Marvel is ready to revamp its TV production process, and its vision for future MCU streaming series sounds a lot like ‘Loki’

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The return of Loki has revitalized the MCU after two of the three Phase 5 projects released this year underperformed with critics and audiences alike. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumaniaand Secret Invasion were low points in what has been an inconsistent era for Marvel Studios following the unprecedented success of its Infinity Saga, but Loki, the studio’s most popular streaming series, is back and once again in strong form. The first episode of Season 2 drew 10.9 million views over its first three days in early October, according to Disney, the second-best premiere for Disney+ this year, behind only The Mandalorian’s Season 3 opener. (By Disney’s and Netflix’s metrics, a streaming view is defined as total viewing time divided by run time.) Yet even as Loki picks up steam, news has surfaced that Marvel is undergoing a massive overhaul of its approach to creating TV.

Last week, The Hollywood Reporter published a piece detailing the various issues that have plagued the development of Daredevil: Born Again, the highly anticipated Disney+ series that is set to reunite Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, the leading duo from Netflix’s Daredevil, which concluded in 2018. Despite the fact that numerous episodes had already been shot, Marvel decided that the series was not working and fired head writers Chris Ord and Matt Corman amid a creative restructuring that also included the release of the show’s directors for the remainder of the season. But the reworking of Daredevil is just one manifestation of the wholesale changes that are reportedly coming to the studio.

Starting with the premiere of WandaVision in January 2021, Marvel chose to apply its successful moviemaking formula to its creative process for TV development, forgoing the proven methods of traditional TV culture. Instead of hiring showrunners, Marvel tasked film executives with running each series, which some industry sources decried at the time. Rather than order pilots, the studio would shoot entire $150-million-plus seasons and decide what was or wasn’t working on the back end, fixing (or trying to fix) any issues in postproduction and reshoots. In place of multiseason series, almost every show was structured as a six- to nine-episode event that would neatly resolve its own story or set up a future MCU project. As an anonymous insider described the Marvel approach to The Hollywood Reporter, “TV is a writer-driven medium; Marvel is a Marvel-driven medium.”

Marvel learned the hard way that movies and TV are, in fact, not the same. It took a wildly expensive and unnecessary learning curve—coinciding with a decline in viewership numbers for recent series and chaotic levels of dysfunction in multiple production processes (including Secret Invasion’s)—but the studio is apparently ready to embrace change (or, rather, tradition, in the form of a more conventional TV development process). Marvel intends to hire showrunners and retain full-time TV executives, with those showrunners writing pilots and show bibles. And shows will no longer be limited to one-off seasons as the studio shifts its focus from increasing its quantity of titles to allowing a narrative—and its characters—to grow from season to season.

In other words, Marvel is looking to make more shows in the image of Loki.

Out of the nine Disney+ series that Marvel Studios has released so far, Loki is the only live-action show to secure a second season. (The second season of the animated What If …? is due out around Christmas.) Perhaps it’s no surprise that Loki has received singular treatment, given that it’s one of the studio’s most successful shows. Through two episodes of Season 2, the benefits of sticking with a multiseason format are already evident. The first season of Loki was an exciting sci-fi adventure through time and space that paved the road for the Multiverse Saga to follow. But more important, it was a deep exploration of a beloved character in a story that stood on its own.

As Marvel’s head of streaming, television, and animation, Brad Winderbaum, told The Hollywood Reporter, a show should work “beyond the fact that it ties into [other projects] or if they are going to be in a movie or if it is setting up an Avengers film.” More than 15 years (and 40 projects) after Iron Man spawned the MCU, a statement like this should be pretty obvious. But Marvel-style storytelling is a balancing act that has grown only more challenging over time as its history has accumulated and its universe has gotten more crowded and complex. The interconnectivity of the MCU is both one of the foundations of Marvel Studios’ box office dynasty and a limitation that has suffocated some projects.

By stretching its story into multiple seasons, Loki was able to end its first run with Marvel’s best season finale, a rare conclusion that didn’t climax in a messy CGI spectacle that featured the hero overcoming the villain in an epic battle, or feel like a hasty setup for a future film. (Even the terrific WandaVision fell victim to this pitfall in its action-packed finale.) Season 2 has continued to expand the world of the Time Variance Authority and develop Loki as a character who’s trying to move on from his wicked ways to become a hero, and it also has the space to explore supporting figures like Mobius and introduce new faces such as Ke Huy Quan’s Ouroboros.

The reported makeover of Marvel’s approach to TV could still benefit Loki should the show continue for a third season (even if that prospect appears to be unlikely). Though the series may have earned a rare renewal for a second run, it still carries some of the hallmarks of Marvel’s prevailing approach to TV, as evidenced by its lack of a traditional showrunner and its six-episode seasons. While series creator Michael Waldron remains an executive producer on Season 2, Eric Martin—who cowrote multiple episodes in Season 1—has taken over as head writer, and director Kate Herron has been replaced by a new team of directors after helming the entire first season on her own. (It’s perhaps telling that after Waldron’s success with Loki, his talents were immediately put to use on the film side of Marvel’s business. He was tapped to rewrite 2022’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and he’s set to write the culminating event of the Multiverse Saga: Avengers: Secret Wars.) Time will tell whether the turnover on the creative team will have negative consequences, but Martin and Co. have done a good job of maintaining the show’s consistency from the first season thus far.

If Loki does earn another renewal, the series could continue to explore its characters and the intricacies of the TVA. With the endless narrative opportunities that the multiverse affords, Loki could last for a long time, and it seems like there’s an audience for it. If the forthcoming finale truly is the end, though, we’ll soon learn whether its story’s conclusion will be sacrificed for the MCU’s larger agenda—especially surrounding the importance He Who Remains and Kang the Conqueror hold for the remainder of the Multiverse Saga.

It’s hard to say how long it’ll take to see the effects of Marvel’s new approach to TV. Echo, the next project on the studio’s streaming slate, is expected to premiere in January. But it wrapped production in 2022 and is currently positioned as another limited series. Although it’ll be exciting to see Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) star in her own series after her introduction in Hawkeye, Echo seems like a candidate to repeat past series’ mistakes by showing less interest in its own story than in its star’s crossover potential.

Looking further ahead, Agatha: Darkhold Diaries is another spinoff series of a Phase 4 show, WandaVision, that will center on Kathryn Hahn’s Agatha Harkness as the witch attempts to escape her imprisonment in Westview, New Jersey. Agatha, which is tentatively set for release in late 2024, was also developed as a limited series well before the recent reappraisal, with filming reportedly wrapping up earlier this year. Agatha does, however, feature WandaVision’s Jac Schaeffer as head writer and executive producer, so it’s set up to be more of a spiritual successor to the Emmy-nominated series than a true stand-alone project, putting it more in line with Marvel’s belated acceptance of traditional showrunners. Without Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff to lead the way, though, the show will need a new approach to recapture the magic of WandaVision.

(The other upcoming TV show that the Hollywood Reporter article cites is Wonder Man, a series set to star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Simon Williams, a superhero who moonlights as an actor. The Ringer’s Joanna Robinson said during a recent episode of The Watch that she’s heard that Marvel is “trashing the Wonder Man project.”)

The future of MCU TV is currently being reevaluated and rewritten. If Marvel is able to internalize the industry’s proven methods and still preserve what makes its characters special, its future will be worth looking forward to. Although the studio’s small-screen efforts have been uninspiring for the most part, there’s tremendous potential for Marvel to improve and expand in the streaming world. There’s also a tremendous appetite for further expansion, at least on Marvel’s part (if not necessarily on Disney’s). As Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently said of the MCU, “Even after 32 movies, it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

That sentiment feels especially true for Marvel as it attempts to correct course and navigate the nuances of a medium with different demands and rhythms than the movies. Maybe Marvel’s growing pains will produce better products. Assuming Loki doesn’t stray too far from the path it’s charted through eight episodes, Marvel already has a model to emulate.

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