TV

‘WandaVision’ Is A Wickedly Retro Treat For Fans Of Classic Sitcoms

While watching the first three episodes of WandaVision – only three of the nine episodes were made available – I kept wondering what the age cutoff would be for the people who “got it” and the people who will be scratching their heads. Seven years ago I wrote about the death of the TV rerun (with a, now, unfortunate lead image) which, in short, other than a handful of shows (Seinfeld, Friends, The Office), people aren’t watching episodes of old shows like they used to, even though we’ve never had access to those shows like we do now. For example, I’ve seen every episode of Bewitched, which influences the second episode of WandaVision, even though Bewitched completed its run before I was born. I watched them because, frankly, that’s all that was on during the daytime when I wasn’t at school. That’s just not the case anymore. I can’t imagine a 10-year-old today watching 184 episodes of Newhart.

I wrote all this to say that I adored WandaVision. But I’m hesitant to think this show is for everyone, since, at least the first three episodes, do require a working knowledge of ’60s sitcoms to fully grasp what’s being attempted. I do wonder what people not familiar with classic sitcoms will make of, say, Agnes: Kathryn Hahn’s nosy neighbor who fully channels the voice and comedic beats of those ’60s sitcom characters, often with a punchline about her nitwit husband, Ralph. (Kathryn Hahn being in this series is an absolute gift.)

All of this would be kind of weird on its own, without even adding in that this is an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany’s Vision as the two leads. The last we saw Vision he was defeated by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. And Scarlett Witch returned in Avengers: Endgame to help lead our heroes to victory. But here they both are, as sitcom characters, with rarely a hint that anything else is happening other than the sitcom events of each episode, which includes plot points such as, “Vision is having his boss over for dinner,” and “Vision accidentally swallows some gum.” Though in the third episode, with its Partridge Family/Brady Bunch vibe, we do get some hints that there will be more, let’s say, “real world” scenes coming in the remaining six installments.

In the first episode, Wanda and Vision are a married couple living in a world that is very similar to that of the one The Dick Van Dyke Show was set in. Like The Dick Van Dyke Show, this episode was actually filmed in front of a live studio audience. As we go into the next episode, based on Bewitched, the beats change. Like Bewitched, it becomes a single-camera show with a laugh track. At the end of the episode (a scene we’ve seen in the trailer), everything turns to color. It’s not lost on me Bewitched was a show that had episodes filmed in both black & white and color. And the third, as stated earlier, dissects the Partridge, Brady aesthetic. The whole thing is really bizarre. But it’s my kind of bizarre.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about how people might react to a Marvel story without a lot of “action.” Frankly, I kind of hate “action,” even though I enjoy action movies and I very much enjoy the MCU. The actual action is my least favorite part. For the most part, I’m pretty bored during most action scenes. What draws me into the Marvel movies is that these are action movies that also happen to have good actors playing good characters that, obviously, when these movies are at their best, people spent the time to make compelling dialogue and interactions. For me, this is where I get a kick out of Marvel movies: Hey, there’s Spider-Man and Captain America cracking jokes with each other. So, for me, “the action” isn’t something I miss. I just like watching these characters interact. And I like classic sitcoms. So, yes, watching these characters interacting in the heightened style of a ’60s situation comedy is, for me, a delight.

A lot is being made of Marvel “taking a risk.” Well, I’m not sure about all that. Having an MCU television show will undoubtedly sell Disney+ subscriptions. And people will watch it regardless, because what else do people have to do right now? But it’s certainly “different” and something that isn’t made for everyone. I’m hesitant to use the phrase “your mileage may vary” because it’s usually only used in a negative way. But I think that phrase might be apt to describe WandaVision, even though I enjoyed it very, very much. I can’t put myself in the headspace of someone who doesn’t know these classic shows because they are too ingrained in my head. At times, some of the jokes felt like they were only for me. So if you, like me, are a fan of classic situational comedies, well you are in for a treat. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I literally have no idea how you will react to WandaVision. Hopefully, it will make the latter person want to watch some of these old shows before they are out of the cultural zeitgeist forever. More than anything, I hope WandaVision can accomplish that.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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