In what will hopefully be the last surprise of 2020, Netflix The Queen’s Gambit gets its own set of Pop! Vinyl figures from Funko. The three characters show Anya Taylor-Joy’s main character, Beth Harmon, in a variety of clothes from the show, none of which are chess-related, but all are stylish. Fans can buy Pops to own a piece of the show’s unique aesthetic, filtered through Funko’s dead eyes, but the real question is why is That The Queen’s Gambit get Funko Pops?
If you allow me to speculate wildly, maybe The Queen’s Gambit gets a Funko Pop, not because it’s a Netflix show that’s both critically acclaimed and popular according to Netflix’s own polls, but rather because “getting Funko’ed” (invent it now) solidifies popular content that can be a bit transient due to streaming algorithms.
Netflix has been able to maintain an aggressive release schedule by 2020 due to how many shows and movies it had already knocked up. But can you honestly say you remember any of the early hits from February and March, like Tiger King or Love is blind?
More broadly, was your media property really popular if it did not “get Funko’ed”? I will argue no. And Netflix’s other Funko collaborations have immortalized similar popular streaming mega-hits like Money Heist and Stranger Things, before they were folded into the Netflix soup, only to reappear for new seasons.
Getting Funko’ed is almost like getting a panel on Comic-Con; it signals a level of tab engagement that guarantees capitalization, at least monetary. A show may fade from interest (or Netflix’s many carousels), but plastic scrap is forever.
Funco’s ability to quickly turn figures up certainly helps in that regard. Although Netflix’s deal was signed before the show became a hit, Funco’s fast fashion approach to production allows it to get a Pop in production in less than two months, according to a report from The goods. Given the October 23 premiere date for The Queen’s Gambit, Beth Harmon Pops falls well within Funco’s compact production window. (Another weird thing: these Funko Pops will start shipping on April 20 next year.)
The Queen’s Gambit Funko Pop! is an interesting bend of Funco’s production power, Netflix’s development capabilities and the strange ways in which popularity emerges in culture. No one will probably talk about the show 40 years from now, but when I clear the wastelands of California and I find a Beth Harmon Pop in an erupting suburb, I remember it and swap for water accordingly.