Television Man | Aidan Morgan

There are strange things watched when your night out’s scotched
And your books won’t entertain;
When nothing avails but soapy tales
And talk’s too much of a strain;
Then the TV set is a surefire bet
To while your night away,
And happiness hinges on Netflix binges
Streamed straight into your brain.

—from The Bingeing of Vanderpump Rules, by Television Man

What a strange time it is for Marvel Studios and its cinematic universe of spandex-clad punchers. After a decade or so of global mass culture hegemony, (arguably) starting with 2008’s Iron Man and concluding with Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the vibranium seems to have flaked off from Marvel’s box office armour. The post-Infinity Saga work, a mix of movies and streaming shows, has felt overstuffed and underbaked, as if Kevin Feige has become dangerously allergic to coherent stories.

A Spotlight On Echo

In response to the sense that enjoying Marvel products now requires homework, Marvel announced the Spotlight banner. According to Brad Winderbaum, Marvel’s head of streaming, Spotlight would “bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen… focusing on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity”.

In other words, homework-free television shows that wouldn’t feature leaden CGI setpieces.

The Spotlight banner kicked off with Echo (Disney+), a series that picks up the story of Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), whom viewers met in Hawkeye. Wait, you haven’t seen Hawkeye? Maya shoots Kingpin (Vincent D’onofrio) in the face. Why? Oh, Kingpin engineered the murder of her father at the hands of Ronin. Who’s Ronin? Oh, that was Hawkeye during the period between the events of Infinity War and Endgame, when he went on a grief-crazed global murder spree. Wait, why did Kingpin do a proxy murder of Maya’s dad? Man, I don’t know.

The bigger question is, do you need to know all this backstory to enjoy Echo’s five-episode run? Well, don’t worry, because the first 30 minutes of the first episode will catch you up with a mix of original footage and scenes from Hawkeye.

That’s right: it’s a ‘previously on’ montage stretched to wild proportions. It’s as if Marvel has turned into an unfunny version of Michael Peña’s verbose turn from the first two Ant-Man movies.

Once the throat-clearing is done, though, Echo becomes a much more interesting story about a young Choctaw woman reconnecting with her family and culture. The show assembles a list of heavy-hitting Indigenous actors to that end, from Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal to Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs) and Chaske Spencer (Banshee). It’s possible to watch Echo and ignore its Marvel connections, but it’s hard to escape the feeling this was a much better show earlier in its development before the studio grew nervous.

The Dark And Pin-Straight Road

As of this writing, True Detective: Night Country (HBO) has hit its midseason point. The fourth season of the anthology, directed and written by Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), shifts locations from Louisiana and California to the town of Ennis, Alaska. The setting is starkly different from the suffocating humidity of the Gulf Coast but no less effective at conjuring a sense of cosmic horror. “The world is growing old,” says Rose Aguineau (Fiona Shaw), “and Ennis is one of the places where reality is coming apart at the seams”.

This season’s maladjusted cops dealing with traumatic pasts are played by Jodie Foster and former boxer Kali Reis. If the dynamic between these characters didn’t work the rest of the show would probably grind to a halt out on the ice, but their shared interactions, built from mutual dislike and a shared sense of mission, fuels the show and makes the whole enterprise sing. The supernatural elements are just details.