Why Fantasy TV Fans Had Their Best Year Ever
If the headlines from this fall are to be believed, the showdown of the year was going to be Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power against HBO Dragon House – two expensive expansions to much-loved fantasy franchises, which released a week apart and invited loads of inevitable comparisons, because that’s what happens when everyone wears velvet dresses.
“It’s not a deathmatch or anything,” Game of Thrones author George RR Martin told The Hollywood Reporter in July. “We don’t have to be bracketed.”
But they totally were.
It’s natural for two big-budget fantasy shows to draw comparisons, and humans like to pick sides, even for relatively mild conflicts. The Beatles versus the Rolling Stones. Star Wars versus Star Trek. Marvel vs. DC.
But after scrolling through title after title to find out which show would win (“Win what?” I thought), competition hardly seemed to be the issue. As someone who likes to watch shows in the fantasy genre, for about a month and a half I got my fill of power struggles, politics, and capital P intrigue, but in the way that I prefer. I won’t watch Succession unless they give everyone long platinum blonde hair.
On TikTok, I watched a deluge of videos dissecting Sauron and Daemon. My group chats were poppin’ with dragon memes, and friends made persuasive arguments over a beer about wizards of Middle-earth.
Forget ROP versus HOTD. If you are the type of person who in this kind of thing – you know, the gloriously tasteless, omen-filled speeches and the dodgy wigs – we live in a time of plenty. That’s no reason to fight. It’s a reason to celebrate.
We did it, girls. The nerds won.
I was so engrossed in ROP and HOTD, I couldn’t even Andor from Disney Plus until it is about to end at the end of November. What a blessing from the fantasy gods to have yet another spectacle just waiting to be consumed.
Andor might be one of the best examples of why it was good to be a fantasy fan in 2022.
The fantasy shows that come out don’t all have to be big, wide swings aimed at pleasing everyone. There’s room for nuance like there’s never been before because a show doesn’t have to accomplish everything. Writing on Andor, my colleague Mark Serrels pointed out that the show is the first time viewers have truly gotten a sense of the Empire’s “unpretentious creep of fascism” from the ground level. Space wizards dropped this one, and the show was better for it.
Netflix, which closes the year with Wednesday, an Addams Family spin-off that became its third most watched show. It follows Wednesday Addams to a boarding school for outcasts who are werewolves, vampires, gorgons and the like. Wednesday resents living in the shadow of her mother Morticia, who was popular and successful as a student. All the while, the teenager stubbornly pursues a mystery at school. Wednesday shares a good piece of DNA with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – another dark and chilling show about a determined teenager attending a school for magical children and balancing big issues with teenage weaknesses.
But it’s not the same show, and it’s encouraging that Wednesday may still have a chance after the cancellation of CAOS. We can always use more TV shows featuring girls who are confident, borderline cocky, and have cool powers.
All this to say nothing of the first part of the year, which included the return of Ewan McGregor in full force as Obi Wan Kenobi; the charming Ms. Marvel; She-Hulk: Lawyer; and stranger thingswho gave us the perfect gift that was Joseph Quinn’s charming metalhead Eddie Munson.
For once, the lament “that’s why you can’t have nice things” doesn’t apply. We can, and we do.
And at least for now, it feels like a safe moment for fantasy fans, where even if a show pops up that is not great, it will not block the largest movement. In his review of last year’s adaptation of Wheel of Time on Prime Video, CNET’s Richard Trenholm said, “The fantasy genre has more room than ever to be wildly imaginative and delightfully unique”, while calling the show a “formula fantasy filler”. While I’m not advocating the production of similar lifeless shows, I’m glad everyone’s enjoyment isn’t spoiled.
Will there come a time when fantasy television reaches saturation point? Where I can’t stand learning the geography of another fictional continent, or remembering the Halbrands and Adars of it all? Maybe.
But so far, I’m happy. Floating nonchalantly on an inner tube on the Sundering Sea, just happy to be there.
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