How Do We Define Prestige Television in a WandaVision World?
Prestige Television was a term that meant to highlight how television had become “elevated” due to cable television shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and others during the late ’90s early 2000s, among the slow burnout of sitcom television.
Yet, with television evolving constantly due to streaming, and with movie stars coming to the medium in order to tell more compelling stories (especially older actresses), it becomes clear that “prestige television” has expanded heavily. And now there is WandaVision delivering one more turn of the screw.
Now, I realize that Marvel movies being up for awards has been played as a joke. But considering two actors have won Oscars for playing the Joker, and Black Panther was acknowledged by the industry so much it got backlash for it, I think it’s important to recognize that comic book content is part of the industry.
Just like animation before it, there is this idea that because it isn’t the traditional kind of media we hold up as “prestige,” that means it should be placed in its own special category. Best Animation, and maybe once in awhile we will nominate it for Best Picture as a treat. But that’s it.
WandaVision has a few things I hope we can consider pretty universal: It is very well made and very well acted. Elizabeth Olsen has been killing it this season and moving between decades of acting varieties seamlessly. At so many points could her acting have been stilted for forced, but it has been excellently handled because of her own talent. That shouldn’t be reduced because it’s a Disney+ Marvel show, because that’s gonna be where a lot of talented people are heading.
Plus, for me, what “Prestige Television” means at its core is a program that sucks in people all over and makes watching each episode an event. That is a unique and special thing. There is a reason people still talk about the huge numbers of Americans who tuned into to watch the M*A*S*H finale, because it gives a sense of how big that show was.
WandaVision has been big; it has provided the same “I gotta watch this first-thing” excitement I used to feel as a kid getting up for Saturday morning cartoons and an adult waiting for the next episode of a series to air. It has been a long time since I’ve felt that way because of a television show.
Not just because of our binge watching culture, but because, in the end, WandaVision‘s biggest strength is that it is a well made show about a woman going through the grief of losing her great love. That isn’t the kind of show we allowed to be prestige back in the day, but it certainly is the kind we should embrace now.
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