I am a fan of Black Panther, though probably not as big a fan of it as most people seem to be. It’s a good movie. Very good, in fact, though I personally wouldn’t put it in the top three or four of Marvel Studios’ best “Marvel Cinematic Universe” outings. (For the record, number one for me is very definitely Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that’s a different conversation.) Still, it’s a fine film, and there definitely could have been worse choices as the first superhero movie to ever get a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
And yet, while I think the movie earned its nod as much for its cultural significance as for the quality of the film itself, the awards barrier it broke was an important one. Obviously, the fact that it was the first MCU movie with a black lead character was a much greater barrier to break, but this other thing matters, too. At least, in Hollywood.
I mention this because, as I’ve said before, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is terribly snobbish about how it deals with superhero films. For the most part, they are relegated to the lower profile categories like Sound and VFX, and other than Joker, no other comic book film has ever been so honored in the more prominent categories.
Side note: I don’t consider the Joaquin Phoenix Joker to be an actual “comic book movie” in the vein of the others, and it isn’t just because I am not a fan of it. It doesn’t really utilize or take advantage of the genre’s tropes, but rather takes a version of a character who could actually exist in the real world, and uses the persona to tell a story about madness, rather than delving into its background and mythos. The character himself is a device, and unnecessary for the story itself, but I digress.
The reason I bring this up is because, as I’ve mentioned in this space before, the Television Academy is far more welcoming to the superhero genre than AMPAS is, just as it’s more welcoming to the adjacent sci-fi and fantasy divisions. For proof, look no further than the recent nominations for The Mandalorian, and the historic awards success of the most prolific Emmy-winning show in television history, Game of Thrones. It would make sense, then, that the next genre to be properly recognized would be that of comic books and people who have amazing skills and powers.
Which brings us to WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel’s first forays into television using its in-house Disney+ platform. Other Marvel shows have come and gone, of course, most recently the four Netflix shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, as well as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but these two new shows have an entirely different pedigree than the others, and therefore must be viewed accordingly.
Of the two, WandaVision is a clearly superior product, far more imaginative and with a better told story, but one can’t just dismiss TFATWS out of hand. Especially judging by the show’s popularity. It is apparently one of the most viewed shows, streaming or otherwise, of 2021. Lots of people watched WandaVision, true, but viewership of the latter show far surpassed it. Not that this should have anything to do with how to judge their quality or their respective awards prospects — I mean, NCIS has been the most watched show on broadcast TV for years and that’s nothing more than formulaic cotton candy for the lowest common denominator — but it is at least worth noting. Also worth noting, the personal fan followings of the latter show’s stars, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, far surpass that of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, and that can’t be completely discounted either.
But let’s look at both of them as if they’re equals, for the sake of examining their awards possibilities and, with them, the potential Emmy normalization of the superhero genre as a whole.
For one thing, Olsen is getting serious awards chatter for her work as Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Look at those Roundtable features some of the trades sometimes feature, and she is inevitably included along with other awards hopefuls like Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Winslet. That goes a long way towards a nomination in the Best Limited Series category, if the lead actress is being recognized for her work alongside actresses working in more traditional fare, like a prestige period piece (Taylor-Joy), or a gripping detective story (Winslet). There’s also the originality of the storyline and the way it pays reverence to the history of television. The fact that it’s almost certainly going to go up against shows like The Queen’s Gambit and Mare of Easttown is beside the point. WandaVision doesn’t need to actually win the Emmy to make a difference for both the genre and the streamer.
About that, Disney+ has already scored a Best Drama nod with The Mandalorian, but to really continue its challenge to Netflix, it needs to establish beachheads in more categories. Olsen getting a nod would be great, as would the show scoring one for Limited Series. Likewise, I think the entire world would be shocked if Kathryn Hahn doesn’t score a Supporting Actress in a Limited Series nod for her work in the show. I’m not sure if Paul Bettany will get the same kind of love, but even if he doesn’t, and the show and the two women do, that’ll really mean something. If I were a betting man — which, as a matter of fact, I am — I would place a fair amount of my hard earned money on that trio of nominations, and then run to the bank.
Trickier is TFATWS, which, as noted above, is just not quite as good. Oh, it’s entertaining, and the chemistry between Mackie and Stan is great, but the storytelling is weak, there’s a lot of repetition, telling rather than showing, logical jumps, and general laziness. That said, I think it benefits from being entered into the Drama Series categories instead of Limited Series, if only because now it won’t be judged against its sister show, and in this pandemic year, the competition will be decidedly less stiff than in the recent past.
Doubt it? Last year’s winner, Succession, is not eligible this year, as the third season hasn’t aired yet. Likewise, other nominees Better Call Saul, Ozark, and Stranger Things will be excluded, meaning the only three shows that were nominated last year that could possibly score repeats are The Mandalorian, Handmaid’s Tale, and The Crown. Now, I’m not going to start listing all the shows that could replace the aforementioned foursome that can’t be listed in this year’s nominees — that, also, is a separate conversation that we just might have in the next couple weeks — but suffice to say that, in this pandemic year, a popular show like TFATWS just might score some awards love, whether the show deserves it or not.
Even if it doesn’t, though, I think that Disney+ and its Marvel Studios subsidiary are on the right track to getting the recognition they’re clearly desperate to achieve. The genre, after all, keeps getting more and more traction in the awards arena, and since Marvel is the current gold standard, it’s only a matter of time before a bevy of those trophies fall their way.
All pictures courtesy of Marvel Studios and Disney+.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday.