Superheroes and sitcoms, two of America's emblematic institutions, come together in the highly anticipated WandaVision. Over the decades, grown men and women in spandex have assumed mythic proportions and become metaphors for American clout. The country's very identity is firmly rooted in the superheroic ideal as the world's saviour. Today, these caped do-gooders carry the heavy burden of the country's entire entertainment industry. Another pop-culture staple that offers a glimpse into America's core values and traditions is the sitcom. The globally recognised format and conventions of the situational comedy have allowed it to address topics related to family, gender, race, class, sexuality, and politics. Thus, a whole culture is embodied in its endless scenarios.
Launching on Disney+, WandaVision imagines the superhero couple not fighting to save the world but trying to fit into it. So, it places them in another American archetype: suburbia. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have seemingly retired from a career of feuding with snapping supervillains in world-ending catastrophes for white picket fences and traditional gender roles. They find themselves in a variety of fish-out-of-water situations. Mishaps and misunderstandings abound in episode 1 as they host a dinner party for Vision's boss Arthur Heart (Fred Melamed) and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp). Episode 2 sees their magic show at a town fundraiser nearly ruined by a woozy Vision after a piece of gum clogs up his internal gears. Wanda discovers she's become mysteriously pregnant with twins in the third. In a show where things are not what they seem, the suburbs blur the line between utopia and dystopia.
Following Vision's death, did Wanda conjure these sitcom setups as a safe place with her mind control and reality warping abilities? Or is there an outsider's hand at play here? Perhaps the show exists in an altogether different reality? Regardless, how does it all tie into the larger MCU arc? We should expect the answers to these questions and more before the end of the season. The show's strength for now lies in the way it plays around with different sitcom tropes like a pop culture shaman. It remains to be seen how it pays off at the end.
Marvel sure flips the superhero script to allow for an immersive new way to engage with a tired genre.
The studio chief Kevin Feige had remarked the show draws its setup from Tom King and Mike Del Mundo's The Vision. The 2015-16 comic run finds the android Avenger move to the suburbs with his wife and two children, only to be treated as outsiders in the neighbourhood. Local boys even go as far as to spray paint 'Go home socket lovers' on their garage door (hate speech akin to "toaster lovers" in Battlestar Galactica). In the wake of Trump's ascendancy, it offered a timely examination of xenophobia in the suburbs. Creator Jac Schaeffer doesn't opt for a similar treatment however. He instead presents an offbeat superhero series wrapped in the winsome guise of a classic comedy.
Like a time capsule of TV history, WandaVision unearths a treasure of sitcom tropes as it jumps from decade to decade. The show fastidiously mimics the look and feel of shows like I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver and Bewitched among others. Each episode begins with an intro sequence and a unique theme song that act as a loving homage to these sitcoms past. In the opening episode’s intro, the just-married Wanda and Vision drive down a scenic street in a shiny American car to Westview. The second features a lovely animated sequence.
These aren't just nods, but whole episodes dedicated to their format, aesthetic and comedic sensibilities. In the suburbs, good fences don't always make for good neighbours. Kathryn Hahn plays the nosy neighbour and mettlesome meddler who overstays her welcome. Period-appropriate commercials of products from Stark industries and Hydra also complement the show's humorous stylings. They are not extrinsic to the show but in fact add to its mythology.
Wanda and Vision share the natural chemistry of once co-workers whose workplace romance turned into a loving marriage. Being superheroes and the only two in the community who know about it, their romance is made up of adorable inside jokes and wordplay. Vision phasing through walls and doors, and bumping into utensils brings broad slapstick stylings. You might not crack up, but you will chuckle. Olsen and Bettany feed off each other with an energy that is electric. They help the show rise above its visual and narrative devices into a delightful show in its own right.
With how hard things got in 2020, it is only natural to find comfort in old favourites. In this IP-driven nostalgia economy, studios fittingly produce shows and movies that mirror our consumption patterns. What WandaVision mines is actually anemoia, a nostalgia for a time and place most of us have never experienced. Even if you didn’t grow up watching the classic sitcoms of the '50s and '60s, WandaVision will make you instantly fall in love with its sepia-toned suburbia. But what makes the show work is its fantasy world is not a gratuitous nostalgia gimmick but exists to support a larger story. Bursting with originality and verve, WandaVision is an excellent start to Disney+'s Marvel chapter.
The first two episodes of WandaVision premiere on Disney+ Hotstar Premium on 15 January, with new episodes to follow every Friday.
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