Welcome to a Friday edition of Popculturology. The planet is in its death throes and aliens are probably real, but we’re here to talk about Barbie and chocolate chip cookies this week.
Anyone out there watching Secret Invasion? I haven’t caught a single episode yet, and after the lukewarm reactions to the series finale, I don’t know if it’s something I’m going to spend my time on. I’ve never missed a Marvel Cinematic Universe project, but this might be the one that breaks that streak.
What I do need to catch up on is Justified: City Primeval. I started it last week but haven’t had the chance to dive back in. Loved seeing Timothy Olyphant back in that role even for the few minutes I watched.
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- Feature Presentation: “An IP-driven machine, essentially creating a Mattel cinematic universe”
- The News: Studios ready to tank their slates, Donald Glover and his brother writing Lando, sequel chances for Barbie and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
- Trailer Watch: The Marvels, Invincible, Only Murders in the Building, Winning Time, Strange Planet
- What to Watch: The Righteous Gemstones season finale
- Snack Break: Milk Bar Crunchies Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Learning the wrong lessons from Barbie
You’re not going to believe this, but it looks like the studios have taken the wrong lesson from the wild success of Barbie.
In a recent interview with Variety, Mattel executives revealed their plan to turn the “toy company into an IP-driven machine, essentially creating a Mattel cinematic universe,” unleashing a list of in-the-works projects that reads like a Mad Libs mashup of toys of varied success and random actors and filmmakers.
Barney and Daniel Kaluuya. Polly Pocket and Lena Dunham. Hot Wheels and JJ Abrams. Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots and Vin Diesel. Major Matt Mason and Tom Hanks. Wishbone (the dog!) and Peter Farrelly. Thomas & Friends and Marc Forster.
Just wildly bizarre stuff.
Ever since Marvel Studios launched the only successful cinematic universe with Iron Man and the dozens of films that followed, every other studio has desperately tried to capture that magic too. Warner Bros. over and over again with the DC superheroes. Universal Pictures with the Dark Universe. Sony with its the Amazing Spider-Man movies and current Spider-Man spinoffs.
Instead of just accepting that the cinematic universe not only doesn’t have to be what you model your film slate on but that it’s actually a horrible way and likely unsustainable way to craft movies, studios are still trying to launch their own cinematic universes.
What Mattel is trying to do — while not as funny as the failure of the Dark Universe — is probably the most egregious money grab of the cinematic universe era.
Instead of recognizing that Barbie is a hit not because of just the IP itself but because Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and everyone else involved created something unique that connected with audiences, Mattel just sees “movie based on toy made lots of money” and is ready to steam ahead with more movies that fit that misguided description.
No one is clamoring for a Polly Pocket movie from Lena Dunham. That movie is going to make $7 million its opening weekend and launch a thousand think pieces wondering what went wrong when Barbie was such a success.
It seems that Mattel is intent on wiping out the magic that made Barbie that model of success too. Despite Gerwig’s feelings about a Barbie sequel (more on that later in the newsletter, but — spoiler alert — she’s not working on one), Mattel is ready to squeeze every penny out of the Barbie universe.
“Barbie, as a brand, has many different iterations. The product lines of Barbie is a very broad brand. In addition to the main Barbie figure, she has family, she has a lot of elements around in her universe,” Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz told Variety. “It’s a very rich universe … It’s a very broad and very elastic brand, in terms of opportunities.”
The best comparison I can think of for what Mattel is going to do is what happened after The Lego Movie was a massive hit. Instead of focusing on what made the original movie a hit, Warner Bros. immediately tried to launch a universe of spinoffs. The Lego Batman Movie. The Lego Ninjago Movie. The unmade Billion Brick Race from Jason Segel.
Then The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part finally came along, failed to live up to the original’s legacy and wound up being the end of that franchise.
Barbie is a hit, but it’s the kind of hit that causes studio execs to see dollar signs at a level that blinds them to why it’s a hit.
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If you can’t beat ‘em (the writers and actors), delay ‘em (the movies)
With no end in sight to the AMPTP holding out on meeting the reasonable demands of the writers and actors and ending their work stoppages, the studios have begun plotting their next unreasonable move: Delaying the fall and winter slate of films.
Over the past week, there have been reports that Warner Bros. is looking at pushing Dune: Part Two, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Color Purple into 2024 (possibly making a decision in September) and Disney is reviewing the release schedule for films like Wish and Next Goal Wins.
These delays would come on the heels of a historic weekend at the box office thanks to Barbie and Oppenheimer and as people have really started returning to movie theaters after the pandemic shuttered them.
In their refusal to agree to the terms set forth by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, are studios really ready to tank that progress? To possibly squash the cash flow barely keeping theater chains alive?
Donald and Stephen Glover are writing the Lando show
It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten an update on the Lando show allegedly coming to Disney+. Variety broke the news on Thursday night that Donald Glover and his brother, Stephen Glover, have come on board to write the series.
The Brothers Glover replace Dear White People creator and Haunted Mansion director Justin Simien.
Honestly not shocked by this news. Besides the Community movie, what does Donald Glover star in these days that he doesn’t have full control over? It is interesting, though, that the Brothers Glover previously parted ways from Disney when it came to the direction of a Deadpool animated series they were working on and now they’re back together.
Will there be a Barbie sequel?
When a film opens with a $162 million weekend (even higher than estimated!), there’s going to be the question of whether a sequel is on the way. The New York Times chatted with Barbie director Greta Gerwig and closed out their interview by asking if Gerwig though Barbie was “the start of a franchise” or “a complete story with a definitive ending.”
“At this moment, it’s all I’ve got,” Gerwig told The New York Times. “I feel like that at the end of every movie, like I’ll never have another idea and everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I did. I wouldn’t want to squash anybody else’s dream but for me, at this moment, I’m at totally zero.”
As we’ve already discussed in this week’s edition of Popculturology, I’m sure Mattel and Warner Bros. execs have their own (probably misguided) ideas about whether a Barbie sequel is on the way …
Mutant Mayhem gets a sequel and spinoff TV series
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is a week out from hitting theaters, but the buzz around the reboot is strong. Not only does the animated film currently boast a 97 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies already have a sequel and spinoff TV series in the works.
I’ve never seen a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in theaters (I’m guessing this stems from a childhood where the show and movies weren’t something we were allowed to watch), but I might try to catch Mutant Mayhem in theaters.
Paramount also released what they’re calling the “final trailer” for the movie this week.
- Righteous Gemstones renewed. HBO announced on Thursday that it had picked up Danny McBride’s series for a fourth season.
- The Rock’s ‘historic’ donation. Variety reported this week that Dwayne Johnson had given a seven-figure donation to SAG-AFTRA’s Emergency Financial Assistance Program.
- What is ‘don’t be a scab’? Jeopardy!’s annual Tournament of Champions has been delayed after several contestants announced they won’t cross the WGA picket line. Meanwhile Ken Jennings continues to have no problem hosting …
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I love this cast and can’t wait to see what Little Woods and Candyman director Nia DaCosta does with them.
The Marvels opens on Nov. 10.
Invincible was one of the many shows I caught up with in 2022 while our daughter was in her contact-nap phase. While my wait for Season 2 has been long, fans who watched along with Season 1’s original release have been waiting since April 2021 for new episodes. That’s a lifetime in the streaming era.
Invisible Season 2 premieres on Prime Video on Nov. 3.
Only Murders in the Building
I love how Only Murders in the Building found new ways to stretch its storytelling in Season 2. The third season of the Hulu series definitely looks like it’s going to expand on that, adding Meryl Streep and a few musical numbers to its repertoire.
Only Murders in the Building Season 3 premieres on Hulu on Aug. 8.
Winning Time boasts a star-studded cast, but it’s Quincy Isaiah’s portrayal of Magic Johnson that drives the entire show. How does this guy not even have his own Wikipedia page — and a slew of other roles to fill it with — yet?
Winning Time Season 2 premieres on Max on Aug. 6.
It’s great that this guy turned his web comic into a full-blown animated show, but I dunno if this gimmick stays fresh beyond a few minutes …
Strange Planet premieres on Apple TV+ on Aug. 9
💬 💬 💬 Comments, questions or recommendations? Let me know!
- If artificial intelligence uses your work, it should pay you (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Washington Post)
- Why There Are No Animated Short Form 2023 Emmy Nominees (Bill Desowitz, IndieWire)
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The Righteous Gemstones
The final two episodes of The Righteous Gemstones’ third season drop this Sunday. This show somehow gets better with every season and every episode. If you haven’t been watching, it’s time to catch up.
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Milk Bar Crunchies Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Milk Bar’s line of desserts available outside of their flagship stores have been hit and miss. The ice cream line? Fantastic. The full-size cookies? Unable to recapture the magic of the real things. I spotted the new Crunchies line at the grocery store last week and immediately tossed the Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies into the cart. (I’m nothing if not a role model for our daughter when it comes to impulse buying.)
These are so good.
The bag barely lasted a day before I had housed all of them and made a mental note to find that endcap display at the grocery store next time I was there.
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