As Marvel TV readies the return of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this Friday, its already-tenuous place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe could become even more fragile.
That’s because big brother Marvel Studios is set to take on a bigger role in expanding the MCU to TV, with a slew of shows for Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+. That Marvel Studios is being tapped for such an important job threatens to marginalize Marvel TV and push it further out toward the periphery of the hugely popular shared universe.
But in Hulu, Marvel TV has found a lifeline. This year alone, Hulu has signed two separate deals with Marvel that added seven shows to its slate to go along with “The Runaways,” which has been streaming since 2017. “Our plans with Disney+ have not been discussed yet,” Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb told reporters last week. “At the moment we’re super excited we now have eight shows on Hulu. Between this and all of those… yeah, we’re busy.”
A year ago, Marvel had just one series for Hulu with the teen drama “The Runaways,” but with Marvel’s Netflix partnership coming to an end, Hulu has swooped in with a four-series (plus a crossover special) animated deal, and a pair of live-action shows featuring Ghost Rider and Helstrom. (Disney owns a roughly 66% stake in Hulu, with the rest controlled by Comcast.)
Marvel Studios, under president Kevin Feige, is bringing a slew of TV shows for Disney+ that will star big-screen characters Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
Unlike the tenuous connectivity between the films and TV shows that Marvel TV produced for ABC and Netflix, the link between film and TV within the MCU is going to be much more cohesive on Disney+.
More and more, Marvel TV is moving away from tethering itself to the MCU. For example, “Ghost Rider” will see Gabriel Luna step back into his role as Robbie Reyes that he played on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” However, Hulu is considering it a wholly separate series. It’s gotten to the point where “S.H.I.E.L.D.” isn’t even going to bother to reference “Avengers: Endgame” when it returns for season 6 on Friday.
It wasn’t always supposed to be this way. Marvel TV was supposed to be the one to extend the studio’s popular film universe to the small screen, most notably with ABC’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.” But that never quite materialized, despite Loeb’s often-stated promise of “It’s All Connected.”
Though “S.H.I.E.L.D.” stars Clark Gregg, reprising his role as Phil Coulson from the films, and was able to land to a few cameos from Cobie Smulders, Jaimie Alexander and Samuel L. Jackson in its first few seasons, the MCU connections were a one-way street. The TV shows like “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter” — despite featuring Hayley Atwell returning as Peggy Carter from “Captain America: The First Avenger” — often referenced the films, with the films paying no attention to anything happening on the small screen. That’s why it was so notable when “Avengers: Endgame” included a small shout-out to “Agent Carter” (more on that here).
Though Marvel still has “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for two more seasons, the rest of its non-Hulu properties are winding down.
The X-Men drama “Legion,” which Marvel TV co-produced with 20th Century Fox, is ending its run on FX this summer as well, while Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger” is in the middle of its second season. Its other X-Men series, “The Gifted,” was canceled after two seasons on Fox. The third and final season of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” — the last series under the Marvel TV/Netflix partnership — will stream this summer.
There are many reasons why Netflix and Marvel parted ways — Disney+ being among the biggest — but Hulu is more than happy to pick up the slack. Craig Erwich, the streamer’s head of originals, told TheWrap earlier this year they’re open for business for any and all Marvel content. But that dissolution of its partnership with Netflix, which began in 2015, still stings Loeb.
“We were basically having a block party in New York, and they took away our permit,” he said. “It was not a decision that Marvel made, it was a decision that Netflix made. It was their right to do that. All I can say about it is, those characters will live on, and we’ll see what happens.”