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If you were to summarize Marvel‘s Netflix franchise in a single phrase, it would be “diminishing returns.” The only shows to improve with time were Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and Netflix just canceled them both. At this point, why not go all the way and cancel the rest as well?
TV shows typically get canned due to bad ratings, a murky factor for Netflix originals. The streaming service doesn’t release viewing figures, leaving entertainment reporters to rely on outside tracking data. We don’t actually know how many people watch Daredevil or its various spinoffs, but according to social media stats, viewers tend to lose interest after one season. A new Business Insider report tracked social media posts about each of the Marvel/Netflix shows, revealing that while Luke Cage‘s first season inspired 300,000 Twitter and Instagram posts, interest plummeted to less than 50,000 for season 2. Iron Fist and Jessica Jones saw a similar drop-off, hinting that Jessica Jones may face cancellation too. (Season 3 started filming this summer, though, so fans can breath easy for now.)
From Netflix’s perspective, the Defenders franchise has served its purpose. Marvel fans already paid their subscription fees, and if they’re no longer flocking to watch Daredevil, then these shows may not be worth their multimillion-dollar budgets. That’s the money side. The creative side is more subjective, but as a Marvel fan who watched every Netflix spinoff to date, I’m ready to move on.
Although Luke Cage and Jessica Jones dug their teeth into some meaningful political themes, Netflix’s Marvel franchise feels more formulaic with every new season. Each show follows the same framework of vigilante vs. crime boss, propped up by a supporting cast of cops and gangsters. Determined to tell gritty, “adult” stories, we’re often left with something that’s neither fish nor fowl: Superhero shows that want to be prestige crime dramas, without the creative individuality to measure up. The death knell may actually have been Punisher, a massively popular character with controversial baggage, who Netflix adapted into a slow-moving crime show with surprisingly timid politics.
With new Marvel shows in the works for Disney’s streaming service, Netflix may be clearing house. (Either that, or Marvel doesn’t want to end up competing with itself on two rival services.) It’s hard not to see the upcoming Disney spinoffs as the next step up after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a network TV procedural drama) and Defenders, because unlike previous Marvel shows, the new ones may have a close relationship with the movies. The Netflix and ABC shows do technically tie into the MCU, but it’s not a two-way street. Meanwhile, Disney is allegedly working on spinoffs for Loki and Scarlet Witch, starring Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen. A-list actors and a clear connection to the movie franchise suggests a new era for Marvel TV.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor