So after several episodes of the highly popular Marvel television show, Agents of SHIELD, I am starting to see some patterns. The show for me is not one I have to watch in real time every week but I make sure not to fall behind more than a day or so. As an avid fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I was of course pulled in immediately at the very idea of the MCU being expanded upon on a weekly basis. I am sure I was not the only one, and the viewership numbers back this up. What I am noticing about Agents of SHIELD is an intriguing setup that seems to work on multiple levels for its viewers.
So the fact that Agents of SHIELD is on ABC, a standard network channel, forces the show to lend itself to a massive audience of diverse viewers. Lets concentrate on American audiences for this discussion. Due to the fact that network television is available to everyone with a standard television it would seem that it would allow shows to really prosper, however I would argue the opposite. Shows like Agents of SHIELD that have a fairly obvious target audience are now forced to be everything for everyone if it hopes to stay afloat. This fact causes the show to never go too far for fear of isolating some of its audience. So I believe the folks over at Marvel have taken this into consideration when they did the creation of these new main characters that we are seeing every week. Lets go through the main cast and see what I mean.
Agent Phil Coulson
Phil Coulson is the anchor of the show. He is the leader of the small team of ragtag SHIELD agents who are heroes of the ongoing story. So who is Coulson in terms of marketing patterns? Well it seems pretty obvious that Coulson is the connection back to the Marvel movies. He is a familiar face and the bridge back to Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers. His character’s involvement in the show is strictly there for the millions of fans of the MCU. He is there to create stability. If you knew who he was during episode one you were already a guaranteed viewer, congrats!
Agent Melinda May
A tough no nonsense character who for the first few episodes practically refused to engage in combat unless absolutely needed. So here is where things get interesting. While Coulson is the MCU’s connection what is Melinda May’s reason for being. My guess is that she fills the tough woman/conservative demographic. She is a soft spoken character that carries a big stick so to speak. She also plays heavily to the young female demographic who have been requesting more action heavy female characters in the MCU. Think of her as Black Widow for television. At this point in the show her character is the least flushed.
Agent Grant Ward
Agent Grant Ward is the most fleshed out of the characters in my opinion. He is a tough by-the-book SHIELD agent who is all protocol all the time. He is about the mission and his duties as assigned. He is the conservative demographic. This isn’t to say that in a negative way at all. He has a very pro-military attitude that even Agent Phil Coulson, who is hiring ranking, doesn’t have. Even though he works for an organization that deals with supernatural beings he is still decidedly grounded in his beliefs and rare to change. I think this characters design is to appeal to conservative-military-minded Americans.
Skye is on the surface the position by which we see the show. She is the outsider seeing all the superheroes and villains all for the first time up close. She isn’t a traditionally trained SHIELD agent so her glimpses into the organization are designed to mirror our learning about it as well. This is pretty standard character design, and I have zero issues with it. However, lets go deeper into the Skye character. Why is she there? Who does she appeal to? Well firstly she appeals to the casual or first time watchers of Agents of SHIELD. If you have never seen an Iron Man movie for instance, let Skye be your guide. She also serves another purpose. She is the liberal character to Agent Ward’s conservative. She’s young, a computer hacker, and pro-left political activist. They couldn’t make her more stereotypical liberal if they tried. Its actually quite hilarious. Farmers organizing in a South American country against the behest of the totalitarian government, Skye is right there to tell Ward how its wonderful that these people are standing up against capitalism! If you are on the left, she is your go to character, or that’s at least the idea.
Agents Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons
I lump these two together because they are designed that way. Even their last names fit together like one person. Two likable science nerds who are just simply having a blast in their day jobs. So who are they there for? This is for the MCU fans again. They show off new tech every week and get those nerd juices flowing for more MCU connections. They are the comedy relief, but simultaneously they are the regular folks. If you aren’t a hardcore MCU viewer you still like them because they say a funny things here and there. They are also highly relatable for foreign markets considering their backgrounds. They make the SHIELD organization truly international without completely isolating that all important American demographic.
So at the end of the day these strong character distinctions are needed. Marvel has now signaled that they are shopping around 4 different shows that will be further expanding the MCU in the television market. This comes as little surprise, but one thing does stand out. The shows are being shopped to services like Netflix and Amazon Instant. Giving that Marvel is forced to be all things to everyone with Agents of SHIELD, the freedom of a Netflix for instance is highly appealing. With a video on demand design, you aren’t forced to try and go for the mass market. You are allowed to appeal to hardcore Marvel nerds, for example. You don’t need to be safe, you can go for broke. I think Agents of SHIELD is a great experiment for Marvel in their push to make it in television. However, I think it was just that, an experiment. I think the ultimate goal after establishing that they could make a successful small screen product was this on demand market all along. Given the fantastic success of shows like House of Cards and the return of Arrested Development there is no wonder Marvel is looking to make history again by joining the on demand television train in its early moments. I think it will prove to be highly beneficial to whomever takes the deal and highly lucrative to Marvel in the long run. Lastly, much like the original Star Trek did with using its racially diverse cast to bring people together, Agents of SHIELD seems to playing the same game with political views. Showing more conservative and liberal tropes working for one weird common goal.