On October 11, the Hollywood Reporter published an article on the disastrous production of Daredevil season 4, which reportedly led Kevin Feige to hit the reset button on a half-shot project after reviewing existing footage.
What stood out most, as someone who has been unhappily trundling through the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Disney Plus shows, was the point that the streaming service had not been employing showrunners.
No shit! The lack of coherent creative direction, understanding of what makes good television, and a one-size-fits-all approach to structure has been apparent in the content mill’s output. While the streamer’s first try, WandaVision, managed to excel with original ideas and an exciting premise, the serialized output from the biggest IPs has been listless with few bright spots in between. It’s also — as people who love television’s quirks will know — foreign.
I’ve been watching Lost for the first time. Season one has 25 episodes and a three-part finale, which makes the MCU’s 6-hour tales sound like a vacation. But Lost earned its length (that season, anyway). I audibly gasped during the season, cried, laughed, and considered locking my phone away lest I crack and Google ‘Lost ending explained’ six seasons too early.
The return of network television is not totally desirable. 25-episode seasons are a task; commercial breaks are baked into the editing, and filler episodes *shudder* are commonplace. Still, to watch a great water cooler show back in the day, you were in it for the long haul; writers had to perform miracles to keep you invested.
The natural results of this were patient character arcs, relationships developing over seasons, and a commitment to episodic storytelling that’s exciting in a capsule yet driving us to an endgame.
The aim of Marvel series (and Star Wars series now, it seems) is to move the plot, not you. We’re setting up upcoming Marvel movies, introducing likable characters like Kate Bishop to use them in five years’ time, maybe, and shooting the most visually barren shows you’ve ever seen with movie-level budgets.
This is point A-B storytelling, with no knowledge of what makes people sit down to propel Suits to the top of streaming charts, rewatch Friends for the umpteenth time, or secretly press play on the next episode of Yellowjackets without our partners. There are no showrunners because the MCU treats these series like 6-hour movies.
This is corporate-mandated exposition over hours, and no amount of meaningless Easter eggs, star power, or occasional glints of greatness can fix it, because the foundation and intent are all wrong. Disney’s slant on this is more skew-whiff than Thor 1’s Dutch angles. Secret Invasion wasn’t greenlit because it was the best way to adapt the comic (which should have been an Avengers movie) it was produced because Disney Plus had bet on Marvel content.
Every series is made for profit, that’s how the business works, but most of them are not bulletproof in the way major franchises are. Most writers’ rooms have to convince you to try something new, and they don’t have the backdrop of an existing universe. Crucially, they want to make television, not stories that are crushed into TV’s abstract shape and presented with a little “This is TV, we promise!” bow on the top.
There’s a reason these aforementioned long-running shows are yearned for and why Lorelai Gilmore is all over your timeline this October, and there’s a reason we seldom hear about anyone revisiting Marvel shows: in-depth storytelling is rewarding and unfurls the more you think about it.
Ahoska rewarded you with plot progression — a little of it — and dust was paid to making Ahsoka Tano a living, breathing person. She starts the series unsure if she should train Sabine Wren and ends it deciding to train her. The middle is Grand Admiral Thrawn‘s setup for new Star Wars movies and some dividends paid to supporting characters.
Rosario Dawson had no stand-out moment, no chemistry with her cast mates, and minimal connection to anything happening on-screen because the series was not interested in self-contained narrative.
I hadn’t seen Rebels, but I knew a bit about its characters. I had hoped that a Star Wars show with lots of cool women who don’t follow the exact rules of the Jedi would be refreshing and that it might take more of an interest in what’s special about long-form entertainment. Nope.
Compare this to the imperfect best Netflix series to adapt from Marvel Comics, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I’ve watched the latter’s first season three times and lately have been itching to revisit it again. Season 1’s exploration of a self-hating drunk with a soft spot for her best friend is enough on its own.
I don’t have to watch it to know what happens in the next thing. The show has ended and I have seen what goes down in the slightly disappointing seasons to follow, but there’s enough depth to its people and an embracing of TV’s inherent gifts to invite rewatching.
The only Disney Plus show perhaps worth going back to is WandaVision. It had a creative logline, picked up important source material, and utilized one of the best MCU characters in a homage to the small screen. Perhaps the fact that WandaVision’s material was so inextricably tied to TV as a concept is why it worked so well as a serialized story. That, and the fact it had nine episodes rather than six.
It’s not that all these shows are bad, there are a few standouts, but they’re all lacking in the same areas. Character writing that makes me angry, finales that recontextualize, and filler episodes are some of the valleys of TV, but to have those things you require immersed viewers.
TV is a writer’s medium. If it’s where we go to invest in themes and individuals over time, take them with us when the credits roll on the last episode, and revisit them in pursuit of understanding them on a deeper level, then this is not TV.
Look to the prestige productions over at HBO, Netflix’s old strategy of ‘network TV with a polish’, or hand the reigns over to showrunners and executives who have passion and expertise. And this time, let them do their jobs with minimal studio interference.
Maybe you can shoot holes in the likes of Jessica Jones (we don’t talk about Iron Fist, stop waiting for me to admit Iron Fist happened) in ways you can’t with Obi-Wan Kenobi or Secret Invasion, but at least they take swings.
Disney is threatening its most successful franchises with this content, which continues to drop off as time goes by. People are no longer watching the Marvel movies in order ahead of releases, talking about the best Marvel villains at the grocery store, or universally sharing an experience with other fans. At this point, lean in, or drop the act and go back to making new movies.
Daredevil season 4 is likely going to be delayed (although hopefully will still be in Marvel’s Phase 5), so while we wait, read our other superhero hot takes in our feature on why the MCU is making the same mistake Marvel comics did decades ago.