Broadcast television networks have announced their bevy of shows ready for the fall. And from what I can see, it should be an interesting autumn.
Fox, for instance, is bringing back Jack Bauer and 24 for a limited 12-episode, miniseries-like run. (Alas, it won’t be called 12.) Fantasy-oriented geeks will be tempted by shows like Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and ABC’s Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (a spinoff from Once Upon A Time). Meanwhile, Michael J. Fox is making his TV comeback in a show titled, strangely enough, The Michael J. Fox Show. And comedian Robin Williams is teaming up with Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for CBS’ The Crazy Ones (which I initially thought was going to be an exposé on the Plugged In staff).
But the new show getting perhaps the most buzz is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., featuring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson. You know, the guy whom Loki supposedly killed in The Avengers. I gather from the trailer that this is no prequel.
Now, I’ve written a lot about superheroes over the last few years. I’ve discussed the spiritual significance of Iron Man’s ARC Reactor and the socio-political metaphors of Captain America. I may know as much about Batman as almost anyone who doesn’t own a replica cowl. I’m excited to see The Man of Steel and will even pay good money to see Aquaman on the big screen if and when a movie about him ever comes out. I like superheroes.
But I do wonder whether we may be hitting a saturation point with such stories.
Granted, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t look like it’s going full-on cape, here. I don’t think I saw any spandex in the trailer at all. But ABC obviously didn’t green-light this series in order to cater to the Mad Men or Breaking Bad crowd. No, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. caters to society’s fascination with superheroes—a fascination that’s been going strong for more than a decade now.
In just the six years I’ve been at Plugged In, I’ve seen movies featuring Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, the Green Lantern, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Watchmen and the X-Men. Films pinned to the superhero craze like The Incredibles, Megamind and Hancock could’ve filled whole Bat caves with cash. Superheroes have successfully trickled into television this century, too. The CW found success with its Superman series Smallville, and Arrow (featuring the Green Arrow) has put up some of that network’s best ratings.
While some may say the superhero genre is limited, I feel that these stories give us opportunity to explore big, important themes: What it means to be good. What it takes to be a hero. Overcoming suffering. Dealing with complex moral issues. The genre is a great crucible for not only exciting stories, but for larger-than-life examinations of the human condition—much as Westerns used to be.
Oh, yeah. About those Westerns.
For decades, the Western was the quintessential American movie. They were staggeringly popular and, had more of them been made in the age of the blockbuster, many would’ve been tentpole movies I would’ve been writing about on Movie Monday.
We don’t see Westerns much anymore. They’ve not disappeared entirely, as evidenced by the forthcoming reboot of The Lone Ranger, which is poised to give the genre a Johnny Depp-infused jolt of action over the 4th of July weekend. Even so, Westerns are definitely a more rare breed these days. Why? It seems as though the moviegoing public just got tired of ‘em.
I wonder: Are superheroes eventually going to hit that same point of oversaturation? Are we going to start seeing a lagging interest in the cape-and-cowl crew?
For the most part, the movies coming to theaters are still pretty well made (and I’m talking entertainment value, here, not content). And maybe that’s the secret: As long as our superheroes entertain us, movies about them will continue to thrive.
But frankly, I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing a slowing of the superhero train. With all due respect to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I believe we can have too much of a good thing.