The MCU Shared Universe Has A (Bizarre) Challenger
It's no pop culture secret that Marvel and Disney reign supreme in the shared universe game: Nearly two dozen interconnecting blockbuster movies, successful TV shows across multiple streaming services, a watchable Thor film, the list goes on. DC, Universal, and Sony have all crashed their ships upon the rocks while attempting to achieve what the MCU has and it seems like no company will ever measure up to Kevin Feige's monument to rampant costumes and capitalism.
But there is...one franchise that might come close.
Those of you that value your time and have no patience for reality TV bullshit may have never stumbled across 90 Day Fiance, but its popularity has exploded over the past few years, with each episode averaging 13 million viewers. The basic premise of the original show (which debuted in 2014) is that an American has become engaged to someone that lives overseas. They have applied for a K-1 visa, which means they have 90 days to come to the United States and marry their fiance (There's a reason the show's not called 120 Day Fiance). However, if they fail to do so, they have to return to their home country.
I know! It DOES sound super fucking gross when you actually write it out. And I also know, It DOES sound like it's taking bizarre advantage of a political climate where families getting ripped apart due to unfair deportation is one of the biggest issues around. But somehow I've watched all of it, every single second of fuckboys acting weird when their foreign brides don't immediately become accustomed to their wack-ass beliefs, and people being told by their families "Hey, maybe don't jump into this relationship so suddenly and/or on television."
It's the fascination with the "Russian mail order bride" phenomenon mixed with some shifty politics and topped off with The Bachelor-esque shenanigans. And that's only the beginning. By the way, this first show has had seven seasons so far, so keep that in mind while I dump the rest of this on you.
Next up is 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After?, with the question mark being there because no one's ever happy after.
It shows us what happened to the particularly charismatic couples that got married, or the ones that shout the most (of course, in reality TV, the line between those two categories is pretty blurry.) It debuted in 2016 and has lasted for four seasons. This is likely the most depressing one because there's a very specific bummer that comes from mundane, seething household drama. It the specific kind of relationship depression that comes from two people who just can't stand one another, but have both their names on a mortgage.
Every good franchise needs an origin story, and that's why we're on the fourth season of 90 Day Fiance: Before The 90 Days.
In this, people have met their future beloveds online and are travelling to meet them for the first time, hoping to propose to them/get proposed to/eventually show up in the main 90 Day Fiance, which at this point becomes The Avengers of the whole thing. And of course, one side is usually harboring some kind of secret like "I haven't told her that I'm still married to all four of my ex-wives!" or "He doesn't know that I think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is waaaay better than Spider-Man: Far From Home."
But what if you just don't have enough interesting shit to argue about, or you split up and thus TLC deems you unworthy of a consistent television spot on Happily Ever After? That's what 90 Day Fiance: What Now? is for. This web series, now past its third round of updates, chronicles the couples (and newly single people) trying to have a normal life post 90 Day Fiance.
However, everyone knows that the height of modern entertainment is watching something that you've already watched, but this time having people that you recognize from other things that you've also already watched shout about it. It's why Talking Dead has lasted nearly a decade, and it's why we're currently on the fourth season of 90 Day Fiance: Pillow Talk, in which couples and characters from past and current seasons of various 90 Day Fiance seasons and spinoffs sit on a bed and react to the current season or spinoff of 90 Day Fiance.
I wish I could think of a joke about the particular kind of ennui that one gets while watching 90 Day Fiance: Pillow Talk, but being able to describe it without having to look up what it is has already irreparably hurt my self-esteem.
That said, not everyone is trying to marry someone from America. Sometimes, Americans move to other countries to be with their partners and haphazardly get it filmed for questionable documentary-style series and that's what 90 Day Fiance: The Other Way is for.
It features a couple from 90 Day Fiance: Before the 90 Days and a batch of new people that are all ready to have extremely disappointing life-milestones on TV.
When a character gets super popular, though, you want to cash in on them with a spinoff that's solely devoted to them. And so The Family Chantel was born, where Pedro and Chantel (who previously starred in a season of 90 Day Fiance and three seasons of 90 Day Fiance: Before the 90 Days) get to tangle with their family issues.
Like most spinoffs, though, it severely overestimates how much time we want to spend with that character, so it's safe to say that while 90 Day Fiance is Cheers, The Family Chantel is absolutely no Frasier. It's barely a Joey.
And finally, to satisfy our need to watch 90 Day Fiance in every waking moment of our lives, we're injected with 90 Day Fiance: Just Landed, which illuminates the first 24 hours after a fiance has landed in the United States.
The episodes are all between ten and twenty episodes, which I find is a perfectly healthy amount of time to self-loathe.
In short, TLC has created a reality TV empire with 90 Day Fiance that is kind of awe-inspiring. And at the rate it's going, it might be the only thing on television one day. Sorry, Marvel. You did your best, but Fiance is inevitable.