One of the weirder complaints I’ve heard against WandaVision is that it isn’t innovative. Okay, sure, it’s playing with a lot of tropes, and right from the beginning it became clear that there was going to be a lot of tribute played to sitcoms as a medium. Starting with a “boss coming to dinner” plot right out of the gate? That signals very clearly where you’re going. It’s what they’re doing with it, or not, that’s the issue. But that isn’t really what’s weird to me about it. What’s weird is the insistence that innovative is always good and not being innovative is proof that your work is bad.
A lot of us have been deep in comfort viewing for nearly a year now. (My article from last March talking about how my kid was going to be out of school for six weeks aged poorly, is all I’m saying.) And while, yes, some of those comfort viewings were innovative in their time and only seem less so now that they’ve been copied for however long, there are also a lot of them that were at the time just a really well-made version of something that had existed for years. And that’s okay! You don’t have to stretch the boundaries to do your work well.
I’ve been very clear for years that I believe that The Thin Man should have been the first movie to sweep the major categories, but neither it nor It Happened One Night are exactly breaking new ground. The Thin Man is admittedly a cross of two established genres, being a hard-boiled detective story meets a drawing room detective story, but Agatha Christie had been writing for years before the movie came out, so those tropes were firmly established, and Philo Vance was around just as long. As for It Happened One Night, it has strong pre-Code roots at least.
I’ve written a lot about Perry Mason, and while the initial character might be more original than we realize nearly a hundred years on, the whole thing became so set that Erle Stanley Gardner basically had a giant plot wheel. It’s a courtroom drama. By the time the show aired, it’s a concept that ran on rails. It’s proving hard to find out if Perry was the first defense attorney solving crime, and it’s certainly true that the ’20s were more interested in private detectives and cops, but it doesn’t really matter. Again, regardless of the originality of the books, the TV show was made when the books had spawned plenty of imitations. Raymond Burr wasn’t even the first person to play the role.
I read a lot of celebrity autobiographies; even the best of those aren’t breaking new ground, but so what? They’re good, and they’re fun to read. Terry Pratchett famously claimed that all fantasy was just rearranging the furniture in Tolkien’s attic. And if I think a lot of what Pratchett did was more creative than that, well, that doesn’t mean I can’t also see what he borrowed from those who came before him.
And all that is without getting into the fact that a fair amount of innovative stuff is just bad, because of course it is. It can lead the way to other works that borrow the new thing and take it better places, and that’s good, but to quote Crow T. Robot, “Just because it’s futuristic doesn’t mean it’s practical.” I’ll admit that it’s an argument I hear less often, but it’s an argument that I think is implied by “not innovative” as a criticism. Heck, sometimes the innovation itself is bad, as demonstrated by all the flirtation certain kinds of animation has with the Uncanny Valley.
Sometimes, I come across arguments that feel like thinly veiled explanations for “I just don’t like it.” Which misses that there is also nothing wrong with just not liking things. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t. No shame. The problem comes when people try to make value judgements out of their opinions. For the most part, people like and don’t like what they like and don’t like because it appeals or doesn’t, and trying to justify it with some sort of definitive “this is failing in a fundamental way” just serves to insult the people who like it anyway.