That’s a matter of full disclosure in starting this piece regarding the creative direction of the second stab at developing a Marvel series based around the characters of Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse and Lance Hunter. Although, not full disclosure along the lines of having any skin in the game or having absolutely anything to do with Marvel, ABC, Netflix, and the line-up of series they are churning out for our consumption.
In this case, I make the disclaimer because I am a fan of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this particular corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe they are carving out. That’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it, and certainly when the flagship show premiered I was less than “whelmed,” as it were.
Yet, over three seasons, the show has found a sense of itself and its place in the MCU — which is far different than the Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem-centered Netflix series that I wish were labeled Marvel Knights instead of umbrellaed under the Defenders banner — that has turned it into one of the better comic book shows on TV. Not that there still isn’t a stigma surrounding it that keeps some turned away.
That stigma came from the expectation of audiences that they were going to get a weekly dose of Marvel superpowers in their homes, even though the producers were quite clear about their intention of the show being something more like following stadium employees rather than NFL stars. The shakiness of that first season, while trying to find out what the series was, offered no favors. Also, the show’s direct ties and reliance on the MCU films have kept it from exploring all sorts of random dark alleys of the shared world that they’d never address in the movies, something I was really hoping for when it was announced. (Though, honestly, who would’ve thought AoS would go to another world or deal with the Inhumans when the series first began?) Yet, what it’s become is successful in its own right.
Therein lies the opportunity.
After passing on a pilot script last season to keep the two characters present and accounted for on S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC announced during the winter Television Critics Association presentations this past weekend that they have greenlit development of a new pilot for a series centered on Bobbi and Hunter. Like last year’s attempt, it’s not entirely clear what the premise of the series will be, though the title, Marvel’s Most Wanted, suggests some kind of bounty hunter-like pursuit of criminals in the MCU. Some rumors have suggested the series won’t be a proper spin-off of S.H.I.E.L.D., instead just removing the two from the parent show and plopping them in their own with seemingly no connection. Over the weekend, though, some talk floated the idea that perhaps set-up or a backdoor pilot will be featured in the latter half of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Season 3 run.
The argument has been made by yours truly that a comic book-based series should take on the format of an anthology. In specific, I was speaking about the third series in the DCwU [“Arrowverse”] before it became the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow that we know will premiere on January 21st. The thought being a perfect avenue to explore a multitude of characters from Marvel’s (or DC’s, in that case) stable without having to commit to full series or movies or telefilms, etc. In addition, you don’t have to cede valuable episode real estate on established series just to feature guest stars that may or may never appear again. The Justice League animated series from the early 2000s adopted this approach, forgoing its third season and instead spinning off as the rebranded Justice League Unlimited to much critical and audience acclaim.
An anthology is the perfect model for Marvel’s Most Wanted.
The last thing that people want is yet another series ensconced in the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA. At this point, to offer one would bring diminished returns; AoS and Marvel’s Agent Carter have the field covered from two unique ends. Branching out to different subgenres and other formats, like the announced half-hour sitcom Marvel’s Damage Control, is simply smart business. Evolving what a “comic book show” can be is essential to keeping the collective genre fresh.
Thinking fresh and playing out the premise of an episodic hunt for criminals, though the format is a tried and true success, the television landscape needs yet another procedural like it needs a hole in the head.
Instead, setting Bobbi and Hunter up as the Nick and Nora or Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the MCU — a dynamic I’ll forever be sad isn’t shared between Bobbi and Clint “Hawkeye” Barton — offers you all of the serialized continuity you need in the new show. They bicker, they relate, they lean on one another in extraordinary circumstances, all the while exploring their individual and shared histories. You could even offer a third main cast member or a recurring team of two or three to play the leads off of and further their stories.
The narrative thread satisfied, you can now use the show as a platform to introduce those heroes and villains who will never see the light of live-action day otherwise. Standalone episodes; two-, three-, or four-episode arcs; a 90-minute mini-movie here and there in the style of BBC’s Sherlock. You could even produce an animated episode. Take us to Madripoor or Latveria (if the Fantastic Four rights will allow) or the Savage Land, and a multitude of other significant Marvel places that S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Netflix shows won’t ever visit. For that matter, serve as a bridge between the ABC shows and the streaming series from time to time. Delve into a bevy of famous storylines and events from the comics that the films just don’t have the time to adapt. It’s carte blanche on experimentation, grounded in the likability and chemistry of actors Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood.
This isn’t to say that you avoid the S.H.I.E.L.D. connection entirely; it’s still an important spine of the MCU films and the shared universe as a whole. Keeping the two characters completely from the spy group fold would feel artificial. And if AoS and Agent Carter can cross over from time to time, despite the time period difference, Most Wanted can occasionally cross streams as well.
There’s the opportunity here to do something bigger, something more. Look beyond a straightforward spy series with a quippy couple and you can make the most of Most Wanted.