I never watched episodes three and four of Disney+’s The Book of Boba Fett. I read recaps and just tuned in for the juicy Mando-and-Baby-Yoda-filled episodes of the Star Wars show. I didn’t bother with HBO Max’s Peacemaker; James Gunn’s brand of humor and the absurdist violence in the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) The Suicide Squad wasn’t exactly my thing. And even though I have a soft spot for Oscar Isaac, I don’t know if I’ll ever finish watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Moon Knight.
There’s way too much stuff to watch to be able to stay on top of everything — just take a look at our selection of movie and TV releases for April and May — and yet I can’t help but feel like a failed pop culture writer and media critic for all the things I’m skipping. I should be watching — and probably enjoying — all of it. But, most of the time, these serialized shows and movies that are part of a larger universe feel like homework.
And things are going to get even busier soon. The recently released The Batman was a standalone movie, not part of the DCEU, yet a Penguin spinoff TV show with Colin Farrell has already been confirmed. Morbius, which is part of Sony’s Spider-Man Universe, opened in theaters, to dismal reviews. The MCU movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness just debuted. June will be the month for Ms. Marvel, Jurassic World: Dominion and Pixar’s Lightyear. July is time for Thor: Love and Thunder. There’s The Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon premiering in August and The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power in September. And that’s just to name a few titles with preexisting fandoms and histories of previous adaptations.
Since I don’t feel especially excited about any of these, I decided to sit around a Zoom roundtable with some of my colleagues at Ask Media Group (AMG) — who also happen to be devoted fans — to discuss their watching habits and the chore that is staying on top of serialized content. It looks like I’m not alone.
“I followed it like a second religion,” says Ask’s Updates Editor and comic book expert Caleb Bailey about his relationship with the MCU, which started when Iron Man (2008) first came out. “By the time Endgame (2019) was releasing, I was like: ‘This is going to be the end of an era for me.’ Because, as fun of a ride as this is, I just don’t have the time for it anymore.” And since Endgame actually meant more content — add TV shows like WandaVision or Loki on top of standalone movies and sequels — Caleb is now choosing his Marvel content on an ad hoc basis.
Editor Kate Bove has been staying on top of MCU releases but can’t say the same about Star Wars, even if she describes herself as a huge fan of the Georges Lucas-created space-opera franchise. “I have not watched Book of Boba yet, which I’m ashamed to say. And I have several episodes of The Bad Batch just kind of lingering,” she says. “In the past, I immediately watched the episodes and waited for them to come out at midnight. But I do feel a little bit of fatigue.”
“It also really does feel like: ‘Hey, I have to watch every single thing now.’ This has gone from being fun and exciting to being almost like a job,” adds Caleb.
Ask’s Writer Seth Landman may have found a good way of coping with so much content: he’s limiting his fandom intake to just the one franchise: Star Wars. “I’m pretty obsessed with it,” he admits, adding he’s watched everything — including the episodes of The Book of Boba Fett I deemed skippable — and is currently in the middle of a chronological rewatch of The Clone Wars. But certain titles from other properties are no longer on his to-watch list, like Marvel films. “I remember going to see Iron Man in the theater when those movies felt like one-offs that I didn’t need to know a bunch of lore [in order] to experience it. And then, as soon as I went to one [Marvel film] that I didn’t like, it was like I was free. That wasn’t a thing I had to deal with anymore.”
One of the other reasons Seth tends toward only consuming content from one franchise is that he likes to know where he is in the world he’s watching as well as its chronology. That’s something that’s not always easy to figure out since releases don’t always follow a chronological order. I’m constantly googling things like: “When is Obi-Wan Kenobi set?” or “How did Spider-Man: Far from Home end?” As Caleb puts it: “You got to keep the Star Wars and MCU wiki in your bookmarks tab on all your devices.”
I guess we should mention the quasi-masochist aspect fandom can entail. It’s sometimes easier to just choose a new title from a previously known franchise than venture into discovering a new world inhabited by strangers. My colleagues point to the similarities between consuming content and dating. Sometimes you decide to stay in a relationship that’s not working just because dating new people takes too much time and effort.
“Every time I watch something that I was too lazy to watch that’s supposed to be great, it’s this wonderful, life-changing experience. And then I go back to being lazy again,” says Seth.
You can’t stick with the old, tired relationship for long though. Some offenses are cause for separation. Like Game of Thrones’ final season. Caleb talks about goodwill as one of the ingredients that factors heavily into fandoms. “With Game of Thrones, they just destroyed most people’s goodwill,” he says, adding he won’t watch the upcoming House of the Dragon even if it gets good reviews and word-of-mouth buzz. The franchise has become that one ex with whom he had a really bad breakup and no intention of ever getting back together with.
“I appreciate when creators open the door for other stories,” adds Kate, mentioning the fact that Game of Thrones author and executive producer George R.R. Martin is also executive producing Nnedi Okorafor’s fantasy novel Who Fears Death, which has been in development at HBO since 2017. “Folks who are fans of that book series don’t need George R.R. Martin to sign off on it — but maybe HBO did to make that series. I can appreciate the setup from a friend,” she says, adding to the whole dating analogy and highlighting a subject all of my colleagues seem to agree on: why bind ourselves to the same properties when there are so many other stories — from a more diverse pool of authors — waiting to be told?
There are a couple of prospective franchise titles that are still keeping us excited at Ask though: the limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi, which has Ewan McGregor reprising his Jedi role — debuting on Disney+ on May 27 — and HBO’s adaptation of the BAFTA-winning video game The Last of Us starring Pedro Pascal. We’ll see if they’re keepers.
But we’ve also learned the completionist route can no longer be taken in times of serialized content and ubiquitous franchising. If watching what was once your favorite fandom property is getting to be too much like a chore — or a bad relationship — and you’re not getting that much joy out of it, just quit.
One thing is clear, less is definitely more. That being said, in case any studio or streaming service is looking to readapt material with a big and devoted fanbase, I’m all in for a Jane Austen Extended Universe (JAEU).