Review: WandaVision Ep 1 & 2

First of all, this is on Disney+ and hence I must remind readers that Disney are failing to pay creators what they owe them. Disney must pay Alan Dean Foster https://www.sfwa.org/disney-must-pay/

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had TV spin-offs before in the form of the semi-related dark & gritty Netflix series that began with Daredevil as well as the more family friendly Agents of Shield. However, WandaVision is the first TV spin-off on Disney+ and the first to focus on superheroes directly from the movies.

The pre-publicity had already stated the main premise of the show. The Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff from the Avengers and her partner Vision would be the central characters in a show that would reprise sit-com formats from different decades of US television. A moments thought about that premise reveals an unstated premise that is soon made obvious in Episode 1. Wanda and Vision are trapped in a US sitcom universe of some kind and the reasons for that will form the story arc for the show.

We are primed for an genre mash-up of superheroes, sit-com pastiche and surreal horror. On the one hand, that is a bold move and on the other hand what we have is essentially a kind of “holodeck episode” in which familiar characters are placed in a contrasting genre for sci-fi or fantasy reasons. Your tolerance for holodeck episodes may vary but they can be fun — the bold choice here is making it the premise of the series and centring two characters who have limited time to develop their characters in the movie.

Paul Bettany as Vision jumps into it as Paul Bettany. Clearly enjoying the comedic aspects of the show and the premise-within-a-premise of the show (he’s a synthetic being with powers pretending to be a suburban office worker. The character range of Bettany is more expansive than he has had opportunity to show with Vision as a character but there are no surprises. In the first two episodes that work their way from the 1950s to early 1960s, he gets to run through a disastrous dinner party for his boss and a neighbourhood talent show where he accidentally turns up (sort of) drunk. Purely on the sit-com level, he’s funny and the funny is enhanced by added layer of absurdity of the character placed within a 50s/60s black and white pastiche.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda has a harder task. To me she was also more of a unknown quantity. I can see from IMDB that she has been in more things than Marvel movies but those are all I have seen her in. While Scarlet Witch has had some big action moments, all of the films she has featured in have been multi-character cross-overs packed with big stars. In WandaVision she not only has to hit the right comedy notes but also pitch that comedy acting in a way that reflects the changing role of women from the 1950s and 60s and their depiction on television. In addition, the intruding weirdness/horror/things are not what they seem element is centred on Wanda, particularly in the second episode. It is a tall order and on the basis of just the first two episodes, she pulls all those threads together.

There are no big surprises and the show makes use of familiar choices. The intrusion of colour into a black and white world is borrowed from the 1990’s film Pleasantville and novelty/holodeck episode structure could be from Star Trek:TNG or from some of the less-standard Buffy episodes (Bettany’s wackier performances reminiscent of episode where Anthony Head gets to play Giles as something other than a stuffy librarian). The inclusion of Debra Jo Rupp of That 70’s Show as the boss’s wife Mrs Hart nods to 1990s/2000s nostalgia, giving WandaVision an odd aspect of calling back to 90s TV as it calls back to the 50s and 60s.

It is notable that by the second episode, the contrived world expands. Episode 1 is restricted to two sets but the second episode there are multiple scenes filmed outside but also the intrusion of surreal elements into the sitcom world are stronger. Episode 2 also introduces Teyonah Parris as “Geraldine” but who has been cast as Monica Rambeau in Captain Marvel 2 and whose dialogue hints that she may also be something more than a ‘non-player character’ within the sitcom world.

Overall, the balance of comedy to surreal horror is nicely done. The 50s/60s setting enhances the Philip K Dick quality to the sense of unreality, as do the occasional adverts that hint at the wider Marvel universe (a toaster from Stark Industries, a men’s watch apparently made by Hyrda). I’ll certainly keep watching,

25 thoughts on “Review: WandaVision Ep 1 & 2

  1. I watched these last night and enjoyed them.

    Did you notice that the neighborhood Queen Bee character was played by Anya from Buffy?

    Also, I’ve always been a big Paul Bettany fan, and I’ve always wished that he was in more stuff, so I’m glad to see him do anything. I nevered cared one way or the other about Wanda as either a character or as an actress, but she is doing okay.

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    1. If the “sitcom per decade” approach holds for a few more episodes I wonder if the ’80s sitcom they’ll ape will be Full House (considering where the first Olsen Family fame came from). Also, Paul Bettany has been money in everything I remember seeing him in. He actually (almost) made Mortdecai watchable for me…

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  2. I enjoyed the episodes for all the reasons you mention. Just wanted to mention that there are additional Easter eggs that are aimed at Marvel Comics readers, so keep an eye out.

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  3. I think this is supposed to take place after Infinity War/Endgame? Which means, of course, that Vision is (still) dead. I wonder if this setup is a way to explore Wanda’s trauma after all that has happened to her.

    I also thought it was interesting that the Neighborhood Watch meeting that Vision attended is integrated (and seems to be mainly a men’s eat-and-gossip meeting to boot) while the women’s Queen Bee club (mostly) wasn’t.

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    1. “I also thought it was interesting that the Neighborhood Watch meeting that Vision attended is integrated (and seems to be mainly a men’s eat-and-gossip meeting to boot) while the women’s Queen Bee club (mostly) wasn’t.”

      The men’s club was more integrated than the women’s club in part because one of the marriages is interracial. That wasn’t in the first two episodes, but it’s evident in at least one of the trailers I’ve seen.

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  4. Ok, Disney isn’t always not paying its creators. Disney is overwhelmingly paying paying its creators. Yes it should pay Alan Dean Foster and any other creators that it hasn’t paid but it is rare case instead of a widespread practice by Disney. Annoying as Hell yes, but let’s note that Disney is a major source of income fir writers.m

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      1. Fair enough. I’m just a bit annoyed because it seems some commenters are getting obsessed about this subject. I’d really, really like to know why Disney is being so stubborn about paying these trivial amounts of money which they really are. There must be a legal reason why they don’t want to do this.

        Now listening to Gareth Powell’s Hive Money

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  5. Yes, it was fun to see Emma Caufield show up in Ep. 2. The hints are that something happened and either Wanda has been captured and her captors are doing stuff to her head, creating the sitcom processing and trying to get information out of her, or Wanda is in some sort of protective comma and doing sitcom processing and SHIELD and her fellow Avengers are trying to get through to her, or a combination of both — Wanda is in a protective comma that her captors are trying to penetrate. But that could all be a feint. And this is all possibly tying into the Dr. Strange multiverse phase of the Marvelverse or at least some of the upcoming characters from it.

    The 1950’s-ish episode paid homage to I Love Lucy but also the Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961-66. When Vision phases through the ottoman, it’s a homage to the opening credits of the Dick Van Dyke Show when Dick Van Dyke as Rob stumbles over the same sort of ottoman and their house is almost a copy of the Petrie house from that show. Most of the episode does Rob and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) bits mixed with I Love Lucy and a little from Bewitched. The 1960’s-ish episode 2 mainly pays homage to Bewitched, which ran from 1964-1972 and went from black and white to color. The cartoon opening credits in Ep. 2 are from Bewitched. And apparently The Brady Bunch and others are coming in further episodes. Growing up on all those reruns, it was funky to watch.

    Elizabeth Olsen’s early breakout role was actually the dramatic indie Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which a woman has flown from an abusive cult and has multiple identities through her experiences. She almost got an Oscar nom for it and did get other award noms. She’s done other high profile indie dramas like the bio dramas Kill Your Darlings and I Saw the Light (where she sang too) and odd films like Oldboy. And she got a lot of praise for the recent t.v. series Sorry For Your Loss where she’s a widow. She’s also been in some comedies/dark comedies. So she definitely has the range, which she didn’t get to use that much in the Marvel movies. So this show is a lot of fun on several levels. Plus now I get to see Paul Bettaney lots so there you go.

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  6. Just finished watching the first two episodes, loved it and the creepiness and waiting impatiently for when I could just binge watch all the episodes…
    Loved the range Paul Bettany was displaying.
    ~B

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  7. I liked it. It has some good lines and ideas, and some scenes worked. The animation was cute. I don’t think the acting and writing in the first episode was up to the standards of a good sitcom of the time in question, but that’s always a hurdle, and it’s not the primary objective, so I’ll await events. (Pretty clear it’s Zygerian scammers. This is how they roll.)

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  8. I liked it a lot. The attention to detail in replicating past sitcoms is quite admirable. Makes the stuff that shows what’s wrong even more startling — like, how can VIsion’s buddy in Ep. 2 give him a piece of Big Red gum in the “Bewitched” era? He can’t. But it’s “Big RED”. Apparently they asked Dick Van Dyke to consult on the first episode for extra verisimilitude.

    Paul Bettany is absolutely killing it.

    Going to be interesting to see where Wanda wakes up. Someone’s sure trying to get through to her.

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  9. I’ve been thinking about Vision announcing that one of the Neighborhood Watch is a Communist, no, they all are. And the men’s reactions.

    Certainly a period-appropriate insult, but not at all sitcom.

    Does it have some sort of significance, either in that in the 60’s US, Communist = Russian, which could allude to Black Widow’s tragic past, that one Peggy Carter adventure she had with the Howling Commandos, or Mickey Roarke in “Iron Man 2” (yeah. I had to look up which one that was).

    OR

    Is it “the worst thing/enemy you could accuse someone of being in that time and place”, and therefore refers to The Bad Guys, probably Hydra?

    or both. or neither. or all of the above.

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    1. All that, plus the “Red” theme of many of the leaks of reality – toaster, toy helicopter, blood – into Wanda’s safe tv world.

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  10. Finally watched the first two episodes and I’m hooked. That I’ve watched Bewitched as a kid certainly helped get some references.
    The communist joke seemed odd, as did the helicopter. I guess those will turn about to be less random than it looked.

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