WandaVision magically avoids 1 classic sitcom sin
WandaVision pays homage to television history without seeming kitsch.
WandaVision is evolving before our very eyes, and not just in terms of its decade-by-decade sitcom references. While the first two monochromatic episodes were very close to one-to-one parodies of The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched, the third takes a major step back from its own source material. Instead, this episode takes inspiration from nearly every family sitcom spanning back to the 1950s, without falling into the trap of reinforcing old-fashioned ideals.
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As long as sitcoms have existed, there have been Very Special Episodes. These divergences from the normal sitcom structure usually kept all the jokes but added an element that's far more serious than the normal low-stakes fare.
Usually, these involve some sort of PSA, like when Tom Hanks played an alcoholic uncle on Family Ties, or when Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell got hooked on caffeine pills. But one particular life-event has been a staple of the Very Special Episode since its earliest days — pregnancy.
The third episode of WandaVision is entirely dedicated to Wanda's pregnancy, so it makes sense the shows it takes the most inspiration from, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, are all about having big families. However, both of these shows start with the families already created. WandaVision does a Very Special Episode to cover the birth of the twins, and the inspiration for that goes even further back.
In the spring of 1952, Lucille Ball, star of I Love Lucy, discovered she was pregnant. When TV stars became pregnant before then, their characters were usually written out. But I Love Lucy would be nothing without Lucy, so the show took an unprecedented step — Ball's pregnancy was written into the show. There was just one problem. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo slept in twin beds, like the ones shown in WandaVision's second episode. TV couples were sexless, and that had to be communicated in the show. So I Love Lucy portrayed Lucy's entire pregnancy without using the term "pregnant" once.
These sorts of prudish attitudes followed pregnancy episodes throughout history. When sitcoms couldn't write a pregnancy into the storyline, the actor was resigned to hiding in big coats and behind props, just like Wanda does to hide her condition from Geraldine. When pregnancy was shown, it was usually for comic effect and used all sorts of metaphors to avoid discussing the more grisly parts of the process.
Paying homage to a half century's worth of "pregnancy episodes" is a thin needle to thread. Leaning into the arms-length approach of shows past may communicate a queasy attitude towards pregnancy and motherhood, but skewing too modern would deny the long legacy of these classic episodes.
WandaVision nails the balance between the two. The "hiding pregnancies" routine is an excellent nod to the cheap gimmicks used to hide baby bumps throughout TV history, and Wanda's powers being used as metaphors for labor symptoms honors the euphemisms surrounding TV pregnancies while still keeping with the "goofy powers" jokes seen in the previous two episodes.
Very Special Episodes are the most difficult plots to attempt. When a sitcom is given a high-stakes plot, the stakes for the entire reputation of the series are raised too. Luckily, WandaVision managed to provide an excellent sitcom script while simultaneously adding another chapter to the Avengers story.
Well, a mom of twins would be good at multitasking.
WandaVision is now streaming on Disney+.