From WandaVision to She-Hulk: Grading the Marvel Disney+ Experiment

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From WandaVision to She-Hulk: Grading the Marvel Disney+ Experiment

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s official* foray into television began in January of 2021 with the launch of the high-concept limited series WandaVision. Since then, six additional live-action shows have hit Disney+ and further developed existing supporting characters in the MCU while also introducing new ones and setting up storylines that will play out in future movies and shows. From the long-awaited birth of Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the return of fan-favorite trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to the introduction of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and Marc Spector (Oscar Isaac), the shows complement the more than two dozen films that have entertained moviegoers for more than a decade.

This opportunity to take the MCU in new directions and spend quality time with characters we’ve come to love but not necessarily know for several weeks every few months is a fan’s dream come true (even if we cynically also recognize the series exist primarily to support the growth of Disney’s streaming service). But the shows—of which some are ongoing and some are limited series—have not all been created equal. Some stand on their own with satisfying narratives outside of the major arc of the MCU, while others feel like they exist only to move people from Point A to Point B in the movies. Meanwhile, some feature street-level heroics while others offer universe-expanding mythology.

This is no doubt by design—after all, everything Kevin Feige does has a purpose. The different levels of depth and breadth being offered means Marvel’s Disney+ shows can appeal to a variety of audiences, all of whom have varying interests and knowledge levels. They also serve different objectives within the overall MCU. It’s smart from a business perspective, but it can make for a lopsided viewing experience.

So, as Marvel’s second year on Disney+ nears its end, we’re taking stock of each show (in order of premiere dates) to determine its quality, and whether this chapter has thus far been a success or a failure for Marvel.

*The former Netflix shows that are now streaming on Disney+ and most of ABC’s Marvel properties are technically set within the world of the MCU, but they’re not considered to be part of the official phases of the MCU, so they’re not included.




Overall quality: A
Rewatchability: A-
Ability to stand alone: C+
Effectiveness as a TV show: A
Effect on MCU at large: B

WandaVision was the best possible show to launch Marvel’s Disney+ experiment. A meditation on the lasting effects of grief and trauma told through a high-concept love letter to the sitcoms of yesteryear, the show is as compelling and mystifying as it is bold and creative. Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are front and center in a story that reveals the depth of the former’s powers and revives the latter in a reality-bending bubble that allows the couple to live out Wanda’s suburban fantasies—albeit at the expense of the people Wanda has inadvertently trapped and forced to play roles in her happily-ever-after. While most are innocent bystanders, Kathryn Hahn’s villainous witch Agatha Harkness is not, and she stands out as the most charismatic villain since Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. But the series—which details the origin stories of Scarlet Witch and White Vision—is also memorable for the ways it encouraged fans to engage with its mysterious narrative every week. Not since Lost has a series asked fans to participate and theorize and attempt to figure out what’s going on (and then blow it all to hell).

Beyond the narrative and the way it deepened our understanding of the characters, though, the show also excels at being a TV show. The format, with nearly every episode being in the sitcom style of a different decade, is an homage to the medium, complete with opening titles and built-in commercials. Although episodes are serialized, they are also self-contained, so WandaVision works well as a TV show. While prior knowledge is helpful, it can stand alone as a puzzle box show while also serving as something of a prologue for the film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It’s successful at every turn (save for some familiar third act messiness), which makes WandaVision the best of the four MCU shows to date. Considering the unique framing and the narrative tightrope the writers had to walk each week, that’s saying something.

Final Grade: B+

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier


Overall quality: D+
Rewatchability: D
Ability to stand alone: C
Effectiveness as a TV show: F
Effect on MCU at large: B

With all due respect to Bucky Barnes’ haircut, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier might be one of the biggest letdowns of the MCU to date. Fans were promised a fun buddy comedy in the vein of Lethal Weapon that would establish the new Captain America. What they received was a show that, for all its good intentions with regards to telling a timely story about trauma and race in America, drags at every turn.

As Sam (Anthony Mackie) attempts to come to terms with whether he wants to pick up the shield for a country that doesn’t stand up for, respect, or protect Black men, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) works through the lingering trauma of being brainwashed and forced to be a killing machine. Both are complex, character-driven narratives that carry these men and their stories into the next chapter of their lives and the MCU (Mackie is set to star in the next Captain America movie, while Stan is appearing in Thunderbolts). There are brief glimpses of what both actors can do when given the opportunity. But the characters and their personal arcs are ultimately hamstrung by a middling plot involving misguided vigilantes and a government-appointed replacement (Wyatt Russell) for Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) who could have been a compelling foil and a metaphor for the way the U.S. treats its veterans if the narrative had been able to withstand the weight.

Where The Falcon and The Winter Soldier really falters, though, is in its structure. It’s technically not a TV show but an honest-to-goodness six-hour movie (that sound you hear is every TV journalist sighing), with act breaks to signify the end of an episode rather than any narrative conclusion. The pacing is off to the extent that Sam and Bucky aren’t even reunited until the second episode, and the bulk of the finale is just action after action (the show is hardly the only Marvel product that struggles with this though). It’s unfortunate that a show as highly anticipated as The Falcon and The Winter Soldier—Sam and Bucky’s reluctant/antagonistic friendship had historically been a high point of the MCU—should fail to deliver in such spectacular fashion.

Final Grade: D



Overall quality: B
Rewatchability: B-
Ability to stand alone: C-
Effectiveness as a TV show: C
Effect on MCU at large: B

There is a small chance Loki exists only to keep Tom Hiddleston in the MCU. Few characters are as universally beloved as Loki, and few actors have embraced their place within the madness quite like Hiddles has (after all, no one else has appeared at San Diego Comic-Con in character). So if that’s why Marvel conjured up this series after killing the God of Mischief in Avengers: Infinity War, far be it from me to complain. But there is room for improvement in the series, which feels somehow both necessary and yet also expendable.

Carried by Hiddleston’s innate charm and his chemistry with co-stars Owen Wilson and Sophia Di Martino, the show finds the 2012 version of Loki from Avengers: Endgame fighting against the Time Variance Authority, which is said to exist to keep order in the universe by maintaining the timeline. By introducing the concept of the multiverse through variants and Jonathan Majors’ He Who Remains (aka Kang the Conqueror, who had already been announced as appearing in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, or a variant of said person), it cements its place within the larger MCU arc. But the existence of variants also allows the series to tell a poignant, if familiar, story about how we’re shaped by our experiences and that people can and do change depending on the choices they make.

However fulfilling the narrative is on that level, though, Loki is average as a standalone product and as a TV show, which is unfortunate because there is an easy fix: include a few episodic adventures of Loki traveling through time and space before digging into the larger, serialized story about the TVA and its many secrets, and you’d have a much stronger, more effective television show. A longer episode order might have also helped Loki’s evolution feel less rushed (remember, this isn’t the man who stood up to Thanos [Josh Brolin], but the man who had just tried to take over the world in The Avengers). While we should consider ourselves lucky to even have this time with Loki, one can’t help but hope for something just a little bit better in Season 2; maybe something that lets Loki have a bit more fun.

Final Grade: C+



Overall quality: B
Rewatchability: C
Ability to stand alone: A
Effectiveness as a TV show: A
Effect on MCU at large: B-

Say what you will about Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and his place within the MCU films, Hawkeye is a gift. Although the show sometimes struggles with tone and Vera Farmiga seems to be in a completely different series, it successfully merges the larger world of the MCU with the Netflix Marvel shows while introducing viewers to a member of the next generation of heroes: Kate Bishop (Steinfeld). Her energy and stubbornness is the perfect match for Renner’s dryness as a tired Avenger who just wants to go home (for Christmas). It’s the mismatched buddy comedy The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was not. The show also features Rogers: The Musical, Lucky the Pizza Dog, and Clint LARPing, which gives it a fun and lighthearted quality. This counterbalances the emotionality of Clint still trying to get over Nat’s death; the arrival of Yelena (Florence Pugh), who wants to kill Clint for what happened to her sister; and the fact Echo (Alaqua Cox), the Tracksuit Mafia, and Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) aren’t always satisfying villains.

Also working in the show’s favor is the fact it deals primarily with Clint’s history as the violent Ronin—something we only glimpsed in Avengers: Endgame—and not a universe-level or mythology-changing threat. This allows it to stand on its own, while the fact it’s structured like a TV show, with a few pacing issues but several well-placed cliffhangers, makes it one of the better Disney+ products in terms of its effectiveness as television. It’s also an emotionally satisfying end to one chapter in the MCU and the beginning of another.

Final Grade: B

Moon Knight

Overall quality: C+
Rewatchability: C
Ability to stand alone: A+
Effectiveness as a TV show: B
Effect on MCU at large: D

As the first of Marvel’s Disney+ series to introduce a new character and not revisit a known player, the six-episode Moon Knight is as blessed as it is cursed. The novelty of the show means that the fractured lives of Marc Spector and Steven Grant (both Oscar Isaac) are not connected to any storyline we’ve seen before. There are no threads that need to be tied up or set up. There is no lingering trauma (well, not any we are aware of beforehand). And there are no expectations, at least not the way there were for shows like Loki or The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. This gives the series a freedom its Disney+ predecessors did not have. It allows the show to have fun, take more risks, and exist wholly outside the rest of the MCU. It can tell its story without worrying how it will affect other characters and storylines. Basically, Marvel can do anything it wants with the show. And it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, and because there isn’t a built-in MCU fanbase, it means fewer people seem to care.

The series follows Marc/Steven, the current avatar on Earth for the Egyptian god Khonshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham), as they attempt to stop Arthur Harrow (Ethan Hawke), his former avatar, from releasing Ammit, another, more dangerous god who wants to judge the souls of everyone on Earth and kill those destined to commit evil acts before they can carry them out. It’s a frequently visited idea in pop culture. But while the conceit is good and the narrative of Marc and Steven (and Jake Lockley, too, thanks to his long-awaited introduction in the mid-credits sequence) starts off well, Harrow and Ammit aren’t memorable villains, and the show doesn’t have a good sense of what it is or what it wants to be, so its central arc isn’t strong enough to support a muddied middle third that at times feels like an Indiana Jones side quest. This means that no matter how interesting the characters’ visit to the afterlife and Marc’s past might be in the final third, and no matter how great Khonshu is as a character, the show struggles to retain viewers’ interest.

And yet, it’s still better than at least one of the previous Disney+ shows because it works as a TV show. Despite the confusion that sometimes accompanies non-comic book fans on its journey, the series is structured like a TV show, is mostly decently plotted, and stands on its own. Isaac is also wonderful from start to finish (though that is hardly surprising). So, despite the show’s flaws and general viewer disinterest, it’s a shame that Moon Knight might only exist as a limited series. While it’s great Marvel is not forcing every show to connect directly to existing properties and characters or directly set up a feature film, thinking that this might be the only time we see Isaac in the MCU is also kind of a bummer.

Final Grade: C

Ms. Marvel

Overall quality: A-
Rewatchability: B
Ability to stand alone: A
Effectiveness as a TV show: B
Effect on MCU at large: B

Ms. Marvel is everything Marvel’s Disney+ shows should be and unlike nearly everything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. The show is just the second property to follow a teenage protagonist after Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming formerly introduced us to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. But it also offers us a glimpse into the every day life of the MCU’s first Muslim superhero, a notable achievement in Hollywood after vilifying Muslims for years.

The series stars the immensely likable and charming Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American and serious Avengers fangirl living in New Jersey who discovers a magical bangle sent to her by her grandmother allows her to harness cosmic energy. The character is an obvious stand-in for all the young fans who grew up alongside the MCU, but rather than her obsession with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes feeling self-indulgent, it provides just enough of a connection to the franchise to make the show feel like it’s part of something bigger while still prioritizing Kamala’s focused personal journey and introducing us to her rich and vibrant world.

But if there is one bad thing to say about Ms. Marvel, it’s that the coming-of-age story probably needed a few more episodes to be told properly. Six episodes is simply not enough to introduce us to Kamala and explore her cultural and familial histories in the context of the character discovering her mutant powers. It sometimes makes for awkward pacing and plotting. However, creator Bisha K. Ali and the show’s writers should still be commended for managing to cram a lot of exciting storytelling into six installments, and do so in a way that allows the show to stand on its own as its own piece of entertainment while also setting up the feature film The Marvels.

Final Grade: B+

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

Overall quality: B
Rewatchability: B
Ability to stand alone: C
Effectiveness as a TV show: A+
Effect on MCU at large: C

Like WandaVision and even Hawkeye before it, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which stars Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) who becomes a Hulk after some of Bruce’s blood ends up in her system following a car crash, succeeds at the one thing it desperately needs to be: a TV show. Episodic arcs involving various clients and cases merge with a single but timely overarching story to create a show that is part legal comedy, part meta superhero show, and part timely drama taking on real world issues. It feels fresh but also very familiar for TV fans.

But the fact that She-Hulk is a TV show that feels like and operates like a TV show (how novel!) isn’t what’s most notable about the series. No, that would be its sharp commentary on toxic masculinity and what it’s like to be a woman, from the fear that women face daily to the anger Jen can handle and control better than Bruce ever could because society has forced her to keep her emotions in check lest she be labeled hysterical or told she’s overreacting. The show’s meta dive into the television medium and the Marvel formula is also exceptionally fun, though it does tie the series deeply to the MCU in a way that works best when one is deeply entrenched in the extended Marvel world. For casual fans or those using the Disney+ shows as a gateway to the MCU, the K-E-V-I-N appearance in the finale and the commentary on how all Marvel products end the same way won’t land quite the same. Still, Maslany is great (hardly surprising) in the show’s wink-and-nod narrative, and much of the series’ charm stems from her ability to make Jen/She-Hulk feel warm and real even when the VFX reminds us she’s so very not. Between Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk, it feels like Marvel is finally beginning to understand what these Disney+ shows should have been all along.

Final Grade: B

The Verdict

WandaVision might still be Marvel’s Disney+ high point, but the further we get from the characters first introduced during the Infinity Saga, the better the shows tend to be. Moon Knight was rough at times, but Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk: Attorney at all are exceptionally entertaining and stand out for being different from much of the rest of the MCU. They find ways to exist within the MCU framework while still being products that stand on their own. So the Disney+ series have proven to be a good way to introduce new characters to the still-expanding franchise while finding new ways to interact with its narrative.

Of course, the success or failure of the shows still depends on what one’s expectations are going in. No one knew what WandaVision was going into it, so it was a pleasant surprise in addition to being an emotionally satisfying story. Meanwhile, many viewers didn’t think much of Hawkeye prior to its debut because the character had failed to leave a mark during much of his run in the MCU, but the show is packed with action and is a lot of fun week to week. In comparison, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki were both highly anticipated series and teased as one thing but turned out to be something slightly different. As such, that affected our response to them, regardless of how good or bad the shows actually are. As Marvel continues releasing more and more shows that don’t center around legacy characters, these issues will likely shift or disappear altogether, and the MCU will be all the better for it.

Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, Polygon, and, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at

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