To say that there’s a lot riding on WandaVision might feel like a hollow gesture; an easy way to add some grandeur to the premiere of the Vision/Scarlet Witch sit-com hitting Disney+. Sure, it’s the first of Marvel’s copious upcoming televised series, each one a serialized addition to the ever-bulging MCU of the big screen, but is there ever a reason to worry when a new, superheroic bit of cinema comes along? This is to say that, typically, we get what we expect and move on to the next thing, good or bad. The throwaway nature of so much superhero cinema in mind, WandaVision dares to be different, though whether or not that’s for the best remains to be seen after its two premiere episodes.
Dropping viewers immediately into the action (or lack thereof), WandaVision opens with Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) moving into their new home in the picturesque suburbia of Westview as newlyweds with a secret. At home, Wanda flings plates through the air with her powers, while Vision adopts a “skin” for his workday, covering up his robotic exoskeleton. The Visions aren’t your typical American couple, yet Westview is… eerily your typical American town.
At this point it’s likely a preconceived notion of WandaVision‘s audience that the series is adopting a tongue-in-cheek, vintage sitcom aesthetic, with the first episode sliding right into the laugh tracks and plot beats we could expect from a parody or the likes of The Honeymooners. A classic sitcom plot is presented, with Vision made to host his boss (Fred Melamed) for a dinner that could put his career on the line.
It’s tough to talk about WandaVision‘s developments in an episode-by-episode case because, well, it just doesn’t feel like it’s worth discussing. The self-aware, black-and-white aesthetic is present and accounted for, but WandaVision‘s juxtaposition of the familiarly-superheroic characters and their familiarly-dated new home simply doesn’t warrant any interest. The transportation of these characters--fighters of extradimensional evil--to the suburbs of mid-century America with an underlying mystery feels entirely like a gimmick that wears out any cleverness immediately. That mystery, hinted at in bits of oddness, had better be worth the laborious trek through what is, simply, an air-headed sitcom.
With its first episode, WandaVision alludes to the strange circumstances our heroes find themselves under through moments of detachment and ramps up the intrigue slightly in episode two. Prompted to participate in the town’s talent show, Wanda and Vision have a wrench thrown in their plans when Vision’s decidedly-mechanical systems have a run-in with an undigested piece of chewing gum. It’s worth highlighting that Paul Bettany seems to be having a good time in the role, with his computer-like proficiency as Vision scarcely masked to comedic effect. But there just isn’t anything compelling about WandaVision thus far.
My favorite bits come from the second episode, where Wanda finds herself trying to acclimate to the rigors of suburban housewifehood by partaking in the cultlike perfectionism of the local ladies. Already harboring her superpowered secret, her discomfort with the pageantry and weird chants of the locals (“For the children…”) is due largely to Elizabeth Olsen’s grace-under-pressure. Wanda’s holding something together. Now if only the show made the waiting for that something to unravel a bit more worthwhile.
It’s a stretch to praise the show’s aesthetics, which seem to be the only aspect even slightly interesting. Yes, the series at times emulates a 21st-century vision (no pun intended) of what a “classic sitcom” might look and sound like, but to what end? The intrusion of the aforementioned odd occurrences into Westview, things like a colorized toy helicopter found in the bushes, standing out against the monochrome world, are puzzling and intriguing in theory, but ultimately feel predictable. For a series that’s being touted as something fresh and exciting for the MCU, the idea of these “breaks in the simulation” already feel tired, and that’s a problem.
Moreover, to the point of the aesthetic, the midcentury period detail rings entirely hollow; purely set-dressing. With little in the way of consideration for the social norms of the era, the I Love Lucy atmosphere is one bereft of any of the social commentary that those classic shows pack inherently, as artifacts of the time. An example would be how at one point a socially-impaired Vision mentions that one of his neighbors is actually a communist, to the nervous amusement of others. The stigmatism of foreign thought in American society, the fear of the unknown, is merely brushed off.
I understand that as WandaVision moves forward we’re to learn more about why exactly our leading couple finds themselves seemingly trapped in a bit of cheap television, and perhaps that will be intriguing? My own theories run rampant! But for the moment, with its first two episodes, WandaVision comes across as just that: Cheap television.