Given the phrase “Marvel Cinematic Universe TV show,” your thoughts most likely would not conjure up something that appears like “WandaVision,” the primary episodic sequence from Marvel Studios. (“Marvel Television,” which produced sequence like “Jessica Jones” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” is successfully no extra.) After two dozen films teeming with chiseled heroes, bombastic violence and swelling orchestras signaling some catastrophic twist, “WandaVision” throws Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), two of the MCU’s strongest and tragic characters, into the jarringly low-stakes world of a picture-perfect sitcom neighborhood circa 1950-something. Gone are the sprawling navy bases, excessive tech galactic speedsters and much flung corners of the Earth that acted as backdrops for the Avengers’ newest battles. Instead, Wanda and Vision need to bumble their manner via a sequence of traditional sitcom storylines with out their nosy neighbors realizing that they are dwelling subsequent to a witch and the strolling, speaking personification of the galaxy’s strongest AI. There’s no rationalization for why Wanda and Vision are seemingly dwelling out an archetypical suburban fantasy, however as finally turns into clear, it could not completely be their alternative.
In the three episodes screened for critics out of the season’s eventual 10, Jac Schaeffer’s “WandaVision” proves itself to be, if nothing else, a powerful replication of bygone sitcoms. The first two episodes are in black and white, paying homage to reveals like “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Bewitched” so meticulously that they usually really feel like 1-to-1 recreations. Their screwball plots characteristic Wanda attempting to entertain Vision’s cranky boss (Fred Melamed) and spouse (Debra Jo Rupp) with the assistance of her chirpy neighbor (Kathryn Hahn), or profitable over a skeptical mother (Emma Caulfield) who guidelines the neighborhood with an iron fist and poison smile. The third episode, rendered in splashy Technicolor, swaps the set for yet another clearly mimicking “The Brady Bunch,” with the time interval adjusting to match.
If you are an informal Marvel viewer fairly than an obsessive, coming throughout this sequence could be complicated. (As if anticipating precisely that, Disney Plus has launched two brief “Legends” summaries of Wanda and Vision’s general arcs inside the MCU up to now — and they’re, I’ll admit, fairly useful.) And in case you’re in any respect a fan of the traditional reveals that impressed it…effectively, possibly you may simply depart “WandaVision” wanting to look at the traditional reveals that impressed it. Despite their comedy frameworks, not one of the episodes are significantly humorous. The “jokes” are actually simply recreating the rhythm of traditional sitcom dialogue and adjusting them to suit the truth that Marvel characters are saying them with the obscure sense that they do not belong right here. In truth, the sequence’ greatest moments are those that underline that uneasy mixture as Wanda and Vision battle to grasp what precisely is happening on this picket fence snow globe of a world they’re abruptly dwelling in.
In this early going, “WandaVision” is extra fascinating for its place inside the Marvel behemoth than an instantly nice show in and of itself. In equity, a pre-pandemic world may need seen one thing extra straightforwardly of a chunk with the MCU, like “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” premiere first. But whether or not unintentionally or on goal, “WandaVision” is an admirably bizarre introduction to the brand new age of Marvel TV. Yes, this show and each one of many roughly ten thousand different ones on the way in which will inevitably have to attach again to the blockbuster films. After all, the primary precedence for Marvel will nonetheless be getting each attainable fan invested in all the pieces the studio has to supply. At the very least, although, Marvel and Disney’s aggressive marketing campaign to flood the market with #content material is likely to be a bit much less annoying if a few of its reveals can get unusual with out worrying too onerous about shedding its largest attainable viewers.
From a pure aesthetic standpoint, it is stunning and undeniably efficient to see “WandaVision” twist the established Marvel model to suit a really particular, completely totally different mode. Bettany’s clearly having enjoyable letting looser in “WandaVision” than he ever might in one thing like “Avengers: Infinity War,” although direct comparisons of this “aw, shucks” iteration of Vision to the elastic Dick Van Dyke efficiency that clearly impressed it do not do Bettany any favors. Olsen, in contrast, does a exceptional job balancing her understanding of Wanda with the depictions of Good Sitcom Wife that abruptly form her (particularly Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery’s gently plucky characterizations in “Dick Van Dyke” and “Bewitched,” respectively). There are sufficient precarious moments in every “WandaVision” episode that make it clear the show may not work in any respect, actually, with out a nuanced actor like Olsen tethering it to some sort of actuality.
As far because the supporting cast, it is onerous to think about higher suits for this excessive idea than Hahn and Caulfield, each deft comedic actresses able to turning on a dime from cheery enthusiasm to one thing way more ominous. And as “Geraldine,” Teyonah Parris delivers one of many show’s smartest performances as her character vacillates — or extra precisely, code switches — between “sassy Black good friend” and quietly bemused participant in a world she would not fairly perceive.
Because no, after all issues in “WandaVision” aren’t fairly as they appear. While there aren’t any concrete solutions to be discovered within the first few episodes, there are clues and eerie moments that make plain that the stakes of their supposedly blissful home life aren’t almost as little as marketed. Despite its character and dialogue beats, “WandaVision” is not a sitcom; it is a sinister thriller sporting respectable garments and an unnervingly shiny grin. It’s “Pleasantville,” if “Pleasantville” opened with the characters caught contained in the black and white tv. When “WandaVision” leans into this uncanny-valley aspect of itself, it really works significantly better than it does when it is simply going via the sitcom motions others have carried out higher earlier than.
The first two episodes of “WandaVision” premiere Friday, January 15, with new episodes then premiering weekly on Disney Plus.