2020 has been a sinkhole of a year in nearly every way imaginable. Fandom is no different. A lot of us are looking forward to 2021 as the light at the end of the tunnel, a year when we can finally see the cool stuff we’ve been waiting for… but guys, we seriously need to start managing our expectations.
With some notable exceptions, fandom in 2020 has had a ton of letdowns. Things we’ve been waiting for have been delayed, and things that did make it to the screen let us down a bit. As the year pulls to an end we’re all looking ahead and starting to get hyped for what’s coming in 2021. That’s cool- one of the best things about being a geek is getting wildly excited when we see new things happening in our fandoms.
Getting too hyped will set us up for big-time disappointment. Anything coming out in 2021 has been made under unprecedented conditions: limited staffing, crew isolation, health regulations that cut out many on-set amenities, and complicated behind-the-scenes juggling to coordinate production using the absolute minimum amount of in-person interaction.
Back in November Variety ran an article about how Hollywood is handling on-set safety. There was so much to take in: crews separated into different “zones” with wristbands to keep them apart, reviewing footage on iPads instead of the traditional huddling around monitors, the phenomenal expense of housing an entire crew apart from the rest of the world.
That isolation will almost certainly have an effect on genre films and shows in 2021. You might be surprised by how much having a room full of people bouncing ideas off each other helps improve a script. Sure, there are zoom calls, but those aren’t quite a replacement for the atmosphere of a writer’s room. They limit free interaction by making it so only one person can really be talking at a time (at least, if anyone wants to be understood). Plus, a ton of fan-favorite scenes are on-set jokes or improv bits that make it into the final product.
Some productions have risen to the challenge and created stunning stories that would shine anytime (how YOU doin’, Mandalorian?) That’s incredible! But if we expect everything that rolls out in 2021 to be Mandalorian-level-perfect, we’re going to have a bad time.
Let’s take a look at what’s coming out:
- MCU small-screen projects like WandaVision, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and Loki
- So much Star Wars (The Mandalorian Season 3, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, The Book of Boba Fett)
- The Witcher Season 2
- A Quiet Place Part II
- Black Widow
- Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
There’s also new material expected to come out for much-loved fandoms old and new: The Umbrella Academy, Bond, Kingsman, Godzilla, Ghostbusters, Mission Impossible, the Potterverse (I have some reservations about Fantastic Beasts given J.K. Rowling in general, but it’s sure to be anticipated), Spider-Man, The Matrix, and more. Will they all make it out next year? Unlikely, but you can’t blame fans for piling our hopes up at the sheer awesomeness we expect.
That said, I want to encourage us all to temper those expectations. All those fan favorites are moving forward through creative and logistical quicksand, and there may be some bumpy roads. Some of these are just going to be “okay”- and that’s okay.
I’m not saying we need to prepare for 2021 to be a complete wash when it comes to fandom. I am saying that if we build our expectations up impossibly high we won’t like anything we get. That would be a crying shame.
It’s so, so easy to take masterpieces and expect those to be the norm. We are increasingly demanding perfection of our fandoms. Geeks love to pick apart stories and share alternate timelines and generally show off fandom knowledge through debate. Cool! There’s nothing wrong with that in moderation.
But when we cross the line into “it’s awesome or it’s TRASH” we are creating a problem that only hurts the fandom. Trashing studios that take on an ambitious project during a difficult production time just makes other studios push much-anticipated projects down the road. It also dismisses the efforts of crews who spent time wholly away from their families and took health risks just to make something cool for us to binge on a Thursday night.
We don’t need to excuse a lack of diversity or lazy tropes. We do need to give the entertainment industry some breathing room when judging how they handle an unusual set of challenges. They’re trying new things, flexing unused muscles, sourcing ideas from places they haven’t looked before, and that’s all awesome! We should be encouraging that instead of saying, “We waited an extra year for this and it’s utter trash because the graphics aren’t good enough/ every joke doesn’t hit/ I didn’t see X character I wanted”.
Being a little generous with our reviews will make everyone happier in a year when we could all benefit from a little kindness. Go ahead and pick apart plot points, feel free to point out a missed opportunity or a “yikes” moment, but give yourself and others permission to put on some rose-colored glasses when watching the things you love. People worked really hard to make those things happen in a challenging time, and making them successful is a bigger gamble than ever. It’s not always going to be perfect- but it can just be fun to watch, and isn’t that magic enough?
Let’s all cut fandom a break in 2021, all right?
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology being published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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