The Fantastic Four are a quartet of weirdos who can do things like stretch really long and light themselves on fire. They’re a close-knit group, two of them siblings, thrown into outlandish circumstances and hole themselves up in a swanky midtown high-rise. Three movies (technically four) have attempted to make Marvel’s First Family into a profitable blockbuster franchise and it’s never worked.
So they should just make it a sitcom.
This week, rumors ran online that Marvel had regained the cinematic rights to the Fantastic Four from 20th Century Fox. It turned out to be false, but for a whole days fans were excited because some superheroes they like would return to its “true” owners who would do the movies “right.” It happened with Spider-Man, after all (but it’s oft-forgotten that Sony and Marvel are partnering — Sony didn’t get out of the game completely).
20th Century Fox’s disastrous Fantastic Four from this year, directed by Josh Trank, was plagued with problems on screen and off. But there’s so much ado about nothing when the simple, hassle-free solution is to make a superhero story that’s become a joke of a franchise become an actual franchise that tells jokes.
Superhero comedies have a spotty record, specifically because they tend to be parodies. We can’t get enough of people who are blessed with gifts to be actual dimwits. It’s comforting, because no matter how cool and slick they look they’re still gross fuck ups.
And that’s the Fantastic Four, except they didn’t have to spoof themselves. The Fantastic Four weren’t just Marvel’s first superheroes, they were also yuppies that hated traffic and their favorite coffee joints closing. They made jokes and pranked each other endlessly. It was Friends in blue spandex.
“I tried to say, if such characters existed, how would they act in the real world?” Fantastic Four creator Stan Lee said about his series in the 2013 PBS documentary Superheroes. “And that’s where we tried to inject a little bit of reality.”
Imagine a theoretical sitcom starring the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards can stretch his whole body? Endless dick jokes. Sue Storm can turn invisible? That’s a fountain of gross humor at the expense of its only female lead. Johnny Storm has a big ego, is dumb, needs to get taken down a few notches, and can stay shirtless for ratings. And Ben Grimm, a.k.a. The Thing, is the fat friend.
The 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four movies get a lot of flak, but those movies succeeded in making these dumb families fun. That’s the most important element to making anything having to do with the Fantastic Four any good.
Trying to sell a “superhero sitcom” is hard because it sounds terrible. For some reason in 2015, saying “sitcom” still means bullshit like Full House. The new format, the single-camera narrative like The Mindy Project or Fresh Off the Boat, is ripe for a superhero comedy. There could still be big fights and city-destroying destruction on camera, but the comedy will stem from the errors they make trying to be heroes.
Marvel is actually working on a live-action sitcom, but it won’t be about heroes. Damage Control will be an in-universe spoof of Marvel by focusing on a ragtag company that cleans up and reconstructs city blocks after big superhero fights. With the exception of Hercules, who may or may not be in the series, they’re still regular people, just mixed up in crazy situations.
But what about crazy, mixed-up people in normal situations? That could be the Fantastic Four. TV is the space for these experimental stories now. They can’t be fantastic in movies, so let them be fantastic on TV.