The first episode of Ms. Marvel was the most excited I’ve been about Marvel TV in a while. The bright and fun style that paid homage to the character’s comic roots brought everything to life. It was fresh and clearly had a creative vision, led by an effortlessly charming Iman Vellani in the titular role. A high school superhero show about teenage drama, identity, and family was exactly what Marvel needed to shake up their portfolio.
Which is why, as the episodes went on, I was disappointed to see Ms. Marvel morph from something fun to something so… fine. The charm faltered as the series took on bigger goals. In the beginning, Kamala’s relationship with Bruno and Nakia seemed crucial. By Episodes 4 and 5, her friends were nowhere to be found. We didn’t have time for fun jokes when secret society members were being murdered right in front of our goofy 16-year-old protagonist.
Ms. Marvel’s story is perfect as an episodic high school and family drama. The character and the setting all lend well to wacky adventures and hijinks filled with comedy and kindness. High school parties and mosque mixers—those are the places where the character Kamala can really shine and where her struggles between her uncertain identities comes into focus.
And there’s a lot to like in Disney+’s Ms. Marvel. Kamala’s family was a highlight, and every member was brought to life in such a wonderful way. Too often religious, overprotective families are characterized negatively, but the Khan’s are clearly a loving group that cares deeply for each other and isn’t afraid to joke around together. Plus, an exploration into immigrant trauma and religious identity means there’s a lot of great stuff there for a show with a younger audience.
But Ms. Marvel’s Pakistan trip unfortunately derailed the whole season. A change of scenery and a chance for Kamala to connect with her roots is a fine idea. But the entire show stopped in its tracks to recount a backstory and establish lore. Episode 5 barely featured any of the central cast. In a 13 to 22-episode series that would be fine! In a 6-episode season, it’s a narrative detour that the show can’t support.
For a series about inhabiting different worlds, it always felt like Ms. Marvel couldn’t deal with more than one at a time. Either the show focused on the high school and friend drama, or it shifted focus to its cosmic plotting. In the first few episodes Jersey City felt like a foundational environment for the character. By the end, it’s an incidental location Kamala returns to after saving the world.
The drama with the Clandestines and the Veil of Noor was simply too much for a poppy and short show. Kamala Khan works best when fighting local villains that interfere with her personal life and family. Stopping the destruction of Earth and battling the power of a hidden dimension? The stakes are too high and they minimize the importance of everything else Kamala is dealing with. Once that battle is over in Episode 6, the show reverts back to Kamala’s high school friends. The two storylines cannot touch.
That’s what makes Episode 6 so disappointing: it feels like the finale to Episode 1, but not to the rest of the show. Zoe hasn’t been seen since Episode 2, but suddenly her involvement and friendship is crucial to the plot. Kamala and Nakia barely get a chance to resolve their issues, and Bruno’s feelings are irrelevant. Everything has to move on too quickly because the show just doesn’t have enough time to do its side characters justice.
And the finale was fun! A high school Home Alone against superhero cops is the exact level of stakes and silliness that works for Ms. Marvel. The show should appeal more to a younger audience (the Ms. Marvel comic certainly did—as a teenager I got a couple friends to start reading comics by recommending the 2014 run). There’s power in a show being fun and sweet without needing to incorporate extreme tension. But when the “gang” got together in the school my first thought was “this is the first time all these people have been in the same room together, and that’s a shame.”
Ultimately, it feels like Ms. Marvel wasn’t allowed to be the show it could have been. Marvel TV’s insistence on 6-episode seasons is one of the most bizarre decisions I’ve seen on TV in years. Ms. Marvel is clearly meant to set up the character ahead of her starring role in The Marvels, a movie coming in 2023. But Kamala Khan deserved a show that was just about her, where she could have fun and joke around without having to stop the end of the world.
The bottom line is that Marvel TV isn’t working. Sure, sometimes the shows are fun and there have been great moments in most of the series so far. But there is a huge disconnect somewhere in the production line that is stifling the potential for these series. Maybe it’s Kevin Feige’s dislike of showrunners, maybe it’s rushed productions, maybe it’s every series bearing the weight for several forthcoming shows/movies on top of their own stories. Whatever it is, it’s a problem.
Ms. Marvel feels the closest to breaking through Marvel TV’s issues. You can see the glimmer of light of something truly fresh and special, like another dimension slipping into our own. But until Marvel TV takes stock of how they’re making their shows, we will never see the quality that these writers are clearly capable of crafting. Kamala Khan doesn’t deserve a mixed bag, she deserves a show that’s truly cosmic.
Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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