ABC and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD premieres tonight, and with it will draw (hopefully) a lot of curious eyes in the direction of the show that are looking to see how the creative team tackles decades of comic book (and movie) canon. SHIELD executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have been making the usual rounds promoting the show, and some of what they've been saying has drawn our eye. Specifically, how SHIELD 's tackling the challenges of sci-fi and making a world full of gods and superheroes relatable.
Asked by The Hollywood Reporter the most valuable lesson the pair pulled from their time on Dollhouse — which they had a big hand in as Dollhouse, SHIELD, and Avengers executive producer (and Jed's older brother) Joss Whedon became more and more busy — the younger Whedon pretty much hit right at the core of what elements are needed to make a sci-fi TV show work:
In terms of story, the main thing we're finding in everything we work on is that if you build a story from a place of emotion and character, it doesn't matter how much cool you have or don't have that will keep people engaged and make it rewarding to watch.
And that's it, isn't it? A show can be as flashy at it can get, but when you're dealing with a TV-sized budget (as opposed to, say, the gazillion-dollar a Marvel feature film gets), what's gonna keep an audience watching isn't how smoothly the CGI'd giant robot fits into the background, it's the characters charging towards the robot with little to no forethought. Just ask the first few seasons of the Doctor Who reboot.
The elder Whedon has employed such a philosophy throughout pretty much every sci-fi or fantasy thing he's had his hand in for the past decade: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Firefly, etc. All featured big glorious sci-fi moments, true, but they were grounded (like most good sci-fi that comes to mind) in its core characters and their humanity.
Tancharoen expanded on this thought and its relation to the Marvel universe in an interview with TV Guide:
So if you boil everything down, you strip away the extraordinary, you strip away all the cool gadgets and the Marvel twists and things, at its core, it's about being human, and that's something everyone can relate to. That experience is amplified by the fact that there are all these extraordinary things going on. There's gods, there's monsters, there are superheroes and how does that make the human experience feel?
According to Whedon, that's what's so special about Marvel in the first place:
One of the things we like about the Marvel brand in general and the thing that appeals to a lot of people in the films is the human side of it and most importantly the humor. This is a show about real world people dealing with an unreal world and that's really important to the Marvel brand.
It's yet to be seen how Agents of SHIELD will perform with tonight's premiere, but it was at the very least voted the best new show of the fall season by the Television Critics Association. Given the excitement that seems to be the constant atmosphere around Marvel — not to mention the Whedon family — we kind of think they don't have much to worry about when it comes to tonight's ratings.