Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might just be the biggest show of the upcoming television season. It's a spinoff of the third-highest grossing movie of all time, a big-screen-to-small-screen corporate bet by Disney and ABC as networks scramble to find innovative, impact storytelling. And for Marvel's TV domination to work in the first place, Joss Whedon had to resurrect the dead. But don't worry about that, the director says.
At a Q&A on Thursday night, the Avengers auteur/S.H.I.E.L.D creator/geek favorite explained his decision to center his latest TV series around Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson, a character who seemed to have died in The Avengers. "Honestly, we just didn't want to do it without him," Whedon said following a screening of his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The question then became, "could we do it honestly?" Whedon said. "I believe you will find that we did."
ABC is banking a lot on S.H.I.E.L.D., which the network debuted as the finale of their upfront presentation earlier this month. But the audience question about Coulson was borne out of some concern for the sanctity of Whedon's work. Whedon is known for killing off characters that fans have grown attached to. (R.I.P. Jenny Calendar.) Although he did bring Buffy back from the dead. Twice.
Whedon's comments on Coulson mirror what Clark Gregg, the actor who plays him and stars as Leonato in Much Ado, told LA Weekly recently: "When they called, I said, 'We can't base the show on a cheat,'" he said. "Joss walked me through what he was thinking, and I thought, 'Wow. Wow. OK. That works for me.'" (If you're curious about more details on the resurrection, /FILM has spoilers.) At the BAM Q&A, Whedon insisted that Cregg is the "human face of the Marvel universe." And S.H.I.E.L.D., Whedon explained, is all about "being ordinary." Though he added that the "ordinary" people in the show also happen to be "geniuses" and "surprisingly attractive." It is TV, after all.
Following the screening, Choire Sicha of the Awl asked Whedon about the honorary degree he had just received at Wesleyan, and someone yelled: "Is your Ph.D. in horribleness?" (It's a Dr. Horrible reference, obviously.) Questions ran the gamut of Whedon's projects—from his idea for a ballet set in a library to his more commercial work for Marvel.
So people who are afraid of retcons should perhaps take a breath and trust in Whedon. We'd add that he also seems to realize that the show's overly long title—Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—is a bit awkward, subtly making fun of it by rambling on at moments with an even longer title, adding a Disney here and "the early years" there. Early on in the show's buzz cycle, though, it seems Marvel's new undead problem is a non-issue.