Artifice is the defining characteristic of the classic sitcom, especially in shows made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Each of those decades marked by a tumultuous change or, speaking of the 1950s, a determined revival after a world war, inspiring the producer to create family escapes. In these secure TV bubbles, no problem was too huge to overcome in half an hour, and bursts of laughter supported the on-screen action like gentle ocean waves on a clear day and sunny.
And every week, no matter what, the story ends on a happy and well-being note.
This is not the environment one would expect to meet Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) or Vision (Paul Bettany), last seen in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers. : Endgame “- and in theaters, not on TV.
This is just the start of what makes “WandaVision” such a weird and creative pastiche: It takes a pair of technicolor superhumans capable of taking down titans and drops them in an assortment of half-hour comedies. . And their first assignment places them inside a happy black and white paradise that’s a dead ringtone for Rob and Laura Petrie’s place on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”.
Where Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie trips over a piece of furniture as he walks home in the opening credits of that old show, Vision being able to push through walls, stumbles and stumbles. A later ode to “Bewitched” shows Wanda, aka Scarlet Witch, wiggling her fingers, not her nose, to lift the value of a kitchen’s pots and pans into the air.
Like her great love Vision, Wanda’s power comes from the Mind Stone, one of the Infinity Stones containing divine-level powers that drove The Infinity Saga. Vision gained full awareness and life thanks to the Mind Stone, which was embedded in his forehead up. . . good. All that matters now, at least for Wanda, is that they live out the storyline of perfect romance.
These MCU movies pitted lovers against enemies of enormous power and, at times, against each other. Now their biggest challenges are integrating with the rest of the neighbors and impressing the boss of Vision.
The Infinity Saga is the collection of related films that begins with “Iron Man” from 2008 and ends with “Endgame”. The next stop on this journey, called Phase 4, officially kicks off this year with “Black Widow”.
That said, the two-part launch of “WandaVision” feels like a worthy bridge between the past and the future of the MCU.
For a while, Marvel was growing all over the place on TV while tacitly making its smaller screen titles appear to be somehow less important projects than its theater giants. ABC’s recently released “Agents of SHIELD” occupies the same universe as the films while operating under its own narrative power, much like Hulu’s “Runaways”. The Netflix series – “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “Jessica Jones” and “Iron Fist” – were separate efforts to build a franchise around the Defenders. Each varied in quality and observability, ranging from cultural significance, as demonstrated by “Jessica Jones”, to. . . “Iron fist.”
Then, in 2019, Marvel cut ties with Netflix, halting production on all Defenders-related titles.
Remembering the broad outline of this business history, you see, because “WandaVision” puts to rest all questions of whether the company really values television not just as a medium, but as an art form. The two-part debut is a resounding affirmative response, deftly drawing on small screen history with the same level of reverence and wonder as its elaborate superhero mythology.
“WandaVision” is a banquet for avid viewers and moviegoers, and its ambition doesn’t end there. Each episode is also made to appeal to comic book readers who want to see more worlds and characters explored on the page receiving screen time.
Having a basic knowledge of old TV shows is probably more important in the early episodes, especially when it comes to director Matt Shakman and writer Jac Schaeffer making their way to these TV icons. Their dedication to replicating and fine-tuning the recognizable details of these shows and television in general is pervaded in all episodes with admirable precision.
Then again, looking at the talent that made this great swing come to fruition, we shouldn’t be surprised that it works so well. Olsen’s prodigious talent and versatility has never been questioned, especially to anyone who has seen his nuanced performance in the all-too-short-lived Facebook series “Sorry For Your Loss”. Fortunately for the viewer and actor, this show does away with the unfortunate false Eastern European accent that his character was attached to in his film’s introduction. (Wanda is from a non-existent country called Sokovia.)
Bettany’s physical comedy skills will be more of a pleasant surprise given her drama and action-heavy filmography, and they steal the show in the second episode when Vision, a synthetic (or synthezoid) sentient being accidentally takes his game in. as a human with a step. too far.
Placing Kathryn Hahn at the top of the credits tells the viewer about her importance to the story, and she’s also stunning as Agnes, the obligatory neighbor who seems helpful, but we suspect she also has a touch of Gladys Kravitz coming along. hides behind his smile. Hahn rarely disappoints, and that’s even true when the series around her fails – and in a winning project like this, she’s brilliant as a star of the day.
But as much credit for the success of “WandaVision” is due to the aesthetic choices as the acting. Shakman is a longtime producer on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a series designed to fake television. Here he uses his tropes and practices to tell a story that only looks clear on his face but clearly masks something sinister. The “Dick Van Dyke” tribute is presented in the good old 4: 3 aspect ratio that characterized early television; Coupled with the context of the story, the effect makes it look like we are watching Wanda and Vision frolic inside a living diorama, or terrarium as opposed to a neighborhood.
The second episode gives them their own take on “Bewitched” until the animated opening, with an Americana TV icon doubling as a nod to Wanda’s superhero nickname Scarlet Witch. Disney + is wise to present the first two episodes as a matching set, as it establishes the series as meant to be binged, and the structure as something that is deceptively comfortable, recognizable, but untrustworthy.
As the series progresses, the TV tributes become more universally recognizable, starting with a funhouse mirror from the third episode of “The Brady Bunch” – the set design gives the look of this iconic two-level living room in the smaller corner. But this is also where the weirdness of the plot begins to pay off with increasing breadth and speed.
No detail of the copycat shows in “WandaVision” has been overlooked, including, and most importantly, the boxed laugh. Watch one of the early vintage series that inspired this adventure and you might notice that while they are long on the charm, the amount of kneeling punchlines is actually less than you may remember. In lesser shows, they cover up mediocrity, but even in the best, the track works like a Pavlovian cue telling us where and when to laugh.
When we watch Wanda and Vision stumble happily, the laughter first registered for a while until it didn’t; as were the increased reactions from their television neighbors and colleagues.
Other familiar faces to constant viewers only increase the meta nature of the show, including guest starring appearances by Debra Jo Rupp of “That ’70s Show” and formerly “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. student Emma Caulfield. Teyonah Parris (from “Mad Men”) also makes sparks as another of Wanda and Vision’s helpful neighbors who, like everyone else, is probably not what she appears to be.
Perhaps the familiarity of these faces is a subtle nod to a deeper meaning; For example, if you recognize Caulfield, you might also know that “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon co-created a crucial addition to the Marvel Universe. And that can matter.
But then again, maybe that’s not the case. (Who am I trying to fool here – of course.)
It doesn’t matter whether you understood the implications of that clue or hovered over it, although the episode made available to critics could just as easily be baskets of Easter eggs. Keen-eyed MCU enthusiasts, accustomed to scouring the fringes of the landscape for the smallest detail, will consider themselves well served in this regard.
Even if you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of this franchise, or if you don’t have time to watch the latest “Avengers” movies to remember where the MCU left Wanda and Vision’s story, don’t let this get you to watch “WandaVision” now and watch the movies later. There are many guides to the Marvel Galaxy Couples section online, including official Marvel summaries like this and this one.
And assuming you’re interested in this title, you just need to keep a few key things in mind.
First, comics constantly play with alternate existences and parallel universes. Second, Wanda has the power to bend reality, which makes her one of the most powerful characters in this universe – also potentially the most dangerous, as she is still learning the extent of her abilities.
The last inevitable truth that no matter what type of program “WandaVision” turns out to be, the conclusion of this love affair is unlikely to offer simplistic comfort. But we just don’t know enough about anything to play out here other than the fact that we love what we see and are deeply curious as to whether the finale makes these characters fly towards some kind of bliss. forever or in a torrent. of tears and explosions.
Either way, it’s an original unreality worth seeing until the finale, be it bitter or sweet.
The two-episode premiere of “WandaVision” now airs on Disney + with subsequent episodes arriving weekly on Fridays.