(warning: spoilers ahead)
Well, we’ve seen the first “Star Wars” series on Disney+ in “The Mandalorian,” and now, we’re treated to the first Marvel series for the Mouse House streaming service: “WandaVison.” This homage to sitcoms of yesteryear is not your typical television show, and that’s what makes it fun.
Each less than thirty-minute episode is a journey through a trippy, alternate reality version of Nick at Nite. The first episode is a nod to the classic 1950s television series like “I Love Lucy” and the 1960s mainstay “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Wanda Maximoff and Vision live in an idealized suburban TV community, but don’t seem to know how or why they are there.
Of course, if you’re even a passing fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe you might be asking, “Isn’t Vision dead?” Yes, yes, he is, which makes this entire situation all the weirder. Vision died during the events of “Infinity War,” so the fact that Wanda has recreated him or resurrected him and thrust the couple into this strange version of a sitcom life is all the more curious.
What makes all these odd references, homages, and peculiar situations work are the stellar acting chops of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. In the first episode, Bettany is buried in 1950s style physical comedy gags like broken plates on his head and moments at work when he’s trying to figure out exactly what it is that his company does.
The other great episode-long gag is watching both Wanda and Vision figure out why their day is supposed to be special. Being a fake couple in what seems to be a fake world, they’re not sure why there is a heart on their kitchen calendar. Wanda’s neighbor, played by the great Kathryn Hahn, convinces her that it must be the couple’s anniversary and sets about planning a very 1950s era evening complete with candles, a seductive dress, and a fancy dinner. Meanwhile, Vision is at work and eventually realizes that the heart on their kitchen calendar was to remind them that his boss, Mr. Heart, and his wife, played by Fred Melamed and Debra Jo Rupp, were coming to dinner.
So, at the end of his workday, Vision arrives home, boss and wife in tow, only to find candles, romantic music, and his wife dressed in a negligee. Hilarity ensues with Wanda passing it off as being European and then scrambling to make lobster thermidor, chicken a la king, and steak Diane. As you would expect from a twenty-something superhero, she has no idea how to make a 1950s gourmet meal and instead settles on breakfast for dinner.
Once they’re sitting down to dinner the couple gets peppered with questions about when they got married, where they moved from, and who they are, none of which they’re prepared to answer. Indeed, a great thing about the series is that Wanda and Vision are sometimes just as lost and puzzled by the whole thing as the viewer is. When his boss starts choking on his dinner, Vision reaches into his throat, because he’s a superhero and can do that, and plucks out the obstruction in his airway, saving the day and earning a promotion to boot.
By the time we get to the second episode, we’re in a tribute to “Bewitched” complete with the cheesy animations and a matching theme song. We also start to get a glimpse that something here is wrong.
In their idyllic suburban setting, Wanda and Vision are now concerned with participating in the town talent show to raise money “for the children.” They’re going to do a magic act, the fitting being that she’s the Scarlett Witch, and he can fly. They’re also each trying to fit into this new environment they’re living in, Wanda by joining the local women’s group and Vision by becoming part of the neighborhood watch.
While heading to the women’s group, we get our first experience of someone trying to break through this comedic setting to get to Wanda. A red and yellow toy helicopter with the S.W.O.R.D. logo on it shatters the black and white esthetic of the episode when it falls into the front yard rose bushes with a loud thud. We get another clue that something is amiss at the women’s luncheon when a radio playing The Beach Boy’s “Help me Rhonda” in the background suddenly says, “Wanda can you hear me? Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?”
We also meet the adult version of Monica Rambeau, played by Teyonah Parris, who we first met as a kid in “Captain Marvel.” Here she’s going by Geraldine, and she’s “not quite sure why she’s here.” In the comics, Monica Rambeau eventually takes over the moniker of Captain Marvel. Here she may be an agent of S.W.O.R.D., the intergalactic answer to S.H.I.E.L.D. Yes, Marvel, like the federal government, loves its acronyms.
We also get a series of great gags when Vision goes to the meeting of the neighborhood watch group at the local public library (remember those?). We get perfectly timed for the era jokes about mastication, communism, and Vision trying to deflect that he doesn’t eat (because he’s a robot superhero and all).
As an essentially drunk magician who has forgotten that he has to conceal his superhero identity from the town flies lifts a piano with one hand and leaves his wife scrambling to cover for him, making the assembled town folks laugh and keeping them off the scent that there’s something quite different about this couple of newlyweds.
By the end of the episode, Vision and Wanda are back at home and Wanda has a visible baby bump. Standing in their living room they’re disturbed by a sound, which upon further investigation turns out to be a beekeeper in a S.W.O.R.D. outfit coming out of the manhole cover in the road. Wanda says “No,” and we’re rewound to the moment they realize she’s pregnant. Suddenly the whole world is in brilliant Technicolor. As the show fades out, we hear again, “Who’s doing this to you, Wanda?”
We don’t know exactly who the big band guy is in this show yet, or how exactly it plays into the next phase of the MCU, but we do know that “WandaVision” leads us straight into the next Doctor Strange movie, “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” followed by the third Spider-Man movie. There has been lots of speculation online as to which Marvel villain could be pulling the strings here, but I think we have to wait for a few more episodes before we get a clearer view of exactly what’s happening. Until then, bring on the continuing tributes to classic American sitcoms!