S.H.I.E.L.D. EXCLUSIVE Interview with Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen
When Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returned to ABC on March 4 following a one-month break in fresh episodes, it seemed to be a different show. The pace, the storytelling, the action, the characterizations — everything just felt as though it had come together in a way that it hadn't before. Plus we were finally getting a taste of what Marvel is best at: superheroes, first with Deathlok and, tonight, with the arrival of Lady Sif. So what exactly happened? That's what we attempt to get to the bottom of with executive producers and co-creators Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon in this exclusive interview.
If you haven't been watching or gave up on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's worth giving the show another shot as there has been a major creative shift in gears. That's the subject of this exclusive interview with executive producers Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: It just feels as though a light switch was thrown on the show as things just feel changed up. Was this a conscious decision to up the ante or a natural evolution of the series?
MAURISSA: I would say it’s a natural progression. We’ve had a game plan from the very beginning. We have 22 episodes and there are some folks that feel that we have rolled things out a little too slowly, but we had planted seeds. The standalone episodes all had little bits and pieces of mythology layered within them. Now that we’ve reached the back half of the season, we’re able to start to pay off all the groundwork that we’ve laid. You will feel that with pace, and it’s just natural progression of how the storytelling is thrust. The emotional consequences of that lays out in our characters.
VFK: Finding your legs with the characters and with the show, in your minds what has sort of been the change from where you started to where you are? What has the learning curve been?
JED: With any new show, you sort of just dive in and learn to swim. We’ve made little adjustments along the way as episodes come in and we see what’s working and what’s not in terms of shooting style, or how we want to approach music, how certain characters are responding to each other, and chemistry between the actors and that sort of thing. Any show will improve as they move forward. We’re also in a position now where we had to be very careful early on in terms of how we introduced characters into this Marvel universe. It’s a cinematic universe they spend a lot of time and a lot of money creating that we’re playing in. When our show started, there were really only two human beings with powers…
MAURISSA: That were established in the Marvel cinematic universe.
JED: Right, which were Hulk and Cap. We had to be very respectful of those films and not just have someone every week with a new power, which would sort of undercut the films and the importance of them. We were trying early on to respect that by slowly dipping our toes into the world of powers and having more gadgets early on, meeting characters and fleshing out the world slowly to be responsible storytellers in terms of the cinematic universe. Now that we’re in this back half of episodes, it’s easier to ramp things up and have that forward momentum. Things are really starting to hum in terms of us knowing the actors, the characters and the storylines.
MAURISSA: There were many firsts going into this endeavor. It was Marvel’s first live-action television series, it was Marvel and ABC’s first collaboration and with a first season show we’re inevitably going to face some challenges and have some growing pains. I think at the very beginning we were very conscious that not only would we be bringing a Marvel audience to our show, we would be working with the existing ABC audience. So we were very mindful of creating a team of characters that are human, that are relatable, something to ease the ABC audience nto this world of Marvel that they may not have been exposed to before. To Jed’s point, now that we’re at episode thirteen we’re introducing people like Deathlock, Lady Sif. Now we’ve sort of eased them into this fantastic world that we live in.
JED: Also, putting our characters through their paces, we wanted to stand on our own, we wanted to have our characters have their own identifies apart from the films. Now that we’ve spent some time with them and set up how they operate and how they relate to each other, we can start creating drama between them. The drama will become more team-related and less outside threats, and that always feels more serialized and more fun.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: In that first batch of episodes, the superhero component was something that the show felt like it desperately needed. But you’re saying that from the beginning that was something you knew you were going to get to, you just weren’t ready for it then?
JED: Exactly. One of the things also is that unlike all of the other live-action Marvel content that had been created before, in a film the characters are established in the first twenty minutes. We had 22 episodes. Deathlok is an example of how rewarding it can be to show the progression of someone from a normal person to something else. We didn’t want to come in on the first episode of our TV show saying, “Yeah, there are superheroes everywhere!” We wanted to earn it and get there slowly. Now we can open up the throttle a little bit.
MAURISSA: When we started, there were some ground rules as to which characters we could deal with on our show and the characters that we couldn’t even remotely think about. It had to be worked out, because we are working in the same universe as the movies and we have to be very respectful of their possible future plans. It’s definitely a delicate process. As we’ve started to understand and hone how our train moves, that process has gotten to be a lot swifter and now we get to show some powered people on the show.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: People watching are going to say, “They got Deathlok in there; they got Lady Sif in there. The floodgates are opening, here come the heroes!” I assume the number of heroes brought on to the show will be limited?
JED: We do not want to turn into a show where powers don’t have weight. One of the things about the notion that not all heroes are super and the concept behind the show is that if every week someone has a new super power, it’s going to feel like that doesn’t mean much. We want it to still carry some weight and be a rare occurrence that affects someone to witness it and affects someone to have it, and it could corrupt someone to have it. Those are the things we want to explore and we have a lot of episodes to do it. The other side of that is that there is an expectation early on, as you mentioned, that Iron Man would be flying in at any moment. That’s just not a practical expectation for us or the audience. Not because we don’t want to have them, but there are certain properties that have to hold their value in the films, so we have to build our own.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: The fact that you can, and, like you said, you’ve built this core of characters as the sort of prism through which these superheroes are viewed, that’s pretty cool.
JED: That IS the goal!
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Early on the show took a lot of hits online. When you read those things, do you say, “Oh my God, they’re right” or do you say, “Oh my God, they’re out of their minds"?
MAURISSA: We’re not blissfully unaware of the criticism. We know that’s a part of the gig, but if we focused on everything that people said was wrong with our show, I feel like we wouldn’t be able to make the show anymore.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: You’d be in a corner in a fetal position.
MAURISSA: [laughs] Exactly. We just set out to make the show that we would like to see and respond to. We’ve been huge fans of Marvel and the Marvel movies and we’re chugging along.
JED: When reading that criticism, there’s nothing that anyone writes that we haven’t at some point thought about the show ourselves, because all we do is pick it apart, see what we can do and weigh out different options.
MAURISSA: There have been so many times when we’ve wanted to say, “Just wait for the back half. I promise you, everything you’re asking for is going to happen.”
JED: We’ve been anxious to get to this point in the season just because of our reaction to it. People have been impatient with the show at times, and we’ve been trying to be patient with them and saying, “We understand, the Marvel brand carries a lot." When that “flip” happens at the top of a show, you expect something amazing and that’s because they’ve had such great success bringing that to viewers with the movies. We were eager to get to this point in the season where we feel we’re really delivering on the promise.
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