Back in 2019, Marvel Studios revealed they would be using its upcoming Disney+ series to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the TV medium. By the end of 2021 alone there will be 6 TV shows produced exclusively for the platform in addition to 4 films (Black Widow is also releasing in theatres and on Disney+ Premier Access on the same day). It is clear from this staggering list of content for one year that Marvel are confident in their upcoming slate, and are happy to experiment with TV, but is this a good thing?
It has often been argued that the MCU works in the same way as a season of TV, and with contemporary TV shows slowly becoming more and more ‘cinematic’, it was inevitable that Marvel Studios would want to enter this market and put their own stamp on it. WandaVision was the first original Marvel series to hit the streaming service and was an immediate sensation across social media. The decision to release episodes weekly instead of dropping them immediately definitely helped this. Every new revelation and development got fans talking and spread word of mouth across numerous weeks. When they release a new film, it will be discussed and shared in this way as well, but with the hype usually only sustaining itself over a couple of weeks as opposed to a long period of time.
This breathing time is one obvious benefit to their venture into TV. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier showed within its first episode why more screen time helps, with the title character of Sam Wilson gaining a sister (and nephews), never before mentioned in his prior six MCU appearances. In this TV format we have more time to learn about the characters, which undoubtedly helps the audience to connect with them. The format was experimented heavily with WandaVision, with nearly every episode being set during a different era of the typical TV sitcom, hooking viewers with cliff-hangers. This structure fits well within a season of TV in a way that I don’t think it would in a feature film. Whilst the end product of the show resembled the regular Marvel third act, the early experimentation shows a lot of storytelling potential. The upcoming animated show What If…? is the perfect example of this, with each episode supposedly chronicling a different alternate timeline for the MCU. These include what if Peggy Carter was given the super soldier serum and what if T’Challa became Star Lord?
This enormous swathe of Marvel content and experimentation with the characters will certainly delight Marvel/Superhero fans more than most, which provides one of the main problems Marvel many find with their large TV slate. Many audiences may not watch every single Marvel film at the cinema as it is, and many may not have access to Disney+. With more characters being introduced and more backstories being told in the shows, there is a high chance that audiences will become more lost when this knowledge is needed to fully understand what’s going on within the future films.
So far, the Marvel TV Slate has proven that it has a lot of potential to expand into the medium. WandaVision showed this within its early episodes and the future of the slate looks just as promising. The move into TV can be criticised in the same way the movies have always been criticised- too much content released for audiences to understand everything. But for now, it seems to be a worthwhile and successful endeavour.
WandaVision and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier are available now on Disney+.