A few years ago (wow, this website has been around for a few years!) I wrote an article called Marvel TV Isn’t MCU, because at the time, it wasn’t. Well, since then, some things have changed.
At this point, there have been at least 13 different tv shows that at one point were said to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not all of these shows have worked, but the ones that did, worked really, really well, and I wanted to talk about what’s different with the modern shows, versus what we started with. So let’s first take a look at what we are lucky enough to be spoiled with now, and that’s the shows that are on Disney+.
In a post-Endgame MCU, Marvel tv shows are brilliant. WandaVision was released, and had a huge following and wonderful reviews week after week by fans that couldn’t get enough of their favorite superpowered witch and her android husband. The show was quirky, it took huge risks, and it added some serious consequences for the future of the MCU. So far, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is on track to do the same. You see, the shows know that, by this point, you are a fan of their movies, and their characters. They know that, after “The Blip,” you are invested with what happens to these characters, especially with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers no longer involved. Because of this, the show isn’t afraid to lose their audience after a slow start, or a few unanswered questions.
Some of the best shows on television are riddled with slow starts and unanswered questions, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Lost, Westworld, etc. Not only this, but the show rewards you for having seen other movies in the MCU, and you feel like you are on the inside of a joke or secret. Seeing Bucky and Sam bicker, like they did in Civil War, is incredibly amusing, and that feeling of “I remember that” feels great. This is why the shows can make a few more risks with their shows, and why they feel like they are working so well.
Not only this, but you know, when you watch these shows, that what is happening actually matters to the greater story, and will influence these characters after the credits roll. You feel invested from the time you’ve already given, you feel safe investing your time for a payoff later, and it’s interesting to see how the show takes you between those moments, with interesting choices now.
Of course, we have a lot of shows to look forward that follow this model as well.
Next, we had two shows on ABC (we really had three, but we’ll get back to that), which were…okay. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter both were shows that, just like the Disney+ shows, required you to watch the movies, and even had characters from the movies in the show. Because of this, the shows both had very strong, popular starts, where everyone wanted to see what would happen. However, at the time, Marvel TV was a different department from the movies, and therefore weren’t under the same plans.
When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first premiered, people wondered how the show would influence the movies, especially when Nic Fury made an appearance in the very first episode. Unfortunately, it was clear that the writers for the show weren’t necessarily told what the future of the movies would be, even though they were already set in place. You see, this show premiered about six months before Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when (!spoiler!) it turns out that S.H.I.E.L.D. was actually infested with Hydra all along. When the movies don’t want their major plot twist to be spoiled by an ABC show, they don’t tell them what’s happening, until it’s too late to be involved in all the action.
Therefore, it’s like this show, that’s literally named after the people most affected by this news, was completely uninvolved. Why would audiences keep watching, if it seems like nothing in this show is going to pay off in the “real” story of the movies? Don’t get me wrong, I think that the show’s story is also engaging, but it’s hard to see it as important when it’s a satellite to the action. If the movies affect the shows, but the shows don’t affect the movies, it’s hard to be invested.
The same goes with Agent Carter, a great show with characters that are straight from the movies, but literally nothing that happens in Agent Carter will affect the movies. Some people say the same about prequel stories in general, but there aren’t even moments where you might hear someone say “What was that moment in Civil War about?” “Oh, you gotta go back and watch Agent Carter, because…”. That conversation won’t happen, even though (!spoilers!) we literally see Peggy Carter’s funeral! Such a good opportunity to have a tie-in. But they don’t.
With all of this, the shows can’t take any meaningful risks, or be meaningful to the story in any way.
The Marvel/Netflix shows were amazing, and as of this writing (we are two episodes into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Daredevil is still the best Marvel show to date. These shows aren’t without their problems too though. You see, when the first season of Daredevil came out, it was assumed by everyone that this was canonically tied to the MCU movies, because they referenced the Chitauri Invasion of New York, calling it “The Incident.” The main characters got a great deal on an office space, because everyone was still doing repairs from that major battle at the end of The Avengers. Why wouldn’t this mean that the shows are connected?
However, as Daredevil continued, followed by Jessica Jones (another great show), then Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and eventually The Defenders, it became clear that these shows weren’t actually connected to the greater MCU. So much so that there’s several points in the shows that have the NYC skyline, and Avengers Tower is noticably absent. On the other hand, they will reference the “Big Green Guy” (Hulk) and the “Flag Waver” (Captain America) and even “Magic Hammers” (Thor’s Mjolnir), but they won’t actually say their names, or mention anything about them since the 2012 movie, even if they started in 2015.
Honestly, some people didn’t even know that these shows were Marvel, unless they saw the Netflix promo. This had a benefit, in that the shows were willing to take huge risks with their characters and storytelling, because it literally didn’t matter, and the shows were better for it. Unfortunately, because it literally didn’t matter, no one cares about them in the context of the MCU.
If you haven’t seen them, go watch them (except maybe Iron Fist and The Defenders). They are wonderful superhero shows that are based on Marvel comics, just know going in that they have nothing to do with the MCU, even if they want to pretend like they are.
Lastly, there are three more shows that are technically MCU shows, but they suffer from the faults of both sets of non-Disney+ shows. They don’t have any characters or major interactions with anything from the MCU, but they also don’t take any risks with that freedom from consequences. The Runaways (on Hulu), Cloak and Dagger (on Freeform), and Inhumans (on ABC) are part of the MCU, but you’d never know it. These shows have a very small fan base, partly because they have nothing really to do with the MCU in the first place, and partly because they aren’t interesting or take any risks.
We are incredibly lucky that Marvel finally realized that we want shows that are intertwined with the movies, and are just as risk-taking as the movies are, because we trust the ride they are taking us on. It’s taken a long time, but we finally got to a wonderful point with Marvel TV, and I’m excited.