Disney + superhero series WandaVision opens with something new for TV shows based on the Marvel Comics characters: the marching band and the Marvel Studios logo, with glimpses of Iron Man and other characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was previously only attached to Marvel films. Marvel earlier shows like Agents of SHIELD, Jessica jones, and, Groot helps us, The inhumans were produced by a separate division of the company. Now – in part because most of those shows weren’t that great – Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige is in charge of every project, movie, and TV. And it’s that fanfare, at least as much as the presence of Avengers albums Elizabeth Olsen (like Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (as a synthetic man, the Vision), that promises that WandaVision These beloved and hugely successful films will look and feel a lot more like anything that was made under the old Marvel TV banner.
Then the fanfare ends, the picture turns black and white with the old 4: 3 aspect ratio of a 20th century TV show and the premiere of WandaVision turns out to be … a pastiche of The Dick Van Dyke Show?
That’s not all – and not just because the other two episodes Disney gave to critics feature extensive riffs on Nice to meet you and The Brady Bunch. There is clearly more going on than the main characters moving through an artificially picaresque suburban neighborhood, starting with Vision being alive, having been one of the few heroes to be left dead in the end. Avengers: Endgame. But the vast majority of those early episodes involve Olsen, Bettany, and their co-stars – including Kathryn Hahn as curious neighbor Agnes, Mad Men alum Teyonah Parris as the friendliest Geraldine, and a host of other familiar faces, such as Fred Melamed, Debra Jo Rupp, and Emma Caulfield – cosplaying as characters from the ’60s and’ 70s multicam sitcoms, most dialogue being delivered in a cliché pattern / punchline setup greeted with a loud laugh off screen.
Que Feige and company – including senior manager Matt Shakman (It’s always nice in Philadelphia, The iron Throne) and designer Jac Schaeffer (Black Widow) – would kick off this new phase of the MCU’s small screen with such an odd, full-blown experience might seem counterintuitive. Certainly the safest game would have been something like the next The falcon and the winter soldier, which seems to be much more in the same vein as the Captain America films which featured his dynamic duo.
But the sheer oddity of WandaVision (as an adjacent superhero project, at least, since sitcom parodies have been around forever, in forms ranging from short-lived Trey Parker and Matt Stone comedy to the White House It’s my Bush! to Adult Swim’s 2014 Earworm Too many cooks) makes sense as a statement in itself. While we’re still waiting for shows featuring Falcon, Winter Soldier, Loki, and other faces from the movies, it’s not hard to imagine what they’ll look and feel like, as we’ve seen nearly two dozen films directed by Feige, and got used to the rhythms, the tone and, basically, their level of execution. Some MCU movies are exceptionally good (Black Panther) or only not good (Thor: The Dark World), but they’re all built on the same assembly line, with fairly strict parameters and consistent degrees of oversight. A TV season isn’t just a long movie, and neither should it try to be, but Marvel landing on Disney + with a lightly televised version of a Thor or Captain America movie wouldn’t be. a great success.
By kicking off the adventures of our heroes in TV Land (or maybe Nick at Nite), WandaVision manages to demonstrate just how resilient the Marvel brand can be. And after End of Game may have taken the original MCU formula as far as it can go, showing that these characters are more versatile than they first appeared seems like a very smart idea. When that versatility is wrapped up in a meta love letter to the medium in which Feige and his company can now operate, so much the better.
It is also a big risk, because WandaVision begins by demanding as much affection for television from its audience as from its creative team. If you don’t instinctively smile at the sight of Vision using her powers to gradually move through a misplaced chair – a bit of the iconic hood Dick Van Dyke Show generic opening gag where Rob Petrie has tripped over an ottoman – or acknowledges that an episode takes place in a mirror image of the Brady family home, you may become impatient for the real story to unfold.
Or maybe you’ll be so engrossed in the sheer energy and commitment that Olsen, Bettany, Hahn, Shakman and company bring to these loving tributes that it won’t matter if you can tell the animated opening credits of the second episode made Bettany look like first Nice to meet you husband Dick York rather than Dick “Second Darrin” Sargent.
In their non-Marvel roles, Olsen and Bettany are best known for their intense dramatic work; in their last television roles, she played a grieving widow in the formidable, Facebook Watch sub Sorry for your loss, while he was the Unabomber in Manhunt. But Olsen also grew up around sitcom series (his twin sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, you might have heard, shared the role of Michelle Tanner on Full house), while Bettany mixed in light comic book parts when she could (even in otherwise heavy material like Master and Commander). As Vision and Wanda begin a new suburban life – him as a middle manager in an IT company whose purpose he cannot fathom, she as a housewife whose powers do all the cooking and cleaning for her. – both are a pleasure to watch, with Olsen going joke for joke against Hahn (gnawing at the scenery for all it’s worth) and This 70s show Mom Rupp and Bettany put on an inspired physical comedy when a piece of chewing gum accidentally swallowed causes him to act drunk in one episode. The look and feel of each episode is true to the spirit of its respective sitcom era as much as any show, as it’s clear everyone has done their homework.
. In that regard, Shakman is as much of a star of the show as Olsen and Bettany. Much of what works is based not only on the fact that the recreations are compelling, but also the intrusions into the MCU reality that seem particularly baffling. As a guy who’s done a lot of comedies and dramas, and who’s done some elaborate tribute episodes before – like the Always sunnytribute to
Birdman , shot in what looked like a single take – that’s all you could hope for in a weird project like this. But these are all standout sitcom sims, rather than the real thing. Jokes sound like the ones you might hear Dick van dykeor Nice to meet you , but these are almost never jokes. (A cynic might suggest that this makes the third installment indistinguishable from a real
Brady Bunch In a sense, this is useful for grounding the action and clarifying (besides a few other stray clues) that very little of this life is what it appears to be for our heroes. But a little of that fun, but not funny, approach goes a long way, especially in a show designed to air weekly. They are essentially sketches; they are performed to a high standard, but not really designed to last about half an hour each. The third episode is starting to offer slightly larger clues to what’s going on, and Disney + is at least wisely releasing the first two episodes tomorrow, so viewers won’t have to wait forever for the story to kick in. (assuming this will eventually happen). Copying the form of classic sitcoms from decades past also strengthens WandaVision structuring itself like a TV show in a way that a lot of Marvel TV’s ousted regime work couldn’t be bothered to do. It’s as much a victory as putting Marvel movies and shows on a level playing field. But at least for now WandaVisionshare a problem with all these deceased
Defenders -adjacent shows (although it’s more alive than all of them): Some inspired moments start to lose their effectiveness because there is less story than there is time to fill. But a new diet brings a greater chance that the gain justifies the patience, especially since there is such a bounce to things along the way. The first two episodes of WandaVisionpremieres January 15 on Disney +, with additional episodes releasing weekly.
Watch it here on Disney +.
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