The most remarkable thing about WandaVision is how familiar it feels. Despite being new — it's the first Marvel series on Disney+ and the first new Marvel anything in ages — WandaVision feels as welcoming as a beloved TV rerun.
Oh sure, there is a sinister force lurking that threatens to tear it all apart. And being a Marvel Studios production, WandaVision doesn't commit nearly enough to the bit to say anything new about its characters or the artificiality of television. Nor is the show really weird enough. But as a playful homage to the type of TV we don't see anymore, WandaVision is a blast that proves there's plenty of dimensions still left to explore in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Premiering on January 15, WandaVision throws viewers back to a bygone era when TV was appointment viewing. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their Avengers roles as the mystical Wanda Maximoff and synthetic Vision, respectively. But rather than star in a modern thriller with rudimentary plots, an impeccably costumed Olsen and Bettany ham it up in a mid-century sitcom with nods to I Love Lucy and Bewitched. (The show's first few episodes are in black and white with 4:3 framing.) Here, in this impossible and likely false reality, Wanda and Vision are newlyweds who navigate dire challenges like nosy neighbors, playing host to Vision's boss for dinner, and their neighborhood talent show.
It's all very clever and immensely fun. And it succeeds by virtue of Olsen and Bettany, whose performances are so textured in this unusual framework that you can and will be fooled into thinking their big screen Marvel roles have been small screen darlings this whole time. Their screwball antics and exaggerated gestures take up the space they were denied in any of their Avengers appearances.
There were times watching WandaVision where I believed I was actually watching a lost sitcom, newly unearthed. A married witch and robot living in suburbia? That's not any more strange than Alf.
Unfortunately, for all Bettany and Olsen give to the show and its attention to detail — WandaVision filmed in front of a live audience, and TV legend Dick Van Dyke was an unofficial consultant — the show cuts corners where it needn't. Its biggest betrayal is in its clean, 4K resolution that betrays the immersion. Even high-definition transfers of I Love Lucy contain grain that is absent in WandaVision. This isn't a grave sin, but when a show like WandaVision shoots for the moon, you wonder why it's content for the stars.
Still, there hasn't been anything like WandaVision ever, in 2021 or 1961. And for all its creeping darkness — ripped straight from its dual comic source materials of Brian Michael Bendis' House of M and Tom King's The Vision — WandaVision is ineffably comforting. Even if you didn't grow up cheating bedtime to watch Nick at Nite, the tropes and aesthetics of the mid-century sitcom are so baked into our shared psyche, it's impossible not to feel at ease watching something with a laugh track.
For years, it was TV sitcoms' many happy families and inoffensive hijinks that kept generations heated by the warming glow of the screen. It isn't surprising why Disney rival WarnerMedia spent an eye-watering $500 million to stream Friends. These shows worked, and they still work today.
But WandaVision isn't aiming to enter the pantheon of endlessly rewatchable sitcoms like Friends or The Office. By the end of Episode 3 (the last one Disney provided for review), it's clear Wanda and Vision's world is about to get a lot less nostalgic.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe stages its long-awaited comeback without a standard-issue Marvel blockbuster like Black Widow, The Falcon, and The Winter Soldier, or even Eternals to satiate audiences, the most daring thing about WandaVision isn't that it's so “weird” or “strange” — it's that it's comforting. Right now, maybe that's what we need the most.
WandaVision streams January 15 on Disney+.