Thursday, August 22, 2013

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Producers Discuss Series Superhero Themes

The long wait is almost over.

ABC's new Marvel Comics TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuts in just over a month on September 24th and The Huffington Post has provided some more details on what kind of show we can expect to see.  In a Q&A interview with executive producers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, we learn a few things about the series' central themes and overall story structure.  Here are some of the more notable questions and responses, including some comparisons to the classic Fox series The X-Files:

What do you see as your primary next steps, as far as deepening the world and enriching the characters? How will you make the show more and more Whedon-y, if you will?

Tancharoen: Well, I think our tagline is "Not all heroes are super," and we say it a lot, but it's about the real people living in this extraordinary universe. We're going to dive deeper into that. Our team of six, they are real people without superpowers, and they operate within this big, government-like organization; and week to week, they'll come up against these threats and challenges that are beyond what we're able to handle. Everyone has the question, "How do you make a Marvel show on television when the expectations are so high with what you've seen in the movies and stuff?" But I think when you boil down the show, at its core it's about being human, and that's something everyone can relate to.

Jed Whedon: Yeah. Initially, obviously, we need cool stuff and Marvel moments. But we really want everybody to fall in love with these people, and we think that if they do, people will show up to watch it.

The idea behind the show, to some degree, seems to be about deconstructing the superhero mystique and digging in to what that means and how that functions in the world, and also, judging from the pilot, you are interested in exploring how people react to the power and methods of S.H.I.E.L.D. Are those going to be ongoing themes in the show?

Tancharoen: Well, that is something that we're exploring. Because, yes, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s job is a lot harder now that people saw the battle of New York [in "The Avengers"]. They saw an alien portal onto our universe. They saw a huge battle in the streets of New York with aliens and a big--

Whedon: Gods.

Tancharoen: -- green monsters and a god.

Whedon: Superheroes, the cat's out of the bag.

Tancharoen: Yeah, and so there are consequences to that. People are rattled and yeah, so that's what will be explored.

Whedon: And S.H.I.E.L.D.'s job description has sort of changed. They were supposed to keep these kinds of things secret, but that ship has sailed. Now their job is more about helping people deal with this and navigating all those new questions. What happens when there are gods in the world, what happens to regular people? It's not just people wanting to be famous now, they want to be super and there are a lot of questions that come along with that alien invasion. And so that's a lot of stuff that we explore.

Will there be a Big Bad for the season? Is that something we'll see on this show: a villain having a big arc that grows, or will it be more mini-arcs or standalone episodes?

Tancharoen: I don't think we can't be too specific about that but yes, we will have --

Whedon: Recurring elements.

Tancharoen: Yes. There will be threats. How vague can we be? [laughs]

Whedon: Yeah, one of the things that, you know, we've talked about just initially getting into it is, as you start it, you want to tell these self-contained stories. It's a little bit like the "X-Files" model: You can come each week and see [that episode] and not have seen everything, but if you have, it's a richer experience. And as we move forward, those things will start to weave together more and more. But we do want to always have every episode have its own beginning, middle and end, and feel like its own [thing].

Well, "X-Files" or "Lost" would also have straight-up, hardcore mythology episodes, too. There would be, like, five monsters-of-the-week episodes and then in the sixth, it would be much more about the bigger mythology.

Tancharoen: I'd say it's similar to "X-Files."

Whedon: Yeah, we definitely don't want anybody ever to watch an episode and have to have watched all the others. That's definitely a goal of ours. But we think there's a way to do that, [similarly to] the way that they've done it with [Marvel films] where it's just a better experience if you have been keeping track. And also we're pretty sure that we will be asking enough interesting questions that people will want to hear the answers. At least that's our goal.

There's obviously a lot of cool tech in this world, but time and again, I see shows that operate in the sci-fi or supernatural realm using devices or things that allow the characters to magically resolve a situation or fix a problem. How do you make it so that the resolution of a problem doesn't amount to "and then a wizard fixed it"?

Tancharoen: We care a lot about that. Everything is derived from actual science, and you know, a big rule about Marvel is keeping things grounded, and that's something we're completely conscious of going into every story.

Whedon: We have two characters who are obsessed with it on the show. Fitz and Simmons are there in order to make it not feel like that. It's like Bond having to hang out with Q all day. Bond just uses the thing but Q is saying, "Do you understand how I designed that? Do you understand how much time and energy went into that thing?" We care about it. It also raises a question with Thor and other worlds. There are things that are not able to be explained.

Tancharoen: But in "Thor," they even said what you perceive as magic is science that you have yet to understand.

Whedon: Right. And so we will deal with two scientists facing things like a hammer that only one guy can pick up and trying to piece that together in their minds and get a grip on a world that doesn't make sense.

Will most of the threats originate from otherworldly dimensions or other planets or things like that?

Whedon: They're going to come from all over the place.

Tancharoen: Yeah, it's not just otherworldly.

Whedon: And, you know, on Earth there have been the origins of a couple superpowers in scientific experiments, either successes or experiments gone wrong. But [the threats are] going to come from all over. There's enough to deal with in a world where those things exist. You know, if a house got stepped on by a giant, it's a huge tragedy. It doesn't have to be about the giant. So while we will be tapping into all the supernatural stuff, there's plenty of human stories to be told in that world where this stuff exists.

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