Nathan‘s Ranking of the MCU TV Shows
With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the MCU has officially entered Phase 5. To mark this occasion, and recent statements by Kevin Feige suggesting that there are major changes in way for the Disney+ MCU shows, I thought this would be a great time to look back on the Phase 4 shows and rank them.
Phase 4 of the MCU included eight series. I have seen all of them except What If, so that won’t be ranked here. Let’s get to it!
7. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
This show was made up of everything that the MCU shows do wrong. This is the one show that had no interest in even trying to be a TV show; it was a movie broken up arbitrarily into six 1 hour segments. Therefore, it takes on so many of the MCU’s worst attributes, just spread out over a longer period of time. It is mostly boring and spins in plot circles. The characters exhibit shockingly little growth for the runtime. And, above all, the themes of the show are murky. The villains are supposed to be bad guys, but I found myself rooting for them the whole time? And what even was that final speech by Falcon as he accepted the mantle of the new Captain America? This one may have worked better as a 2 hour movie where the flaws were not so magnified, but it really doesn’t justify its own existence.
Oh I so wanted to like this one. I am a huge Tatiana Maslany fan going back to her sensational work in Orphan Black. I actually thought this show had a great concept – let’s take the world of the MCU and make it a workplace legal comedy. If we take a step back and ignore some of the awkward CGI, a well written comedy is hiding just beneath the surface. There are some genuinely funny moments throughout these six episodes. This show, however, is a great example of Marvel getting in its own way. Marvel and Disney+ could have had their own The Office, Parks and Recreation, Mythic Quest, or Abbott Elementary here, but She-Hulk needed at least twice the number of episodes to make that happen. Marvel is so beholden to its shorter episode counts that we never got to get to know the side characters. Rather than simply existing as a laid back and fun workplace comedy, the show felt like it needed to overly raise the stakes. Oh what could have been with this one.
5. Moon Knight
Ok, so now we are in the part of the rankings where I actually liked the shows. There is a lot going for Moon Knight. Oscaar Isaac gave a great performance (although the fact that a non-Jewish man was playing a canonically Jewish character can rightly be criticized), Ethan Hawke was a great villain, and who doesn’t love a sassy CGI hippo goddess? The back half of the season nicely raised the stakes and brought a lot of needed character development and plot momentum. However, I rank this one in the bottom half of the MCU for two reasons. First, the first half of the season was a bit of a sloggy mess. The show took a lot of time to get going, and I think that was because there wasn’t enough plot to justify six whole episodes. Moon Knight would have made a great movie instead of a just above ok TV show. The second reason is that it wasn’t a satisfying watch by itself (a common problem with every entry of the MCU – movies and TV shows alike). This was yet another origin story with no semblance of a complete character arc, and yet Marvel has given no indication when we will see Moon Knight next (either through a second season or a film appearance). I’m a bit exhausted of constantly meeting new characters just for them to disappear for years.
I really enjoyed Hawkeye. Buoyed by an effervescent performance by Hailee Steinfeld, this was a fun Christmas romp. It was tonally balanced, nicely mixing the MCU brand of humor with a genuinely interesting superhero plot. Yes, Vera Farmiga (who plays Steinfeld’s character’s mom) sometimes feels like she is acting in a completely different show, but this is probably the most genuinely entertaining MCU show from beginning to end. I put this on during the last holiday season to revisit it, and I was once again swept up into the fun.
I really battled with myself over my second and third placements. I decided to put Loki in third, but really it and Ms. Marvel are neck and neck. Loki works in so many ways. The performances by Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Osaku, and Jonathan Majors are top notch. I will never say no to more of Hiddleston’s Loki! This show also did more to set the stage for Phase 5 of the MCU while also feeling like a complete season of television in and of itself (it doesn’t really conclude, but I will give it a bit of a pass because we are getting a Season 2). Loki used its six episode run time well, the CGI was surprisingly strong, and the writers nicely balanced the time and universe jumping elements of the story. Bring on Season 2!
2. Ms. Marvel
Ms. Marvel is by no means a perfect show, but it is a show filled with such joy that I cannot help but love it. The cast is universally strong, anchored by the absolutely breakout performance by Iman Vellani. Ms. Marvel, more than any other MCU property, felt fresh and original. It was Marvel mixed with a teen comedy, and I reveled in how different it was from the MCU norm. It is by no means a perfect show. Like She-Hulk the central conceit and vision for the show requires more than six episodes; the show sets up a lot involving Kamala’s teen friends that don’t really go anywhere because the show had to kick into the main, overarching superhero plot in the second half. However, the episode about Partrition was powerful, and the series ended with some fun battles. I would absolutely take a second season of this show, although it doesn’t seem like one is in the cars.
Oh, WandaVision, still by beating heart. This is not only my favorite MCU series, but one of my favorite tv shows of all time. WandaVision works in so many ways where the rest of the MCU shows falter. The WandaVision writers inherently understood that they were making a 9 episode television series and not a 9 hour movie. I watch TV because I like to have discreet and well-defined episodes that each have a beginning and end, with small individual episodic arcs contributing to the larger series arc. WandaVision did this; each episode was distinct and felt like a cohesive part of the greater puzzle. On top of this, the writers were obvious fans of television, as Wanda and Vision transported the different eras of American TV comedies. This show also probably understood its main character better than any other MCU property – movie or show. Wanda is so well-developed, and the show’s exploration of grief in a world of superpowers was emotional and engaging. This show took two minor characters I kind of liked from the films and made Wanda my favorite character in the MCU. Did I always agree with her decisions? No. But did I always understand her, empathize with her, and grieve with her? Absolutely. This was no easy feat – just look at the way Wanda’s character was later butchered in Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Throw in a fun villain that was different from the “vaguely defined terrorist organization” we get in most MCU films/shows, and this show was a real winner. I don’t know if the MCU will ever reach this kind of high for me again.