Culture Crash 21-12

Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

A few years back, at the height of popularity for HBO’s Game of Thrones, there were stories flying around Hollywood about other networks and streaming platforms vying to make the “next Game of Thrones.” Amazon paid huge bucks for the rights to make a Lord of the Rings show, Netflix launched The Witcher, and on and on.

Disney took its own path, namely, mining their wide library of content for Disney Plus shows like The Mandalorian and WandaVision, which recently ended its nine-week run. And I must say, in my estimation, WandaVision did manage to be something of a microcosm of the Game of Thrones experience. They both had big name stars,  they both were wildly popular online, which led to memes and theories aplenty, and ultimately, they both disappointed in the end. Game of Thrones at least had several years of magic in its run, while WandaVision sort of fizzled out for me after just a few weeks.

To begin with, WandaVision was a really cool concept. Set in the Marvel Universe, the first few episodes were  a wild departure from typical superhero fare, modeling each episode after an era of American sitcom television. The episodes were entertaining, nostalgic, and had an impeding sense of dread as the Marvel-ness of it all crept in in unexpected ways. It was really unlike anything I had seen and I was hooked. But then the corporate management of it all kicked in: The show steered away from its ominous, enigmatic roots and became another Marvel engine. Everything was directly explained to the audience multiple times, spandex costumes started to become more and more common, and ultimately, the series ended with several superheroes fighting in the sky with CGI energy balls.

The show earned a lot of praise for its portrayal of grief, and it surely had its moments, but ultimately it left me feeling empty. Ultimately, WandaVision tried to be too many things: it was a story of trauma, but less effective than HBO’s The Leftovers, it was a family sitcom, but it wasn’t as funny as, say, Modern Family or Malcolm in the Middle, it was a superhero show, but its action sequences weren’t as entertaining as a blockbuster movie. Ultimately, its true colors were revealed to be that it was just another piece of corporate IP. The artistic vision that flared in the early episodes were dulled down until it could simply bridge the gap to the next Marvel product… which coincidentally, is also now streaming on Disney Plus. I will not be surprised when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier similarly ends as an on-ramp to whatever comes after that.

Networks and streamers all want to make the next smash hit, and in that, Disney Plus has succeeded. Unfortunately, I find its artfulness to be suspect at best, because it seems it’s all done in the name of content creation instead of pure storytelling. WandaVision is now streaming on Disney Plus – it had its fun moments, but more importantly, it kept the train rolling.

I’m Evan Rook