The Mandalorian was just the beginning: on January 15, WandaVision will bring the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Disney Plus for the first time, and from there will escalate throughout 2021. On March 19, the Cap spin-off The Falcon and the Winter Soldier roll out weekly, and then Loki comes to the small screen in May. Next up, the Marvel animated show What If in the middle of the year? Bring the actors from the movies back to the voice key characters in alternate universe scenarios. Finally, 2021 will be rounded off by shows about Ms Marvel and Hawkeye, which will introduce new heroes to the MCU.
That’s a lot of Marvel, and actually, it’s just the beginning. A lot more shows will follow in the years to come, but none of this is news if you’re even vaguely tuned into this fictional universe. What’s strange is how much of that is in 2021 – part of this is dictated by Covid’s development delays, which forced a few shows out from last year. If you thought that the first 12 months of Disney Plus were a little slow to the originals (and I did, though Simpsons marathons kept me busy), this avalanche of Marvel stuff is most welcome.
In 2021, Marvel’s going to be at the centre of a pop culture conversation – and she’s never going to let up. I expect this series of shows to have an enormous effect on Disney’s rivalry, seeking to create a similarly broad series of large budgets and massive stars. But is it a positive thing, huh? And do we need a lot of these Marvel shows?
The birth of real blockbuster TV
I’ve heard a few people say that Mandalorian season 2 displaced blockbuster movies in 2020 – both on the size of the episode, which was indistinguishable from the films in how elaborately it was portrayed, but also in how we talked about it online. Ok, I hope that’s true. For the eight closing weeks of 2020, Mandalorian was a pop culture for many viewers, and while the show wasn’t that difficult to watch, there was a lot to dissect from the viewpoint of Star Wars.
These Marvel shows may be as big a deal as The Mandalorian, inspiring a similar amount of controversy, memes, and explanations of where those elements started in comics. People are especially hungry for Marvel material right now, and what better diversion from a nearly relentless pandemic than your first visit to the MCU since the summer of 2019?
Marvel is expected to be at the centre of the 2021 TV controversy because of the characters’ economic intensity and the sheer volume of the series. But I think this is pointing to a more significant overarching shift in TV, where ‘blockbuster’ TV shows are going to become more critical to services than the kinds of prestige dramas that have primarily characterised the streaming age so far (the House of Cards, Ozark and Orange is the New Black-type series).
There’s undoubtedly space for all of them – look at The Queen’s Gambit, viewed by 62 million Netflix households around the same time The Mandalorian returned – but I think the next boundary of streaming TV is everyone searching for their version of Mando. That is a crowd-pleasing series, perhaps based on a recognisable character or property, which appeals to as many people as possible.
Are these types of shows new?
The Mandalorian is a strange TV programme that struggles to follow the laws of recent developments in the TV drama. Indeed, as has been pointed out several times, it’s more of a Xena-style adventure-of-the-week series, the likes of which were more common in the ’80s and ’90s than in modern history. Of course, Mando is different from the previous shows for various reasons – taking a lot longer to make and set up in the Star Wars universe, for example.
By taking those influences, though, it’s deeply refreshing to watch versus most current TV shows – and it’s hard to believe that it’s easier if it swapped its adventure-of-the-week style with a more talkative, serialised approach to drama. Unlike several prestige-style shows such as Netflix and HBO, Mandala is planned to be viewed by both children and adults.
It’s not that The Mandalorian is entirely unparalleled. Star Trek: Discovery, which is frustratingly inconsistent, is based on an existing common property and is more modern and costly than the older Trek version. Yet Discovery seems much more like pretending to be a weighty hour-long drama than Mando, trying to blend into a TV world that already exists.
On the horizon, there are other signs that people are attempting to craft their iterations of The Mandalorian or the Disney Plus Marvel show – that is, taking on popular pop culture assets and creating a monstrous TV series around them. Just look at Amazon, a show focused on the Fallout cards and the Lord of the Rings series and another fantasy series based on The Wheel of Time novels. Also, to a lesser degree, The Boys and forthcoming comic book adaptations such as Invincible’s animated superhero series and the Stranger Things-ish Paper Girls illustrate how well-considered source material is a valuable sale.
Numerous TV shows based on DC Comics characters are also in the works on HBO Max in the US. By any means, this isn’t new—Warner Bros has been doing it since Smallville and the Batman animated series. The fresh central aspect is that these shows will join up with theatrical movies, including the forthcoming Gotham Police Thriller, The Batman, in 2022, and The Suicide Squad, based on John Cena’s character, Peacemaker. Crossing the Two Over is a deliberate aspect of the upcoming plan – as discussed in a New York Times interview with Walter Hamada, DC Films.
Again, that feels like an approach that takes a page from the Marvel playbook, ensuring you need to watch the TV shows to follow the story of the films. But it also shows how blockbuster movies are spilling onto our TV screens in a way that’s different to how it used to be – it’s a significant shift from the church-and-state approach taken in the past illustrates how important TV subscription fees are to these older entertainment companies. They want to make something you’ve never seen before to keep you spending money.