Wow, we’ve missed that Marvel Studios intro sting. Even when it plays in front of lesser MCU movies, in a past life it usually indicated that you were about to watch a ludicrously expensive superhero blockbuster on the big screen – something we haven’t been able to do since July 2019. Just hearing it at the start of WandaVision, the first ever Marvel Studios-produced canonical TV show, is oddly evocative, even if you’re just a casual Marvel fan.
The series waiting for you behind that logo, however, is like nothing you’ve seen in the MCU before.
WandaVision is a strange pick for the first MCU show to go out on Disney Plus, but it was never planned that way. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – a more conventional-seeming show, that looks like a Captain America movie spread out over six episodes – was intended to go first, and it makes sense.
This is a more subversive and experimental show. It’s not mind-blowingly strange, but it is an MCU show ostensibly presented as an American sitcom – or, rather, a series of sitcoms, as it gradually works its way through riffs on yesteryear hits like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched (which, we’ll confess, we’re only moderately acquainted with).
In WandaVision, Avengers Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are living an idyllic life in the suburban town of Westview. The stakes of their everyday lives are nice and low: they try and keep Vision’s secret of being a pink synthetic being a secret, while Wanda tries to throw the perfect dinner party for Vision’s new boss.
Each of the three episodes we’ve seen uses a familiar sitcom plot like this as a starting point. Clearly, though, as has been hinted at extensively by the trailers for WandaVision, something weirder and darker is at work below the surface. Vision, as we know, died – he was destroyed by Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War when the Mind Stone was removed from his forehead. We never got see Wanda truly grieve for him. Here, he’s seemingly alive, and the pair appear to be living happily together.
We’ve got theories about what’s going on, based on these first three episodes, but that mystery is essentially the crux of the show.
What’s surprising is how firmly WandaVision commits to being a sitcom. It’s not all that hilarious, but Olsen and Bettany have solid chemistry, and so much money has clearly been spent on nailing the look of the shows to which it’s paying homage.
If you’re expecting superhero battles aplenty, it’s really not that kind of show – not yet, anyway. A large part of each episode truly is dedicated to a goofy sitcom plot, unwanted appearances from neighbors (including Kathryn Hahn, who you’ll feel like you’ve seen in a million great sitcoms) and silly snapshots of suburban living. Side note: it’s really cool that actress Emma Caulfield, who played Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is part of the cast in this show.
WandaVision’s idea of using an old sitcom aesthetic to hide darker secrets isn’t new: everything from the movie Pleasantville to the game Fallout 3 to an episode of Scrubs have tapped into this idea before. Still, the way it’s layered in here as the basis for a mystery drama is genuinely inventive – and when the show decides to take a dramatic turn, it really is surprising and effective.
For the MCU – which often feels like it’s repeating itself when it comes to how the movies are filmed or set piece ideas – WandaVision’s stylistic choices result in something that feels truly against type. The show also gets bonus points for having fake, period-accurate commercials that draw in some nice references from the wider MCU.
Pleasingly, these are some of the only references to the rest of the canon in these opening episodes of WandaVision – the show is way more concerned with drawing focus in on its titular characters, and investing time in their characterization that you never got to enjoy in the movies. That’s a massive strength that we hope to see the other MCU shows replicate.
While we’re sure content-deprived MCU fans are going to lap WandaVision up, it’s fair to say that this is still a little unusual for Marvel’s first step into TV. It doesn’t feel like a ‘flagship’ show in the way The Mandalorian was for the Star Wars universe. In fact, if this was the first big-budget show Disney Plus had launched with back in 2019, it would’ve seemed a little bizarre as a way to get subscribers excited.
As part of the wider MCU, though, this experimental series feels refreshingly different to the 23 movies you’ve already seen over and over again. We’re curious to see how the mystery unravels over the coming weeks.