While Marvel’s shows have varied in quality from excellent to unwatchable, one common thread has run though almost all of them. They’re too long. With the exception of the mercifully short Defenders, Marvel’s Netflix adventures have been 13 episodes long. Iron Fist‘s first season was about 13 episodes too long. It sounds like Marvel is finally listening, because Danny Rand’s second adventure is only 10 episodes long – 25 percent shorter. This can only be a good thing for the show.
13-episode series are one of the biggest reminders that Netflix is still trying to shake off the legacy of television. In the TV world, time is everything. Things are run minute by minute. How much time you have between commercial breaks, how long those breaks can be while still keeping viewers.
But in the broader sense, though, time matters, too. Broadcasters don’t want to waste time with showing shows while everyone is outside in the summer, or busy with family during the holidays. They also want them to fit neatly in the calendar year, a 52-week period. For example, the CW’s superhero shows mostly run around 26 episodes, give or take one or two to account for holidays and special events like the Super Bowl. The shows go from the beginning of fall until late spring. Other shows might be shorter, with the network wanting to fit two series into that same block, so they’ll schedule 13 episodes.
Netflix, though, isn’t filling a hard-coded linear timeslot that expires each week. The only time Netflix shows fill is the viewer’s time, and that can be at any time of day during any time of year. There’s absolutely no reason for these shows to be stuck in this specific format when they could save time and money and get a better show by making shorter seasons.
That brings us back to Iron Fist. More than any other Marvel show, Iron Fist was hurt by this forced format. While you could argue that Daredevil and Jessica Jones did a fair job of filling out their first seasons, Iron Fist came up short. Way short. What was meant to be a superhero show ended up being a boardroom drama. A show about a monk reintegrating into the world became a show about a whiny, petulant, and impulsive young billionaire.
If That 70s Show star Topher Grace gets time between editing Star Wars and Hobbit series down to watchable lengths, I’d love to see him attack Iron Fist season 1. There’s a great 4 or 6-hour show in there along side the unwatchable story of a family squabble over a skyscraper and the company inside it.
This is something Netflix has slowly been realizing over the last couple years. Voltron: Legendary Defender started out with longer seasons, but the last four or so have been just six episodes apiece, and what we’ve ended up with is one of the best shows on Netflix. Voltron turned a silly 80s cartoon about robot lions into a very watchable show that builds its seasons based on how long the story needs to run, not on that outdated schedule. Instead of waiting a year for a new season, we’re getting one every four to six months.
There’s so much more that showrunner Raven Metzner needs to fix to make Iron Fist season 2 work. Writing and fighting were both low points in the show, which is bad in a show about a Kung-Fu man with the burden of protecting two cities-worth of people. But what that shorter episode count tells me is not that Marvel and Netflix aren’t confident in the show, but rather that they think the show has 10 episodes worth of story to deliver. Less time wasted and more time spent focusing on interesting stuff.
Marvel is giving us lots of good evidence going into Iron Fist season 2. We have a shorter show. We have a promise of multiple masks for Danny Rand, which means more comic-book goofiness and opportunity for better stunts. His appearance in Luke Cage season 2 actually added to the show. Good, good, and good. At this point, I’m actually optimistic about Iron Fist season 2. I know, I can’t believe it, either.