TV TATTLE

WandaVision's weekly release schedule has created a deeper relationship between audience and show

  • The Disney+ Marvel series is not only a love letter to TV, but a reminder of how to do it right, says Alan Sepinwall. "WandaVision has been very explicitly a show about television, and it’s made for television in a way that so many other streaming shows — including most of the ones overseen by (Marvel president Kevin) Feige’s predecessor, Jeph Loeb — have no interest in or ability to pull off," says Sepinwall. "From the moment it launched in late 2019 with The Mandalorian (created by MCU alum Jon Favreau, no less), Disney+ has tacked against recent streaming winds, choosing to release its episodes the old-fashioned way: one week at a time. And in the process, Disney+ has reminded us of the many advantages TV has when it’s scheduled that way. For starters, the pop-culture conversation surrounding The Mandalorian and WandaVision has lasted far longer, and been much better, than your typical Netflix series. Even an allegedly big streaming hit like Stranger Things generates maybe two weeks of online chatter after each season comes out, and rarely with much depth. No one has the time to pause and think about something that they watched in a couple of big chunks over a weekend, because they’re busy moving on to the new season of something else being released that Friday. The Disney+ shows aren’t as thematically rich as, say, Mad Men, but between their ties to larger fictional universes and the various plots and characters specific to each show, audiences have lots to eagerly talk about during the seven days between installments. As happened back in the day with series like Lost, there’s always the danger of the conversation getting ahead of the show....But on the whole, it’s created the kind of deeper relationship between audience and show that was once a core part of the TV-watching experience, but that hasn’t always seemed possible in the streaming era. And when a show is released weekly, there’s more incentive to make each episode satisfying on its own. WandaVision is telling a big story about grief and love." Sepinwall adds that WandaVision's approach to storytelling is "also fundamental to how episodic television works, whether standalone or serialized. It’s a bit of necessary craft that too many series today — many of them created by film writers who have never worked in television before, and think all they have to do is expand a feature-length screenplay to fill more hours — don’t understand or try to do, which makes them into amorphous bags of plot that inevitably sag in the middle. When the only motivation you need to watch the next episode is to have it right in front of you, the previous one doesn’t feel the need to work nearly as hard to hold and keep your interest. When you have a week to wait and decide if you want to keep going, then each episode becomes everything. It’s the difference between sitting on the couch mindlessly plowing through a family-size bag of Doritos and calling it 'dinner,' and rolling your own sushi, lighting some candles, and sitting down at the table to eat."

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    • WandaVision will likely shake up the streaming world: "As studios and distributors looked to own their own shows instead of licensing from others, there was an additional investment in IP-mining, which put Disney and its streaming service, Disney+, in a prime position to dominate," says Ben Travers. "In a lot of ways, WandaVision fits that model. It’s valuable IP, wholly owned by Disney, and serves as an essential part of the MCU’s expanding universe; it could end up being just one more piece of Peak TV’s puzzle. But it’s not a clean fit. The show’s weekly rollout, half-hour format, and hybridization of classic TV sitcoms and modern mystery-box shows stand in defiance to what we’ve come to expect from streaming TV. How many modern shows can rely on fans tuning in every week? How many are 30-minute action-dramas? How many are built into a universe that previously only debuted in cinemas? Each answer results in a smaller number. If WandaVision is the endgame of the Peak TV Era, a unique amalgamation that’s adapted beyond its predecessors, that means it’s also the start of something new. The pandemic halted scripted TV’s growth streak for the first time in more than a decade. New streamers are succeeding without drowning customers in content, and they’re putting a big-time investment in movies again. In moving past Peak TV, WandaVision and Disney+ are ushering in the Throwback Era, a time of pushing TV forward while simultaneously looking back."
    • The way Marvel has taught viewers to consume its movies for years has warped the way many watch WandaVision: "For years, Marvel encouraged viewers to obsess over everything but the text," says Charles Holmes. "Fans were taught to sit for post-credit scenes. Writers were incentivized for publishing Easter egg breakdowns meant to predict everything that wasn’t explicitly said onscreen. Reason would dictate those same habits would rear themselves over the course of a television season. Most discussions about WandaVision inevitably bleed into obsessing over the future at the expense of absorbing what’s on the screen that week. Almost anything can look great if your attention is purely focused on whether or not Mephisto will make an appearance."
    • WandaVision showed the value of a weekly release even more than The Mandalorian: "WandaVision is an increasingly rare series: a true break-out hit that is delivered to its audience as a slow drip, forcing fans to watch on the story’s timetable and not their own," says Adam Epstein. "Disney+, unlike Netflix and many other streaming platforms, releases its TV episodes weekly. It made no exception for WandaVision or for the Star Wars series The Mandalorian, despite Disney’s knowledge that fans would grow debilitatingly thirsty for new information from the moment those shows streamed their first episodes. WandaVision differs from The Mandalorian in that it is what the TV industry calls a 'mystery box'—a series with a puzzle at its center that is slowly solved over the course of its story. Fans who want to race to the end solely to see how it connects to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) overlook the fact that all of that solving and deciphering is the most valuable aspect of watching. Waiting a week for the next installment and discussing the show in real time with other fans is part of what separates television from other media. Everything outside of the show itself—the theorizing, the camaraderie, the debates, the anticipation—is as integral to the experience as the 30 or 60 minutes of content per week. Fans may not even care about resolution or MCU tie-ins as rabidly had they binge-watched the entire series. Binging TV can still make us feel all the feelings we watch specifically watch TV for, but those feelings are often fleeting. The weekly episode release has been an effective narrative device since the days of radio serials, and, later, the advent of television. Just because streaming has allowed for another way to consume stories, that doesn’t mean the episodic structure can or should go away. For some stories—especially ones like WandaVision that feed off fan momentum—it just works better."
    • Why gay people love Agnes Harkness: "I asked my own LGBTQ+ friends on Facebook why they loved Agatha. 'Camp' was one of the major reasons," says Daniel Reynolds. "Agatha's perfect period ensembles and accessories — the brooch, the leg warmers, the lobsters — aligned perfectly with Susan Sontag's definition of camp as 'a sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricalization, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration rather than content.' The incredible performance of Kathryn Hahn — a gay icon in her own right from roles in Bad Moms and Transparent — fleshes out this sensibility."
    • Agatha's winking memes have become tiresome
    • John Stamos posts a throwback photo of him and fellow Disney+ star Elizabeth Olsen when she was a child on the set of Full House
    • Paul Bettany "glitches" during GMA interview
    • How WandaVision's pitch-perfect title sequences channeled TV's past

    TOPICS: WandaVision, Disney+, Elizabeth Olsen, John Stamos, Kathryn Hahn, Paul Bettany, Binge Watching, Marvel




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