Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. preview: Can it work without Avengers?

Can the TV series replicate the success of the Marvel cinematic universe movies?

If any combination is going to revive the ‘everyday superhero’ genre – which was revitalised by Heroes but delivered diminishing returns with No Ordinary Family, The Cape and Alphas – it’s going to be Joss Whedon and his extension of the Avengers movie franchise – Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

But what should we expect?

Agents of SHIELD logo

From Heroes to Alphas, we’ve already seen what will turn a contemporary TV audience off. Characters who develop almost unbeatable powers a la Heroes’ Peter Petrelli and Sylar? No thanks. Super-versus-Super Battles of the Week? Puh-lease. A world where it feels like everybody has or develops a super-power of some sort? Been there, done that. Heroes obsessing over a deep, dark hidden personal trauma? Boring.

Why don’t these tropes work on the small screen the way they do in a comic book or on the big screen?

They don’t work because a TV audience doesn’t demand the same whiz-bang escapism that comics and films provide. We want hyper-reality rather than unreality.

TV is a more intimate medium which requires more nuanced characterisation and story-telling. It’s why shows such as The X-Files and The Twilight Zone were so successful. We want characters we can associate with, who could with a bit more luck and talent be you or I. Less Iron Man, more Every-Man.

The initial signs from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are promising.

So far, we know that Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) returns to lead a select team of agents. Each possesses extraordinary skills, from computer hacking and life sciences to weapons and black ops, but these are not heroes who have been injected with experimental serum or have an arc reactor in their chest. They are ordinary people with extraordinary talents.

Together they’ll investigate strange and unknown threats, some possibly superhuman. But there’ll be no Tony Stark or Thor – just regular humans fighting the good fight.

The pilot received rave reviews at Comic-Con in July, but it’s one thing delivering a one-off hit to rabid fans, quite another to build a full season order which retains the attention of a mainstream audience once the hype has died down.

Whether the series lives or dies will depend on its ability to carve out something different that an audience which lives in a Strictly Get Me Out of Here Factor on Ice universe can engage with.

That means showing us the people behind the heroes and focussing not so much on what makes them extraordinary but what makes them ordinary, just like us regular folks. Love, loss, conflict, joy, what sandwich to have for lunch. That sort of thing.

Heroes got this spot on in its debut season, creating flawed but interesting characters. No Ordinary Family didn’t, getting bogged down in the minutiae of family life.

Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. be heroic or ordinary? I’m banking on the former.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres in the US tonight and on Channel 4 at 8pm on Friday.

This preview was originally posted on

2 Comments on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. preview: Can it work without Avengers?

  1. I hope so, as an Avengers fan and seeing as Supernatural has just finished I need something to replace it!

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