If you’re one of those Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who feel it’s time for something truly unique and different:
To say Marvel’s new series on Disney+ (with the first two episodes debuting Jan. 15) is a departure in tone from the MCU norm is like saying rock ‘n’ roll was a bit different from the Big Band sound. I use that specific analogy because in the pilot for “WandaVision,” Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, and Vision are a newlywed couple plunked into an early 1960s sitcom world distinctly reminiscent of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” from the living room/kitchen set to the black-and-white visuals to the “wacky mix-up” of a plot. Why, there’s even a period-piece, mid-episode “commercial” for the amazing Toast Mate 2000, which can warm up almost any type of food in a jiffy! (The Toast Mate 2000 is a product of Stark Industries. Hmmmmm.)
“WandaVision” takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), but exists in a kind of parallel universe. In the pilot (I’ve seen the first three episodes), Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda and Paul Bettany’s Vision arrive in American suburbia with Wanda still wearing her wedding dress while we hear the bouncy theme song:
“A newlywed couple just moved to town
“A regular husband and wife
“Who left the big city, to find a quiet life
“She’s a magical gal in a small-town locale …”
Wanda uses her powers to dry the dishes (the “special effects” consist of period-appropriate tricks like moving objects around on nearly invisible wires), and when Vision enters the kitchen and a dish hits his head, he cracks, “My wife and her flying saucers,” to which Wanda replies, “My husband and his indestructible head!”
Cue the sitcom audience laughter.
Vision conceals his true identity as an android by literally putting on a human face (at which point he looks just like Paul Bettany) when he’s on the job at a company called Computational Services, while Wanda stays at home, trying to figure out why today’s date has been marked on the calendar with a heart symbol, while her nosy neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) keeps popping in with advice on how to keep Wanda’s marriage zesty and fun, interspersed with corny jokes about Agnes’ unseen disappointment of a husband, Ralph. (“The only way Ralph would remember our anniversary is if there was a beer named June 2nd!”)
When Vision unexpectedly brings his stuffy boss (Fred Melamed) and his flighty wife (Debra Jo Rupp) home for dinner, we’re in for a zany night of comedy, as Vision and Wanda keep coming close to giving away their true identities, but always manage to escape calamity in the nick of time, shew!
Yet there’s something else going on just outside the borders of this story. Something … bigger.
Episode 2 is a tribute to “Bewitched” (starting with the animated opening credits sequence, with a title tune that almost sounds like a cover of the “Bewitched” theme), with Bettany and Olsen doing a splendid job of capturing the snappy banter style of the sitcoms of the late 1960s. The plot is just as soothingly inane as any show from the time, i.e., Agnes introduces Wanda to the neighbor lady who controls all the important committees, while Vision tries to join the Neighborhood Watch group. (The show is still in black and white, with the occasional splash of something in a crimson-red hue, and let’s just say these colorful touches are not meaningless flourishes.)
The third episode is in living color and has the early 1970s feel of “The Brady Bunch,” as Wanda and Vision sport the garish fashions of the time while living in a split-level and possibly welcoming a new addition or two to the family. Imagine the comedic possibilities when the stork visits the family. Are Wanda and Vision even the least bit equipped to become parents? Cue the laugh track!
“WandaVision” works as a painstakingly crafted, impressively spot-on tribute to the evolution of the American sitcom – later episodes will take us through the 1980s and 1990s style of comedy and eventually reach a “Modern Family”-type world – and as something directly connected to the “real” lives of Wanda and Vision. Every once in a while, there’s a crack in the veneer of the sitcom universe, whether it be the appearance of a supporting character who’s hauntingly familiar, or a quick reference to a notorious villain from the MCU. Wanda and Vision are living the sitcom life, but certain touches reminded me a classic “Twilight Zone” episode called “A World of Difference.”
We get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before Wanda and Vision break the fourth wall and find themselves in a very different world with not nearly as many relatively carefree laughs. When we hear The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” in Episode 3, it’s more than just a piece of pop music candy.