Marvel should follow the example DC has set with their “Arrowverse” on CW, and create an interconnected network television “mini MCU” spinning out of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Here’s why.
Between last week and this week, the CW will be airing the season premieres of four different interconnected DC superhero shows. Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow will each air new episodes every week, occasionally crossing over and referencing each other in a growing tapestry. This worked incredibly well last year when Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow made their debuts, and it should work even better this year, now that all four shows are on the same network and airing at the same time. DC’s movie universe may be a mess with one critical flop after another, but when it comes to TV, they have it figured out. Marvel, on the other hand, is struggling to keep up in the network TV realm.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Sure, Marvel essentially kicked off the whole “cinematic universe” idea with their slate of films, and they have created a story world that spans across films, television, and Netflix, but not all of those areas are equal. What Marvel has done with their cinematic universe is essentially create a series of mini MCUs that make coy references to each other and exist in the same world in theory, but never actually interact in any meaningful way (and that’s mostly a good thing). Two of those mini MCUs – the film MCU and the Netflix MCU – are strong enough that they could exist on their own. The third, which at one point included Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter but now is solely comprised of the former, struggles to justify it’s own existence outside of the film slate. What Marvel needs to do is expand their network television slate into an autonomous mini MCU of its own, with it’s own identity and corner of the story world.
Let me explain. When the MCU first started, there were clear connections between each entry, and the whole story world felt truly connected. When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced following the success of The Avengers, it seemed like that sense of connectedness could be expanding onto TV. As it turned out, Agents never had the chance to be actually relevant to the larger MCU. Sure, there were a few cameos from movie characters like Nick Fury and Lady Sif, but they had little impact, and none of the main characters from the films ever showed up. If that was a disappointment, it is only because Agents sold itself as a companion to the films, rather than its own independent section of the MCU.
Marvel’s Netflix Universe
When Marvel teamed up with Netflix and started putting out binge-worthy shows twice a year, they didn’t make the same mistake. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage make references to the films (just enough to confirm that they exist in the same universe), but that’s about it. Each of the Netflix shows interacts with the others, and as we all know, the titular characters will be teaming up in the Defenders series, due out next year. These shows work extremely well, in part thanks to the fact that they do not rely on the MCU films for support. If the films did not exist, the Netflix shows would still be just as strong. With two new shows coming out every year, Marvel is already building a strong story world in their Netflix mini MCU. The format has many advantages, including the ability to tell long, rich stories unrestricted by a traditional television format. However, the Netflix format is not universally superior to network television, and it can’t completely replace it.
The Advantages of Network Television
With four shows running simultaneously on the same network, DC and CW are able to tell ongoing stories that feel relevant to each other and to their story world, while providing consistent entertainment week after week. An added advantage is that they can cross over into each other’s stories whenever it suits the plot, adding to the feeling that these stories are happening at the same time, in the same world. This season will see a crossover between all four CW shows, and then another (musical) crossover between The Flash and Supergirl, not to mention what is sure to be a handful of character guest appearances and cameos.
As cool as the Netflix format is, it cannot support that kind of causal interaction between shows. As viewers we understand that the events of Luke Cage followed the events of Daredevil season two, which followed the events of Jessica Jones, etc. When we watch the CW DC shows, we understand that they are all happening simultaneously. That is a feeling that Marvel can capture by expanding their network TV mini MCU.
The History of Marvel Television
How exactly can Marvel accomplish with their television MCU what DC has accomplished with their CW shows? To answer that, we first need to look back at the history of Marvel’s television exploits to see what didn’t work.
The first spinoff from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the lukewarm Agent Carter, starring Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. The show focused on Carter after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, and was supposed to tell the story of how Carter founded S.H.I.E.L.D.. It was cancelled before she could actually do said founding, but one of its biggest problems may have been the fact that it didn’t feel relevant to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or the larger MCU. Every fan of the MCU knows that Peggy Carter, Captain America’s partner and love interest, went on to found S.H.I.E.L.D. and accomplish many other feats of badassery. A show about events that happened decades ago (with a conclusion fans already know) feels a lot less interesting than another modern superhero show. Plus, due to the timeline of Agent Carter, it could never cross over with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Last year, another spinoff of Agents was announced, called Marvel’s Most Wanted. It would follow the adventures of Agents characters Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood). It was passed over twice, once in 2015, then again in 2016, after the two characters had been written off Agents (presumably in preparation for their new show). The truth is, it is probably a good thing that ABC passed on the spinoff. Yes, it would have given ABC opportunities for crossovers between their shows, but based on the description it sounded like a lot more of the same. The last thing Marvel needed to expand their superhero universe was another show about spies.
Looking Forward With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Four
This season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up to be much different than previous seasons. The first three seasons felt like a complete arc, ending with a finale that wrapped up many ongoing storylines and killed off a few characters that had long outlived their purpose. One huge change in the fourth season is that for the foreseeable future the show won’t be doing any direct tie-in episodes with the MCU films like it has done before (most notably the Captain America: Winter Soldier tie-in episodes, which had a huge impact on the structure of the show). Instead, the tie-in with Doctor Strange will be more thematic than literal. One of the ways the show will accomplish this is by introducing magic, including Ghost Rider.
Ghost Rider is by far the most high profile Marvel character that has ever been on Agents. To boot, he has not appeared in any other MCU project, debuting on the show itself. This appears to represent a willingness on the part of Marvel to use high profile characters in TV projects rather than saving them for a potential movie (or Netflix show), and it means that Marvel is highly invested in the success of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The inclusion of Ghost Rider in Agents is probably Marvel’s best hope for matching DC’s TV universe on CW. If Ghost Rider proves to be a popular character, there is no reason why he can’t spin off into his own show, just like Punisher has after his success on Daredevil season two.
Potential Superhero Spinoffs
Launching season five of Agents with a Ghost Rider spinoff would be an excellent start. After that, there is nothing stopping Marvel and ABC from launching a few more shows to round out their little mini MCU. If I may be so bold, I have a couple of suggestions.
Ms. Marvel has long been rumored to be in consideration for a Marvel television show. Even if the debut of this show has to wait until after Captain Marvel comes out, it would be an excellent addition to the television MCU, and it fits the format perfectly. Ms. Marvel is the kind of character that would excel in a CW style drama, with a supporting cast of characters and a weekly adventure. She also fits perfectly into the story world of Agents because she is an Inhuman. The second and third seasons of Agents were heavily focused on the emergence of Inhumans in the MCU, and they continue to be an important part of the show and the story world it exists in.
The current iteration of Nova, Sam Alexander, would be another excellent fit for TV. This could be a TV show that embraces the cosmic side of the MCU (filling the same niche as CW’s Legends of Tomorrow), while maintaining a core of family drama, adventure, and even comedy. A Nova show could make fun nods to Guardians of the Galaxy, and also interact with the other Marvel TV shows during crossovers and team-ups.
Having Nova and Ms. Marvel on the small screen together would undoubtedly create some memorable moments. They are currently teammates in Marvel’s Champions comic series, which launched last week. Of course, they could also crossover with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a potential Ghost Rider show, carving out a unique corner of the MCU with adventures that continue every week. This mini MCU would be able to exist on its own merits, without just being filler for the Marvel movies.
Upcoming Marvel TV Projects
Of course, Marvel already has a couple new television shows in the works. Marvel’s Damage Control was announced by ABC in 2015, and it may be coming out sometime in 2017. The show is a comedy that will focus on a construction crew that cleans up the messes after big superhero fights. This year Freeform, the ABC-owned network formerly known as ABC Family, announced a straight-to-series order for Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, which will follow the adventures of two teenage superheroes whose powers work better together. It is set to premiere in 2017 as well.
Could those two shows contribute to a cohesive Marvel television mini MCU? Maybe, but the fact that Marvel’s Damage Control is being advertised as a comedy, and that Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger will be premiering on a different network (albeit one owned by ABC) make it seem unlikely that there will be many opportunities for crossovers with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I am still very excited for both of those shows, but they are not prime candidates for a mini MCU that mirror’s CW’s “Arrowverse.” Then again, after Marvel’s historic deal with Sony to include Spider-Man in their film slate, anything could happen. There is even an example of a cross-network crossover within the CW Arrowverse: last year Supergirl and The Flash had a crossover episode, even though Supergirl was on CBS at the time.
Does Marvel need more TV shows? Maybe, maybe not. There are reasons not to do it, but I think there are more valid reasons to pursue the idea. There are people who think that there are too many comic book movies and TV shows out there already. I say that there will only be too many superhero projects when people stop watching them. Marvel is increasing the pace of their film slate – in 2017 they will begin releasing three movies every year – because they know that people will go see them. Between the movies, the Netflix shows, and the television shows, the evidence continues to mount that more is better (as long as it is also quality). The market can support more superhero TV shows, and people want more superhero TV shows. The DC TV universe is evidence of this.
If Marvel can build an interconnected mini MCU on TV that can compete with DC’s CW shows, then they will be secure their place ahead of DC in film and television (except when it comes to animation, but that is a conversation for another day). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can be the cornerstone for an awesome TV universe that keeps fans coming back every week, instead of simply a placeholder for fans waiting for the next Marvel movie.
What characters do you think would make good Marvel TV shows? Let us know in the comments below.