by Maggie Peknic
What happens if you take background characters, all of whom have little screen time and are from different movies, and bring them together as the main characters of a television show? What happens if you make that show a mix of genres – sitcom, action, and musical? To top it off, what happens if you also make the show a historical representation of sitcoms throughout the decades? All of these elements shouldn’t work – but they do. Marvel proves they are capable of making the most unlikely combinations a hit with its new show, WandaVision.
WandaVision is the latest masterpiece of Disney+, which concluded earlier this month on March 5th. Originally, I was skeptical about the show’s concept. Although its two protagonists, Wanda Maximoff and Vision, are easily two of the most powerful individuals within the Marvel cinematic universe and are key characters in the comic books, their character development was slighted in the movies. They acted as subplots, sometimes even as subplots to the subplot; while heroes like Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man captured the hearts of millions. Due to these shortcomings, WandaVision was not as anticipated by fans as Marvel’s other projects, namely The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki. Director Matt Shakman had his work cut out for him.
The first two episodes did little to help audience expectations of WandaVision. Many criticized the episodes for lacking Marvel’s signature action-packed style. However, these people missed the point. The story that was about to unfold was not centered around fight-scenes but rather on grief and identity, two topics the pandemic has brought to the surface. A sitcom style was the perfect fit to effectively portray Wanda’s grief. In the first two episodes, the sitcom style depicts the first stage of grief – denial. Not only is this style a symbolic choice but it also helped WandaVision appeal to non-Marvel fans. Those opposed to the fast-paced nature of action movies may have automatically turned away from WandaVision; however, the well-known format of sitcoms may have comforted non-Marvel fans, enticing them to watch the show. Even the guest-appearance of sitcom star Debra Jo Rupp within the first episode is a strategic move to appeal to a broader audience.
This sitcom style continues throughout the show. Each episode is a reflection of a quintessential sitcom. The first episode takes place during the 1950s, so it’s a reflection of The Dick Van Dyke Show. The subsequential episodes jump to the next decade, taking inspiration from the following television series: Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, Malcolm in the Middle, and Modern Family. There are even commercials scattered throughout the episodes that reflect those of the times – my favorite is a 2000s ad for Nexus in episode seven. The episodes and commercials serve as a synopsis of television history. Anyone who appreciates film and television, such as myself, will view these references with awe.
While these references provide nostalgia and a sense of eureka when you realize them, they also are imperative to the plot. The commercials, for example, usually act as foreshadowing. A prime example of this is the commercial for a Stark Industries toaster in the first episode. In only the first ten minutes of the show, Shakman sets audiences up for the origin reveal of Wanda’s past in the final episodes. The Stark Industries’ toaster with it’s blinking light is a reference to the Stark Industries’ bomb, whose detonation light was blinking. This bomb is an essential part of Wanda’s past and provides light onto her development as the Scarlet Witch.
This sitcom style also reveals the degrading reality of Wanda’s world. With each episode, the sitcom reality-fold starts to break. This is reflected in Wanda’s voice at the start of each episode – “Previously on WandaVison…” As the episodes progress, Wanda’s voice changes from cheery to drained. It’s small details like this that wow audiences. There’s so many of these small Easter eggs that it’s almost impossible to catch them all by yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll spend hours on TikTok trying to learn all the theories and details that you missed.
Besides these gems of the sitcom style, WandaVision gave other gifts to its audience. The top two: Jimmy Woo and “It Was Agatha All Along.” Jimmy Woo played a small role in the Ant-Man series but now has grown into one of the most loveable characters in the series. Just his introduction alone solidified him into fans’ hearts. When he is introduced, he does a card trick, which is a reference to when he asked Ant-Man how to do magic card tricks. Again, Marvel’s attention to details is incredible. The other gem mentioned – “It Was Agatha All Along” – was quite unexpected. This song broke the typical format of the show, giving it a musical / sing-along feel. While this song format may seem unconventional, it works perfectly into the show. It quickly summarizes the villain’s deeds in a timely manner in order to catch audiences up to speed while being a bop. It’s catchy lyrics and upbeat tempo has caused it to already hit four million streams on Spotify.
Overall, Marvel has successfully transitioned from its cinematic characters to television. With the success of WandaVision, I can only imagine what The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki holds. With movie theaters still not opened at full capacity, maybe Marvel will release more television shows in the future. For now, I plan to enjoy the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, which was released March 19th, the day I’m writing this. I can only hope it’s as good as WandaVision.