10 Things You Need to Know About Last Night's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The highly anticipated (and heavily promoted) pilot for Marvel's new ABC show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tuesday night may have left some lingering questions. The live-action hour-length series, created by Joss Whedon, is Marvel's latest expansion of the superhero universe cultivated in films like Iron Man and The Avengers. The show's origins are rooted in both in those films and the original comic books. The creators of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. see this series as something that doesn't necessitate any background knowledge of the Marvel universe, but still, there were some small references in the pilot that could use some explanation.
With the help of Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel TV, we've highlighted ten things you should know after seeing the pilot.
1. The pilot is set after the events of The Avengers, in which Chitauri aliens attacked New York City and were thwarted by the team of superheroes. There are a lot of references to The Avengers in the pilot, but Loeb says the show runners aren't presuming viewers watched it. "While it certainly helps for you to be aware of the Marvel universe — whether it's in comics or games or publishing or the movies — you don't have to," Loeb says. "It's completely open."
2. Cobie Smulders's appearance as Agent Maria Hill is a guest spot. The actress remains a cast member on CBS's How I Met Your Mother and will play a big role in the upcoming Captain America sequel. Her presence here is meant as a nice bonus for fans of her character from The Avengers. "We thought it would be great if possible," Loeb says. "Joss asked, Cobie was terrific, and we'd love to have her more."
3. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) is the central figure of the series. Coulson, who "died" in The Avengers, has been conveniently resurrected for the show. In the pilot, Coulson says that he stopped breathing and woke up in a grass shack in Tahiti, but that's apparently not the whole story. "The first time that Joss and I sat down to talk about the show we both agreed that a very exciting way of gaining an entry point for the audience would be to have Clark Gregg on the show," Loeb says. "So we never discussed any other version of S.H.I.E.L.D. that didn't have Clark in it. It was just a question of how we were going to do that and it became a very compelling way to kick the show off to have a secret."
4. Coulson's car, a red vintage piece he calls Lola, may look familiar. In Captain America, set in the 1940s, Cap and his friends visit the World's Fair, where inventor Howard Stark shows off his latest creation: a red car that flies. In that film the car fails to levitate successfully, but by the end of the pilot it's clear that S.H.I.E.L.D. has perfected the technology.
5. Speaking of Howard Stark, the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. were recently further explored in a Marvel One-Shots short called "Agent Carter" that accompanied the DVD release of Iron Man 3. That clip, spinning off the character of Agent Carter from Captain America, helps set up the early formation of the organization following World War II. In the end of the short, Stark invites Agent Carter to join him in the creation of a new organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.
6. The technology and otherworldly phenomena on the show are all meant to be grounded in reality, even the alien hardware and centipede device that offers superhuman power. "We have always found that anything that is unexplained in the Marvel universe can be explained through science," Loeb says. "Even the concept of magic is not something that is unreal. It's just science we don't understand."
7. The centipede technology references several of the Marvel films. At one point in the pilot, Agent Simmons explains that the centipede device works in a way that's "very similar to the formula Dr. Erskine developed in the '40s." Dr. Erskine created the super-soldier program seen in Captain America that was revisited in The Incredible Hulk. The technology also references the "Extremis" plotline in Iron Man 3, involving a serum that can enable superior physical and mental changes. "If you've seen Iron Man 3 then you get a little smile because you know something," Loeb says about this plotline. "And if you don't then it really doesn't change much in terms of the impacts of the story. Anything else that comes from anywhere else in the Marvel universe is icing."
8. The premise of the series is that you don't need superpowers to make a difference, so although Thor or the Hulk could show up in the series, it's not integral to the plot. "Our ad line is very much the theme of the show," Loeb says. "'Not all heroes are super.' It's important that that's what we keep in mind whenever we're telling our stories. In a world, where for many people this is a difficult time, to be told that even the ordinary can be extraordinary, and anyone at any time can rise up and be a hero."
9. Subsequent episodes will unfold similarly to the pilot with self-contained storylines. "Each story will begin and end within a single episode," Loeb says. "However there will be emotional arcs that carry throughout. And there may be some elements of plot that get carried through, but you won't feel like you're watching a serialized show in any way." There may be an overarching threat or villain, but Loeb is mum on that. "That's a Level 7 question," he says.
10. If the series gets its 22-episode pickup (it has an order for 13 now), there may also be a possible connection to Captain America: The Winter Soldier next year, particularly as that film will be very much set in the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe. The movie comes out April 4, 2014, around the time the series might be airing a season finale. Says Loeb: "The best way of answering that is to say, 'Wouldn't that be fun?'"