Feature films may comprise the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it turns out some of the most interesting stories are being told – and the shared universe’s most dynamic and rapid growth is occurring – in an entirely different medium: television.

With 11(!) series in one stage of development or another (from meetings with studios to production to active release), it can be a dizzying array of characters and narrative threads for newcomers to get accustomed to (and, hey, let’s be honest – it can be a bit overwhelming for the hardened veterans, as well). With that in mind, we’ve compiled a basic primer about the various shows, their foci, and their chronology. Call it Everything You Need to Know About The Marvel TV Universe, and be sure to turn back to it as a type of scorecard as you binge-watch your way through those 100+ hours.

Agents of SHIELD

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Number of seasons: three (fourth already picked up)
Number of episodes per season: 22
First premiered: 09.24.13
Network: ABC

Agents of SHIELD was commissioned after the rip-roaring success that was The Avengers, and it’s since proven itself to be one of the central-most elements of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It’s also one of the few television shows in history to change its very premise partway through its run: after being resurrected and given his own small team of dedicated agents to go out and explore unknown, possibly alien elements (just what audiences saw him doing in the first several Marvel movies), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) becomes the new director of SHIELD following that organization’s implosion in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and his new task becomes the behind-the-scenes creation of a sleeker, more secretive, and more ideologically pure SHIELD.

Going hand-in-hand with the new mission is the advent of the Inhumans, those descendants of ancient human beings who were taken and experimented on by aliens in order to serve as fodder in the never-ending interstellar wars that clog the galaxy. Once activated, this extraterrestrial DNA grants these individuals various powers, ranging from teleportation to super speed. Given that the very first Phase IV movie, in 2019, is The Inhumans, one gets an idea of what a pivotal – if still covert (no pun intended) – role Agents of SHIELD is playing in the MCU.

Agent Carter

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Number of seasons: two
Number of episodes per season: eight to 10
First premiered: 01.06.15
Network: ABC

Consisting of half-seasons (just eight to ten episodes) that air during Agents of SHIELD’s mid-season hiatuses, Agent Carter nonetheless manages to tell a full story. Set in the late 1940s, starting just one year after the end of World War II and the presumed death of Captain America, the television series follows Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), one of the MCU’s strongest characters – and one that was destined to (largely) be left in the waste bin, thanks to her chronological status – as she attempts to adapt to peacetime and to fit in what is very clearly a man’s world.

On the one hand, Carter plays out exactly as it sounds like: a semi-sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, right down to the guest-starring roles of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) and the Howling Commandos. On the other hand, however, the show is, of course, an entity onto itself, by introducing those characters from the comics that wouldn’t otherwise be able to fit into the continuity, such as this past season’s Madame Masque (Wynn Everett), and also helping to set up various items in the rest of the MCU , such as the Black Widow program or, perhaps more pertinently, the Winter Soldier himself.

Daredevil

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Number of seasons: two
Number of episodes per season: 13
First premiered: 04.10.15
Network: Netflix

The Netflix corner of the MCU is a decidedly different beast, eschewing the globe-trotting exploits of Agents of SHIELD or the intergalactic happenings of the movies and instead concentrating solely on that troubled section of New York City called Hell’s Kitchen.

Daredevil is the first entry into this street-level, vigilante-focused sub-reality, and, as such, it does what little heavy-lifting there is to do in order to get all the subsequent Netflix productions on the same page as the larger shared universe: after the Chitauri invasion of New York in The Avengers, organized crime jumps on all the rebuilding that must now happen, causing even more corruption and violence in the area. Blind lawyer Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) is forced to conclude that the limits of the law make it inadequate to protect his town and prosecute its enemies by itself; he slowly, over the course of the first season, creates the costumed identity of Daredevil in order to fill the gaps.

Whereas the rest of the MCU is PG-13, Daredevil is most definitely the equivalent of an R, given its increased levels of violence, language, and story material (child trafficking and drug dealing are just the tip of the iceberg). The second season has only proven to up the ante, as the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) has arrived on the scene, proving to be both nemesis and ally to the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

Jessica Jones

JessicaJones Marvel: A Complete Guide To The TV Universe


Number of seasons: one (second already picked up)
Number of episodes per season: 13
First premiered: 11.20.15
Network: Netflix

The follow-up to Daredevil, Jessica Jones focuses on a different set of characters in Hell’s Kitchen but ultimately proves to swing around to Daredevil’s neck of the woods by the end (the two series have already had cast members guest star on the other’s shows, typically in the season finales). It also focuses on a different facet of the narrative diamond: more character-based than action-oriented, following the titular protagonist – a young woman (Krysten Ritter) who mysteriously acquired super strength as a teenager – as she struggles to overcome the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse done to her by Kilgrave (David Tennant), who is easily the single most fascinating and three-dimensional of all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s villains.

So, what’s the story? Jessica Jones is a private detective who manages to subsist mostly on snark and alcohol, usually in that order. When she learns that Kilgrave has managed to survive his last encounter with her, Jessica braces herself for the inevitable, inexorable reunion with him – though it goes nothing like how she expects it. Indeed, Jessica Jones’s main draw – besides its absolutely stellar cast – is in the suspense each episode is able to first instil and then ratchet endlessly up, ending in a catharsis for both protagonist and audience that is glorious to behold.

Damage Control

Marvel TV Damage Control ABC Comedy Pilot Marvel: A Complete Guide To The TV Universe


Number of seasons: N/A
Number of episodes per season: N/A
First premiered: N/A
Network: ABC

After developing a whole slate of dramas for both ABC and Netflix, Marvel and Disney decided to take the now-legendary brand and attempt to veer it in a completely different direction: comedy.

Based off a series of comic book miniseries, Damage Control follows a construction company that is sent in to clean up after all the major superpowered battles that leave large swaths of real estate uninhabitable; as the official logline goes, “They are the ones who are in charge of returning lost ray guns to their rightful owners, help to reschedule a wedding venue after it has been vaporized in a superhero battle, or even track down a missing prize African parrot that’s been turned to stone or goo.”

The television version will be a half-hour, single-camera sitcom, but even more intriguing than the deviation on the now-perfected television formula is the showrunner that the network has selected to bring the comedy to life: Ben Karlin, who has had stints on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and ABC’s own Modern Family.

Although only currently at the pilot stage, industry scuttlebutt places the series at a fall premiere – if it receives a series pick-up, that is.

Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger Freeform Series Marvel: A Complete Guide To The TV Universe


Number of seasons: N/A
Number of episodes per season: N/A
First premiered: N/A
Network: Freeform

Never heard of Freeform? Don’t feel bad. It’s actually been around since 1977, but it went through a number of owners – and purposes – before finally landing in the lap of Disney in 2001, when it was renamed ABC Family. Just this year, however, Disney and ABC have decided to rebrand it yet again, giving it the moniker of Freeform and specifically targeting it at “becomers,” those individuals between the ages of 14 and 34 (you gotta love marketing speak).

All of this is important to know because, just this past week, the surprise announcement was made that the channel was looking to more fully delve into the sci-fi/fantasy genre by exploiting its sister company, Marvel. The result is Cloak and Dagger, a pair of characters that have been floating around the Marvel Universe for the past 34 years.

The television adaptation will feature Tyrone Johnson (Cloak, who can both teleport and phase through matter) and Tandy Bowen (Dagger, who can create “daggers” of light that can help heal people), reimagined as teenagers as they fall in love with one another – and learn how to deal with their newfound superpowers. It sounds like the stereotypical riff on Romeo and Juliet, just with the added flair of special abilities and Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity– in other words, like a potential mega-hit.

There has been no announcement regarding who will be the showrunner or when the new series will air, but we’d be surprised if Marvel, ABC, and Disney would miss the beginning of the 2016-2017 television season on this.

Luke Cage

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Number of seasons: one
Number of episodes per season: 13
First premiered: 09.30.16
Network: Netflix

Originally introduced in Jessica Jones as the protagonist’s on-again, off-again love interest, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is set to receive his own series this fall on Netflix, marking the third (of four) Marvel entries for the streaming giant.

Known as Power Man in the comics, Luke not only has super strength (like Jessica Jones, making for some quite humorous love-making scenes), but also invincibility, which results in him being an almost unstoppable force. Rather than dressing up in a costume and joining the Avengers, however, he’s more than content to live a quiet life, running his own bar and doting on his wife… until she’s killed by a Kilgrave-controlled Jessica Jones, putting all the characters on a trajectory course with one another in the various Netflix series.

While the exact plot of Luke Cage’s first season is unknown, we’ve already received word that the character’s backstory – how he obtained his superpowers through a series of mysterious experiments – will be addressed, which already goes a long way to making this must-see Marvel TV.

Most Wanted

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Number of seasons: N/A
Number of episodes per season: N/A
First premiered: N/A
Network: ABC

During Agents of SHIELD’s second season (that’s the 2014-2015 season, for all you playing along at home), two new characters were added to the main cast: Lance Hunter (Nick Blood), a mercenary who signs a long-term contract with Director Coulson’s new SHIELD, and Agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki), a martial arts expert who goes by the superhero name of Mockingbird in the comics. Given both their physical capabilities and their relationship with one another – they’re ex-spouses and, at least for the time being, current lovers – the duo added a certain dramatic flair to the show that was immediately noticed by fans and television executives alike. By the end of that season, ABC was already talking about spinning them off into their own series; just last month, the two characters were written off of SHIELD in order to allow the actors to film the pilot episode.

Now, despite the recent development (and the recent slew of casting announcements), Most Wanted is nowhere near a sure thing; the network won’t even announce whether it’s picked the pilot up for a full show until this summer, at the earliest. Still, with the (relative) successes of both SHIELD and Agent Carter for ABC, all signs are looking good for Bob and Hunter’s continued adventures – which would revolve around the ex-spies getting caught up with a “rogue adventurer” who could help protect them from their long list of enemies but who would also expect them to help further his own, perhaps morally dubious, agenda.

Just as with Cloak and Dagger, look for Most Wanted to arrive in the coming 2016-2017 television season, whether upfront or as a mid-season replacement – if, indeed, it materializes at all.

Iron Fist

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Number of seasons: one
Number of episodes per season: 13
First premiered: TBA 2017
Network: Netflix

In addition to being the final entry in the Netflix quartet of Marvel series, Iron Fist also holds another, more dubious title: the most troubled television property that Marvel has yet brought to the small screen.

This is mostly due to the complexity of bringing such a brazenly supernatural character to life, particularly in the Hell’s Kitchen corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; even though Daredevil started planting certain fantasy seeds as far back as its first season, the lineup of series are all remarkably grounded and visceral. And as Iron Fist showrunner Scott Buck has said, “Danny Rand is a very complicated character. He’s a billionaire New York Buddhist monk martial-arts superhero who’s still trying to figure out what exactly that all means.” When one throws in the little fact that, in the comics, the character bests a dragon named Shou-Lao in order to attain the power of the Iron Fist, the already-daunting task becomes even more difficult.

It is currently expected that Iron Fist (Finn Jones) will first be introduced in Luke Cage before being spun off into his own show; more than a simple marketing move, the two characters have teamed up for decades in the comics, most recently in the series Heroes for Hire. Seeing the Netflix series reflect this long-running history would be a nice touch, indeed.

The Defenders

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Number of seasons: one
Number of episodes per season: eight
First premiered: TBA 2017 or 2018
Network: Netflix

Once Iron Fist debuts, all the pieces will be in place for the endgame of Marvel’s Netflix experiment: The Defenders, which will see all four of the streaming superheroes – that’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, in case you’ve forgotten already in these heaping helpings of television properties and franchises – team up together to take on those threats to Hell’s Kitchen that are too big for any one of them to tackle individually. If this sounds suspiciously like the premise of The Avengers, it is, just writ small for the TV format.

What’s even more exciting than seeing a second major team-up of superheroes is the sheer potential for a crossover with the movie side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a prospect that has been avoided at all costs up until now (Director Phil Coulson and his team of SHIELD agents are all classified top-secret, working in the shadows, while the individual Defender members strictly stick to their home turf); with Thanos coming to invade Earth in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War two-parter, and with such characters as Dr. Strange (who’s getting his own film later this year) traditionally a part of the Defenders, Marvel has been hinting for the past few years that the Avengers will need every last hand on deck in order to protect humanity from annihilation.

As if you needed more reason to tune in to Netflix.

Untitled

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Number of seasons: N/A
Number of episodes per season: N/A
First premiered: N/A
Network: ABC

The only mystery project currently on Marvel TV’s docket, this enigmatic entry has been in the news for the past year but has had no definitive information officially disclosed: we don’t know its title, subject matter, planned premiere date, or relevance (or lack thereof) with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So, what do we know? The creator – and potential showrunner – behind the series is none other than John Ridley, the writer of 12 Years a Slave and the main creative force behind ABC’s American Crime. It will focus on a pre-existent superhero (or other related character) from Marvel’s comics library, and, according to Ridley, it will be “reflective[ly] sensible,” meaning that it will have a specific social consciousness that may, perhaps, be lacking from other comic book adaptations (and which is a rich vein in his own work).

We’re hoping to learn more next month, when the various networks will be announcing which series will be making it to the airwaves later on this year.

Conclusion

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As if 11 series weren’t enough, the Marvel television game continues to be red-hot and continues to attract further possibilities; with nearly every major name in town pitching new concepts to ABC and Disney, it should come as no surprise that three more shows are currently rumored to be in consideration: The Punisher, a Netflix production, based off the character’s hugely successful run in the second season of Daredevil; Shang-Chi, yet another Netflix project, staring a character who is expected to be introduced in Iron Fist; and, finally, a second half-hour comedy series that, like Damage Control, is being developed at ABC.

You better start getting caught up now, while you still conceivably can.

Which Marvel series is your favorite? Which may be a step too far in the world-building game? Sound off in the comments section.