Black Widow: Why improvised family works so well for the character

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WARL to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)Photo: Film Frame©Marvel Studios 2018
Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WARL to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)Photo: Film Frame©Marvel Studios 2018 /
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Marvel, MCU, Black Widow
Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: INFINITY WARL to R: War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)Photo: Chuck Zlotnick©Marvel Studios 2018 /

With the final Black Widow trailer recently released, why does the idea of improvised family work so well?

The final trailer for Black Widow dropped on Monday morning, raising an interesting point for Natasha Romanoff’s (Scarlett Johansson) first onscreen solo adventure – why is the idea of improvised family so important?

Aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy, there is no MCU character to whom the idea is more important.

“Improvised family,” a term I’m using to mean other non-biological humans that are considered family members, has been a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe almost since the beginning. It also primarily happens among adults.

This stands in contrast to the traditional nuclear family, represented best in the MCU by Clint Barton’s (Jeremy Renner) wife and kids, or Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) relationship with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson/Emma Fuhrmann).

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is able to be such a good father to his daughter Morgan (Alexandra Rabe) because of learning from his past mistakes, sure, but also from the practice he gained guiding Peter Parker (Tom Holland) through his superhero journey.

Why has the concept been a part of the story from the beginning? Probably because Joss Whedon was one of the key architects in laying the MCU foundation, and it’s one of the hallmarks of a Whedonverse project – just look at the Scooby Gang on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Serenity crew on Firefly. 

His brother Jed Whedon and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen were the showrunners of Agents of SHIELD, so it’s no surprise that Phil Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) handpicked band of misfits coalesced into one of the most amazing improvised family units on television this decade.

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But the concept has been around on television far longer than the rise of the Whedons – The Brady Bunch could possibly be considered the prototype, with another early example being GIlligan’s Island. It was further refined by 1990s shows like Friends and Seinfeld, which depicted a group of adults leaning on friendships to get them through life’s events and crises rather than marriages or extended family members.

The entire premise of Full House comes from Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) having his brother-in-law Jesse and best friend Joey move in to help him raise his daughters after his wife died in a car wreck. And in the sequel series Fuller House, this formula is repeated in the next generation after DJ’s husband dies of a heart attack, where Kimmy and Steph move in.

Sometimes this sense of togetherness comes from the after-work hangout, as in Cheers, or from the workplace itself as in The Office and Parks and Recreation. 

Of course, one of the earliest ways this improvised family concept was presented to audiences was through JM Barrie’s work in his 1902 play The Admirable Crichton and through the Lost Boys in his 1911 novel Peter Pan.