An Editorial From Stephen Clark
Pop culture’s kids are trying to step out of their parent’s shadows with mixed results.
In the Streaming Wars™, using pre-existing intellectual property is the fastest shortcut to getting the viewer’s attention and that sweet, sweet subscription money. We’ve seen seemingly every big company launch or announce a streaming service and, with those services, come new shows featuring characters and worlds that we already know. While it’s great to get new things connected to what we already love, the response to two different tent-pole series has been mixed, to say the least.
One of the most potent examples of the reception to new series that use old IP can be seen in comparing ‘The Mandalorian’ on Disney+ and ‘Watchmen’ on HBO.
Mild spoilers ahead for the first few episodes of The Mandalorian and Watchmen
Shiny Man and Baby Yoda: The Series
When Disney+ was announced, we learned that a Mandalorian series was coming and it had an all star team behind it. The series would be utilizing a Boba Fett-like character of the Mandalorians proper, fan favorites from the expanded Star Wars universe of novels that Disney retconned when they acquired the Star Wars francise. After the first two episodes were released, fan response to the series was almost entirely positive, no small feat after the overwhelmingly negative response to ‘The Force Awakens’, ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Solo’. Casual and dedicated fans were enjoying it and Disney was cashing in on the love of an old franchise and bringing new fans into the fold.
‘The Mandalorian’ is a space western and the fans took to it. Now that we have five of the eight episodes in our watch histories, fan reception seems to have soured. In conversation with friends, the most stalwart Star Wars fan I know went from saying after episode 1 that “It feels like Star Wars again” to that his enjoyment has plateaued after episode 5 and that he wished more happened in the episodes. This is a common complaint among those watching the series. What started with so much potential and excitement has mellowed into mostly “Baby Yoda” memes, conversations about bad acting, or the lost opportunities in the biggest name actors being there for only one episode as bit characters.
Disney nailed the opening of the series, even succeeding in creating a cute character than fans all enjoyed (see Porgs, Jar Jar, and Ewoks for the failed past attempts) and didn’t even seem poised to cash in on Baby Yoda love with toys and other merchandise. But the last few episodes have a seemingly uphill struggle ahead of them.
Who Watches the Watchmen On HBO?
The flipside to this is the reception of ‘Watchmen’. After the airing of the first episode, we saw review bombing based off of the inclusion of racially charged historical events that some of the IMDB ratings would cite as being cheap pandering or virtue singaling. After each week and new episode, the show’s rating on IMDB has only gone up and fans have flocked to the depth of the series’ writing, with a whole website of supplementary materials for the most granular-minded fans to sift through and glean clues from.
Delving into deep topics and enlisting historical events to back up its story, the series is praised for being smart and a true addition to the ‘Watchmen’ brand, even picking up several Critic’s Choice Award nominations, with ‘The Mandalorian’ missing from the announced nominations entirely. The show has had a meteoric rise after its initial marketing had the people of the internet voicing their concerns about the masked police imagery that it featured.
Whether the two series will stick their landings is yet to be seen, but seeing them seemingly trade places in fan reception has been an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover and a possible lesson to the powers-that-be trying to cash in on IP with anything less than the best intentions.