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The MCU was Disney’s answer to The Office all along

Disney Plus has eventized comfort food

President Loki and his backup Lokis loki it up on Loki Image: Marvel Studios
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

In 2019, when forces like WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, and Viacom were just gearing up to take on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon in the “streaming wars,” one of the greatest causes for consternation was The Office. Specifically, the fact that the NBC sitcom was leaving Netflix for the network’s own upcoming streaming service, Peacock. Despite the fact that The Office had been off the air for several years, it was the perennial favorite on Netflix for anyone who wanted something comfortable to watch again (and again and again and again).

For media prognosticators and company executives alike, there was really one big question about the future: What could replace The Office?

The Office for Peacock. which launched in July 2020, was supposed to be The Office itself. And it worked, somewhat: The service has added nine million subscribers since Q4 2020. It’s an impressive number and the largest gain the company has seen post-launch. But a service can only add every episode of The Office to its streaming service once. Acquiring the rights to one beloved series — or two or three or four — doesn’t turn a streamer into a Netflix-sized juggernaut.

In fact, when Netflix lost Friends, another of its most consistent streaming hits that went to Peacock, the company’s executives said that they couldn’t even see the impact, suggesting that library content doesn’t inspire droves of people to subscribe, or unsubscribe, to a streaming service, no matter how many people love it. Old shows (and movies) that people love are a way to retain subscribers, and fill their time, not consistently gain new ones. Actual gain, as Netflix can attest, comes from flashy stuff like new series premieres. In its earnings report for Q1 2021, Netflix directly blamed a lighter slate of fresh content for a slowed growth in the quarter.

Now every service is searching for its perfect combination of new shows and legacy content. Apple was early to the pivot and launched without a library content, but free subscriptions with device purchases, the streamers’ slate of original shows like The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Mythic Quest, and perhaps most importantly, Ted Lasso have been gaining major acclaim, which may give it actual value in the long run.

But while HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount Plus and everyone else is scrambling, one streaming service that no longer needs to find all of this is Disney Plus, because now it seems to be checking every kind of box with the Marvel Cinematic (and TV) Universe. A show like Loki is both an event series that gets people through the door, but the movies are The Office slayer.

While reactions to Marvel Studios’ third television series have been positive, one thing that’s sure is that the fans who showed up to make Avengers: Endgame the biggest movie on the planet are excited. Earlier this month Disney announced that Loki’s premiere was its most-watched Disney Plus episode ever. And Disney Plus’ subscription numbers tell a fairly similar story: The service has gained 30 million subscribers since Q4 2020, which ended just a few months before the January premiere of WandaVision. And instead of pointing ahead to movies like Shang-Chi or Eternals, the studios’ first theatrical release in nearly two years, Black Widow, used its after-credits scene to tease the upcoming Hawkeye series. For Marvel, there’s always more to stick around for.

The gains were also true for WandaVision and Falcon and Winter Soldier, and it won’t be surprising if Marvel announces major viewership for the finale of Loki either. These shows are Disney Plus’ big events. According to Parrot Analytics, Loki was the biggest show in the world back in June, across all platforms. They’re the attention grabbing new items that people can’t get with having a Disney Plus subscription.

But even if fans are enjoying Marvels’ series, it’s not obvious why the brand would be delivering Disney Plus’ version of The Office. Would anyone crave WandaVision episode 4 on a random Tuesday night? While Loki is getting a second season, it’s hard to imagine throwing a random episode of the series on no matter how many seasons it runs for.

Marvel’s shows don’t fit any of the categories that help make TV shows, especially sitcoms, become endlessly rewatchable. Whether it’s Criminal Minds or The Office or Friends, shows that qualify as “comfort viewing” often deliver stories that play out over a single episode and involve spending lots of time with characters you like. These Marvel shows are highly serialized, leaving single-episode, self-contained narratives out of the question, and they have small casts of characters over short seasons.

The good news for Marvel is that these shows don’t need to be people’s go-to rewatch. Because that’s exactly what the library of Marvel movies are for. The more Marvel movies there are, the more they become someone’s entertainment comfort food.

The Marvel movie library replaces procedural shows that people love to leave on with longer “episode” times. They’re quick and full of banter, most of them involve at least one other Avenger — or future Avenger — and once you’ve seen them once you probably get the gist enough to let your attention fade in and out in whatever way makes you happiest. On top of that, there are also 21 of them on Disney Plus right now (including Black Widow’s Premier Access), which gives subscribers at least 42 hours of superhero content to enjoy. Three more entries are set to hit theaters this year.

While Netflix and other streaming companies have spent the last several years trying to buy or build their Office replacements, Disney has been putting its own into theaters, quietly turning the most popular property of the last decade into the cornerstone of its streaming service.