It might be hard to remember a time as strange and distant as January 2021, but give it a try, please. For us. Disney+ was just about to debut its latest, greatest initiative: making TV with the Marvel logo slapped on it that’s just as important as the movies. The first show? WandaVision. The curtains opened on Wanda and Vision, dapper in 1950s-sitcom chic, laugh track and all. And damnit, we were hooked like it was 2012’s The Avengers team-up all over again.
Now, long removed from the Marvel-on-Disney+iversary, we’ve just wrapped up The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Of course, that means we have to shuffle our ranking of Disney+’s Marvel Cinematic Universe shows so far. Sure, it might still be a little early. But we’re not about to wait until Phase Six of the MCU concludes in 2026 (!) to fire up some debate amongst the fandom.
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Listen, we love Baby Groot. With all of our hearts. But I Am Groot is simply a collection of five animated shorts, all running mere minutes long. Every second is delightful, mind you! But I Am Groot stands as a cute, but inconsequential addition to Marvel’s Disney+ roster. What, were you expecting Kang to show up in a post-credits scene here?
This is a kill your darlings situation to begin with. But if we had to lose one MCU jam from Disney+’s slate so far, it would have to be What If…? We’ll always love the series that gave us Captain Carter, Chadwick Boseman’s final performance as T’Challa, and the grand introduction of zombies to the ever-expanding multiverse. But given What If…?‘s loose anthology format, it never felt quite as critical to the larger MCU as its peers. Though, that might change when we see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Since I barely escaped the confounding She-Hulk finale with my own life, I need to toss it to my colleague Josh Rosenberg. In his review of the series, he wrote, “there’s more to the Hulk life than being big, green, and telling bad jokes.” And that was after the pilot! Over the next… eight weeks, we’d get more iffy jokes and muddled character development, all leading to a big-brained meta finale, which thwumps just as hard as She-Hulk crashing through the roof of a building.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Sure, it’s easy to bag on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which told a choppy story that was fairly far off from the MCU Standard. But a decade from now, we’ll likely just be happy that we got to see Sam Wilson’s full journey to becoming Captain America. Plus, no matter where John Walker goes, this remains a surprisingly gutting story of PTSD and how America treats its veterans. But seriously. How much can you possibly complain, when all that Sam-Bucky banter is still living rent-free in our heads?
Moon Knight beats What If…? and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier for one reason: Oscar Isaac. When Moon Knight lost its focus (see: Ethan Hawke’s soliloquies on Egyptian mythology), Isaac’s brilliant performance as a man living with dissociative identity disorder kept us going. Unfortunately, Moon Knight doesn’t become the series Isaac promised until its penultimate episode. But once we got there, Moon Knight is a total delight, giving us every chaotic bit of energy Steven Grant and Marc Spector can muster. We have a feeling that Season Two will be, in short, everything we wanted.
Werewolf By Night is technically a “Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation,” not a TV series. (Whatever that means!) But we’re completionists here at Esquire. Werewolf By Night is a welcome, if slightly hard-to-remember addition to the MCU. The story, which follows a werewolf masquerading as a monster hunter, throws back to classic horror jams of the ’50s. There are even some gnarly kills! Werewolf By Night still packs in enough MCU-y quips to stop it just short of becoming a true standout.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Well, will you look at that: another “Marvel Studios’ Special Presentation.” We still don’t know what that means, exactly, but The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special deserves the shout nonetheless. The lead-in to the finale of The Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy is a delightful, gift-wrapped present to MCU fans. In the sub-hour-long special, Drax, Mantis, and Kevin Bacon (?!) team up to give Peter Quill the Christmas of his dreams. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special doesn’t chart much new ground for MCU, but the sheer joy Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff bring to this one-off vault the episode past Disney+’s more forgettable superhero outings.
While fans raged about whether or not MCU jams could simply be fun in Thor: Love and Thunder‘s fallout, Ms. Marvel quietly dropped an incredible season finale. The last act of the season, which embodies the joy, heart, and refreshingly medium-stakes action we’ve seen the entire way, charts an aspirational future for Marvel TV series. Meaning: they don’t have to be lore-heavy slogs like Moon Knight, or try to do everything all at once, a la The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Give us a well-done coming-of-age story like Ms. Marvel any day.
Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to debut Spider-Man: No Way Home right around the time Hawkeye was dropping episodes on Disney+. Meaning: It was a little hard to maintain excitement for Hawkeye when the year’s biggest movie was about to drop. But if you’re guilty of looking over your shoulder at No Way Home, you missed one of the breeziest, big-hearted stories the MCU has ever seen. Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld’s holiday adventure keeps the stakes relatively low, to its benefit. Sometimes, it’s perfectly OK to just whip up some punch, kick back, and enjoy the ride.
If Marvel released one episode of Loki, per week, in perpetuity, would anyone complain? Didn’t think so. The solo vehicle for the fan-favorite antihero ended up being the cinematic, high-stakes adventure we wanted out of the MCU shows. Of course, Michael Waldron and Kate Herron teamed up to make a wonderfully weird, retro-futuristic mystery. But Loki‘s legacy will be its chips-on-the-table decision to show the explosion of the MCU’s multiverse in the season finale, with consequences we’ll see play out for years to come.
Remember when we were a little disappointed when Marvel announced a standalone show for the the two Avengers who just kinda stood near the back and shot stuff out of their hands/head? Well, WandaVision, surprisingly, ended up being a home run ball. Marvel went weird, like really weird, taking on a sitcom format that masked the darkest, yet truest story the MCU has seen so far. We’ll remember WandaVision as the show that comforted us during an impossibly dark time, and the laugh-tracked adventure that made us find a forever love with Wanda and Vision.
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