prepares to direct “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” he brought in some trusted people to run the show day to day. You might just say he trusts them like family: his brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen (“Dollhouse,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”).

Jed Whedon, Tancharoen and, separately, Gregg spoke with CNN on the cusp of the show’s premiere.

CNN: So how much fun is it to play in the Marvel sandbox?

- Advertisement -

Tancharoen: We’ve always been fans of the Marvel universe, and we’re big fans of the Marvel movies. To be able to play in a universe with such a long history is something we’re very excited about doing.

Whedon: You have these really human emotions and predicaments amplified by superhero elements, for us it’s a perfect fit.

CNN: It seems like Coulson is darn near immortal now. How surprising was it to learn of his resurrection?

Gregg: He’s like a cockroach; you can’t kill him off.

When it came to do that “Avengers” [death] scene, it was an emotional day. I had played this part for four movies, and I loved so much what Joss had written for that. I wasn’t sad, but I found I was really emotional about it. At the end they were saying, “It’s a comic book, so [he might come back],” but I thought, “Oh they’re just being nice. Just trying to smooth my path to the next world.”

Soon after I thought,”Well, I guess I need to start dealing with this, don’t I?”

Then I get a call from [“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” executive producers] Jeph Loeb and Joss. They say “OK, you might not be so dead. Here’s what we’re thinking …”

It was such a spectacular take on why I might not be dead. And the idea of doing a TV show created by Joss — who created “Firefly” and “Buffy,” which I love — was exciting to me.

CNN: How do you best describe the show?

Whedon: The show takes place within the Marvel cinematic universe, but it’s about being a regular person living in that world.

Tancharoen: Our tag line is ‘Not all heroes are super.’ At its core, it is about being human. That human experience is amplified because these regular people are coming up against extraordinary things.

The themes that we’ve dealt with on other shows like feeling less than, and wanting to be greater. All those things we can explore and dig in even deeper because of what we come up against from week to week.

CNN: What special Whedon touches will we see?

Whedon: One of the things Joss has always done and we like to do — and a big part of the Marvel brand — is humor throughout. We think that one of the reasons the films have been successful is humor brings everyone to the table. We love that and we want our characters to be not just interesting, complicated and screwed up — but funny.

Tancharoen: We think that will marry both audiences. Marvel and ABC have distinctly different audiences and we think we can bring those audiences together with humor.

CNN: Did you set out to comment humorously on the action as it happens?

Whedon: There’s an expectation with it being a spy show — and there’s certain superhero movies that take themselves very seriously — there’s nothing better than being able to subvert that expectation and comment on it. And there’s nothing better to do that than with Clark Gregg, whose delivery is perfect and whose sense of humor is dry and calm as ever.

Tancharoen: We have a running joke in the room that we will write the worst lines for him, but he’ll pull it off and sound as classy and cool as he is.

CNN: So do you sit back and say, “Well, I guess I’m an action star now?”

Gregg: I sit in a hot tub, trying to heal my muscles, saying ‘Well I guess I’m an action star now,’ with an ice pack next to me. It’s really fun.

CNN: How do you get along with your team on the show?

Gregg: Joss has a knack for finding amazing actors who are also really joyful and fun to work with.

So you think, “Here come these young guys, let’s see what they’re like,” and if anything, they couldn’t be more down for whatever. They’re ready to jump in and see what happens. I couldn’t be more impressed with them. I think the audience will flip for them.

CNN: What were you looking for in your cast?

Whedon: We were looking for ugly faces.

Tancharoen: We wanted really ugly people.

It wasn’t a conscious thing for us to cast all new faces, honestly. We scoured the globe for these people, literally. The people we cast were the ones who nailed it and won the part basically.

Whedon: And brought something we were looking for, as well as things we didn’t know we were looking for.

CNN: The thing people remember from the trailer the most is Coulson’s vintage car,Lola.

Tancharoen: Lola’s gotten so much play!

Whedon: Lola travels with the [S.H.I.E.L.D.] plane, so Lola will be in the show. Lola is an old model, so fuel for Lola is very expensive.

Gregg: It’s not the only thing Coulson has a passion about that is a relic of super-high-tech covert ops. He’s a bit of a collector that way.

CNN: Agent Maria Hill (“How I Met Your Mother’s” Cobie Smulders) shows up in the pilot. Do you hope to work with other familiar faces from “The Avengers?”

Gregg: I am hoping to see that.

Every time I think “Boy, as a fan of Marvel, wouldn’t it be cool if they exploited the connection between these two things?,” they’ve done it.

I’d be a little disappointed if some of our friends from the comics and the movies didn’t cross-pollinate into the show, and I’ve got a feeling Marvel’s not gonna disappoint the fans in that way.

Tancharoen: We are very open to the opportunity to bring in familiar faces, but at the same time we want the show to exist on its own. We are in the same universe as all the movies, so being a part of that universe means bringing in people. If they want to come play with us, our door is wide open.

Whedon: Samuel L. Jackson has expressed an interest in doing the show, so at some point, we’re gonna call him on it.

Tancharoen: And say, “Hey, do you really wanna do this?” I think he said he wanted to be like Charlie’s voice in “Charlie’s Angels.”

CNN: Will there be season-long story arcs as we saw on shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and will they connect to the greater Marvel cinematic universe?

Whedon: We’re in contact with features at all times, and we think our job is to stay out of their way, between the films, and tee up the things they want us to tee up and deal with the fallout.

But in terms of our storytelling, we’re gonna have a lot of standalone, episodic stories.

Tancharoen: With our mythology woven through.

Whedon: We don’t want people to have to have seen every episode to be able to understand what’s happening, but we also to reward those who do watch.

CNN: What can we look forward to as the season plays out?

Gregg: There’s more to the story of how Agent Coulson lives than even Agent Coulson knows, and you can’t walk away from that secret.

Tancharoen: It’s definitely a question at the heart of the show that we’ll play out over time, and we hope the journey to the answer will be as satisfying as the answer.

Whedon: We want to earn it and spend our time with it, because we feel like there’s a lot of fun to be had there, but we won’t go so slowly that people…

Tancharoen: …Pull their hair out and curse our names on the Internet.

Whedon: Everyone knows how much time and money goes into a pilot.

Tancharoen: If they think the pilot is big…

Whedon: They will not be disappointed in the episodes that follow.