By Guest Contributor Kendra James
All right…as critical fans, our issues with Joss Whedon are well documented, so you can understand why ABC’s announcement that they’ve greenlit a primetime S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot written and directed by the man himself inspires more of a cautious excitement rather than all out jumping for joy.
We don’t know much, aside from it having been described as a “high-concept cop show,” that presumably takes place in the SHIELD of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (shown, so far, in Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Whedon’s Avengers). Unfortunately, the following character descriptions released this week seem to harken back to tropes and characters he’s already written. And written again.
- Skye: This late-20s woman sounds like a dream: fun, smart, caring and confident–with an ability to get the upper hand by using her wit and charm.
- Agent Grant Ward: Quite the physical specimen and “cool under fire,” he sometimes botches interpersonal relations. He’s a quiet one with a bit of a temper, but he’s the kind of guy that grows on you.
- Agent Althea Rice: Also known as “The Calvary,” this hardcore soldier has crazy skills when it comes to weapons and being a pilot. But her experiences have left her very quiet and a little damaged.
- Agent Leo Fitz and Agent Jemma Simmons: These two came through training together and still choose to spend most of their time in each other’s company. Their sibling-like relationship is reinforced by their shared nerd tendencies–she deals with biology and chemistry, he’s a whiz at the technical side of weaponry.
Maybe I’m too familiar with Whedon’s work, but this reads as a potential recasting of Firefly. And while the roles are all listed as open ethnicity and nationality, I’m willing to bet the “fun, smart, caring, and confident” Skye is cast as white while the “damaged, hardcore soldier” goes to a woman of color.
If Michelle Rodriguez’s agent isn’t all over this, they’re not doing their job.
Avengers was a personal favorite film of mine this year, but it wasn’t without its flaws. Which is why I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with a simple list of Dos and Don’ts for Joss Whedon as he starts expanding the MCU for a television audience.
DO: Use a diverse city and setting. Whedon is actually good at doing this. Angel and Dollhouse were set in Los Angeles, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer took place about two hours from there. Firefly was set in a future heavily influenced by a few aspects of Chinese culture. Avengers was based mostly in New York City. These settings offered plenty of opportunity for diverse, multicultural interactions. The problem is knowing (or wanting) to take advantage of the landscape at your fingertips, leading us to …
DON’T: Whitewash that setting. S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters in New York City with secret phone booth entrances in Chinatown or Harlem and nary a POC to be seen. Maybe a white character obsessed with a knock-off version of Japanese culture this time (for variety and pop culture relatability). Given the lack of diversity in Buffy and just about everything that happened with Firefly, I wouldn’t put any of this past Whedon. It’s easy enough to avoid if he would only make the effort.
DO: Keep writing good female characters. You’ve had a few missteps in your career, Joss, but the whole ‘strong female character’ thing is something you manage to do well the majority of the time. Take advantage of the Marvel character roster or simply make up your own, but give us some kickass female agents–especially if you can’t transfer Maria Hill from the big to the small screen. But …
DON’T: Make all those female characters white. Again, with the diversity. This is not about looking for a story about race in the Avengers universe, it’s simply about looking for faces of color. This is more than achievable, and we expect it.
DO: Take advantage of every character you can get your hands on. The exciting part of this project isn’t who’s helming it. Nah, the cooler thing here is the (hopeful) access to the full catalogue of Marvel Characters the show should have. Marvel doesn’t possess the rights to some of their most well known franchise characters (Spider-Man and the X-Men, for example), but that’s fine here. A small screen show is the perfect platform to widen the spotlight on some of their lesser known characters of all races and backgrounds. I’ll take an order of Luke Cage with a side of Daughters of the Dragon, any and all mentions of the Young Avengers crew, and all kinds of ridiculous villains like The Spot and Rocket Racer! Entertaining characters who aren’t necessarily on the fast track to their own movies but deserve a little screentime.
The sheer number of potential appearances and references alone–a nerd potpourri if you will–are enough to make me shake with (a very hesitant) glee. Yeah, it’s a S.H.I.E.L.D-focused show, but this could be the best chance Marvel fans ever have to see their favorite characters acknowledged outside of their monthly issues. Not that there aren’t downsides to that excitement …
DON’T: Get too caught up in your own mythology. There would be no point in writing this list if I weren’t rooting for this show to succeed. The whole not-being-on-Fox thing is a really great start, but it also needs to be accessible to the average TV viewer rather than the average Joss Whedon fan.
We don’t need a show with a fast-talking script filled with references only a comic book fan will understand any more than we need another show starring Summer Glau as an emotionless, wide-eyed girl with super strength. And if he doesn’t simply rely on the tropes and characters types he’s already written more than once, maybe he won’t be so apt to repeat the mistakes he’s made in the past.
With the character descriptions up, and a strong knowledge of Whedon’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer and shaper of pop culture, I guess I just have one last piece of advice…
DON’T: Screw it up too badly. It’s tall order, but a nerd can dream.