Disney Plus needs more adult-friendly retro content until its Marvel shows get here

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Next week is a big one for Disney Plus. On February 4, Disney releases its quarterly financial results, which should give us our first meaningful look at the streaming service's subscriber numbers since it was announced that 10 million people had signed up back in November. We'll then have an idea of how it's faring against competitors like Netflix. 

Hopefully, too, we'll get a clearer idea of what the release schedule for the rest of the year looks like. Disney Plus has had a pretty good start to 2020, bringing the live-action remakes of The Lion King and Aladdin to the service. In February 2020 on Disney Plus, Toy Story 4 will join it, leaving Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 as the big 2019 movies waiting to land on the streaming service.

It'll likely take until the summer for Disney Plus's original content to kick into high, though – this week it was reported that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the first MCU show on Disney Plus, will release in August. That'll be followed by The Mandalorian season 2, and WandaVision, another MCU show, towards the end of the year. 

By 2021, then, people won't be able to stop talking about Disney Plus's shows. But for now, we've got a bit of a wait on our hands. While devotees of Star Wars animation can look forward to a new season of The Clone Wars, The Mandalorian offered a taste of the service's full potential: that is, expensive live-action TV spin-off shows that are strong enough to eclipse the movies they're based on. 

(Image credit: LucasFilm)

It'd be nice if Disney was more open to exploring adult-friendly content from its archives in the meantime, to help fill the gap. It's hard to figure out what Disney considers to be too 'adult' for the service – but the presence of The Simpsons suggests there's a little bit of leeway there. Likewise, we know that classic Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle is planned for the service at some point, which would be a welcome addition. 

Both of those shows are about families, but each have cross-generational appeal, and plenty of adult jokes. So it's worth wondering why more shows like it haven't made the journey to the streaming service. 

If you look over at Disney's fellow streaming service Hulu, there are a number of great shows that feel like they fit the same template. King of the Hill, for example, was co-created by Simpsons writer Greg Daniels, and while it's a more realistic show than The Simpsons, it's not really any more adult. Twelve seasons of that would be a great addition to tide us over in fallow months for new content. 

Futurama, also from Simpsons creator Matt Groening, is a darker show in some ways, and doesn't have the family focus of its sister show – but it would complement The Simpsons pretty well on Disney Plus. 

Now, the animated sitcom Bob's Burgers would be pushing it, but...Disney Plus does have parental restrictions. Even though the service is designed to be family friendly, that should give them a little bit more flexibility to go slightly above PG-rated stuff. That should be enough of an excuse to broaden the range of what you get to watch on there. 

These three shows have their share of more mature episodes and dark jokes, but are they really any darker than Frank Grimes' death in The Simpsons? Surely not.  

Tapping in to some of these older shows could give Disney Plus a bit more cross-generational appeal while everyone waits for the good stuff. There's an argument to be made that Hulu needs to stay just as strong as Disney Plus, as the latter grows its catalogue and streaming rivals are launching competing services. They're available together in one package, after all. 

But right now, Hulu is a US-only streaming service. And Disney Plus is launching worldwide, including parts of Europe in March. It'd be nice if there was more to look forward to in this half of 2020 than Disney's own blockbusters, older animated kids' shows and whatever family-friendly content comes out of the joint Disney-Fox movie archive (the romcom Splash! arrives in February). When you compare the best TV shows on Disney Plus to the movies on Disney Plus, it's obvious that the former is weaker than the latter. 

Nice as it is to watch episodes of old Disney kids' entertainment like Recess on a nostalgia kick, you're still going to want to switch over to Picard or The Witcher if you're over 18. 

Eventually, Disney should have plenty of original shows to keep adults entertained. 

Eventually, Disney should have plenty of original shows to keep adults entertained.  (Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Disney Plus is arguably already performing its main function, though: it's a living archive of Disney movies, with libraries of Marvel and Star Wars films to watch too, even if licensing restrictions stop those collections from being complete. And it's not priced so high that people are likely to fret about the additional cost of having it each month. For a lot of parents, the appeal will no doubt be putting it on for their kids to keep them occupied for hours at a time. That's well worth $6.99 a month. 

And by the end of the year, the slow cadence of big-budget originals won't matter so much. It sounds like viewers will be getting a Marvel series every quarter beginning with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which will be a massive deal. We've seen what Disney Plus's programming can look like with The Mandalorian, and it's enormously promising.

But it'd be good to learn more about what is or isn't considered appropriate for the service. As more countries start streaming Disney Plus, it'll give us an idea of the shape of the service in years to come, and how far its family-friendly image can be stretched. 

Samuel Roberts

Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.