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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Static Thoughts - Future of Marvel TV

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As I write this, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is at something of a crossroads.  The films have entered such an institutional point in our culture that even widespread disinterest is more or less unable to derail their success.  Cycles of disappointment, disengagement, rediscovery, and reappraisal have been sped up to an insane degree and Marvel’s cross-media presence has pretty much guaranteed them cultural dominance through to the end of the decade.  What’s more, their series of Netflix shows have proven thoroughly successful and aside from a handful of major casting flubs the MCU is the most powerful it’s been since Avengers. 

The one area where things have faltered, however, is on TV, with the network television side of the MCU slowly atrophying as projects end up postponed, canceled, or passed on.  Agents of SHIELD is barreling ahead into another season but the proposed spin-off Most Wanted was passed over, the Damage Control show seems to have been quietly scuttled, and Agent Carter was officially canceled.  All of this has folks wondering: what does the future hold for Marvel television?

Officially speaking there are three Marvel shows still in development prior to actual implementation plans.  The most prominent is a proposed Punisher Netflix show spinning out of Daredevil season 2.  A Punisher series makes a lot of sense, Jon Bernthal was the breakout star of Daredevil season 2 and their vision of Punisher is the best we’ve ever seen.  What’s more, Punisher has always been a solid franchise for Marvel to leverage into greater success, having spawned three movies and a plethora of popular comics.  What’s more, the massive success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones means that Marvel is seeing dollar signs in its Netflix universe so they’ll probably want it to keep growing. 

They’re already getting ready for the first season of Defenders but there’s no reason they can’t building things up for season 2.  What’s more there are plenty of lingering threads within the Netflix universe for a Punisher show to build on if they’re committed to making his series another syndicated saga.  Stuff like the mysterious “microchip” disk Punisher collected at the end of Daredevil or the government superhuman program that produced Nuke on Jessica Jones would be fertile ground for development. 

Additionally, there are reports of plans for a Cloak and Dagger TV show.  Cloak and Dagger are a teenage superhero duo that got powers from weird drugs, the man Cloak gaining sentience darkness and teleportation powers while Dagger gained the ability to create hard light throwing knives.  Marvel’s been trailing a Cloak and Dagger show since 2011 but we got actual confirmation it’s going forward this year, with plans for it to premiere on Freeform in 2017.  The series is said to relocate the characters to a post-Katrina New Orleans, which seems like a good call. 

Marvel’s still hurting for diversity in their properties but the massive response to Black Panther proves there are serious markets for black heroes and getting Cloak out there would be a great way to capitalize on this.  What’s more, grounding the story of two teen runaways turned superheroes in the great American failure of post-Katrina New Orleans could make for a truly challenging and excellent series.  Granted it’s going to Freeform, the new version of ABC family but I’m still relatively hopeful. 

Finally, there’s Damage Control, a show adaptation of a comedy comic about a corporation that specialized in logistics and clean up in a superhero world.  The Damage Control show is allegedly still in development for ABC and the corporation has already been referenced in a handful of MCU properties.  This is the idea that seems most likely to have been quietly canceled without anyone’s knowledge but also the concept I’d most likely to see taken through to fruition. 

The very idea of Damage Control is innately furrowed into the action of world building, which has been the crux of Marvel’s success so far.  Devoting an entire show to the way in which normal people survive and make a living in a world that’s constantly under siege by superhuman beings would be a great way to continue that process, plus it would afford Marvel the chance to do a straight comedy, which they haven’t attempted yet. 

Of all three of these projects Punisher is the closest to a sure thing as Marvel’s Netflix universe has proven shockingly popular.  In that particular arena, Luke Cage is primed to debut on September 30th of this year with Defenders, the big team up show, shooting later this year.  Additionally, Iron Fist, the team’s fourth member, is still getting ready to launch his own show while Jessica Jones is set for a second season, which will probably debut in spring of next year. 

My guess is that Marvel is dragging their feet on Iron Fist because his brand of oriental mysticism is a sketchy concept and they’d like Doctor Strange to test those waters before devoting a 13 hour epic to it.  I’d actually wager that if Doctor Strange isn’t a pretty major hit we’ll see the Iron Fist show switching focus to be much more grounded in New York rather than the hidden cities. 

Then, at the very end, there is Agents of SHIELD.  While it’s possible Marvel is plotting a real dynamic and fantastic fourth season for the show that’ll redeem its many failings what seems far more likely is that they’ll jog in place and then call it a day.  With four seasons under their belt Marvel and Disney can start syndicating Agents of SHIELD as an afternoon time filler show, which was probably where it was always going to end up.  However, there is a possibility that the show will pull a last act turn around and sustain itself for another season. 

The most likely path to such a change would be through a renewed connection to the film universe, perhaps emphasizing the role of SHIELD as a force for fighting unregistered super humans of the Marvel universe.  That won’t happen because there’s actually a pretty major divide between Marvel movie and TV people but what could go down is that Agents of SHIELD could get folded into the Netflix universe. 

Using the agency format as a spring board for future Defenders like Ghost Rider or Blade would be a great way to convince Marvel diehards that Agents of SHIELD is worth checking out again and making it required viewing for big impacts on the ground level heroes like Daredevil or Jessica Jones could entice a new audience to give it consideration.  All of that seems fairly unlikely as far as these things go and I’d be surprised if the show didn’t just revert back to its monster of the week style set-up. 

Maybe they’ll keep nudging the Inhumans pitch along but at this point that well seems more or less exhausted.  Fairly or not Agents of SHIELD has become a novelty act at this point, a depressing monument to the potential it never managed to live up to and the whole world of Marvel network programming it probably dragged down with it.  If the entire future of Marvel TV ends up limited solely to Netflix outings, which it probably will be, you’ll have this show to thank for it. 

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