‘WandaVision’: A superhero mystery wrapped in a sitcom (review)

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut has arrived on Disney+, and in our living rooms, with “WandaVision.”

The nine-episode TV serial finds two thus far underused MCU superheroes happily trapped with no memory inside what seems to be a classic suburban sitcom where everything is all right — right? There they must grapple with an existential sci-fi mystery and confront remixed pieces of comic book lore.

The first two episodes of the show are available now. This review will have mild spoilers for the first episode.

Just to catch you up: 

Wanda Maximoff (AKA Scarlet Witch) is a woman with witchy powers — she can move stuff with her mind, mess with other people’s minds, etc. She is one of the most powerful characters in Marvel comics, and has more than once completely rewritten reality during moments of great personal trauma. 

Vision is a super-smart android guy who can change his appearance, turn invisible, walk through things and so forth. They have been very much in love for a few movies now. We have not seen either of them since the mega-blockbusters “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”

“WandaVision” is both the name of the show and the name of the show (or alternate reality?) within the show. The entire first episode — save for the unsettling final few minutes — plays out as a sitcom. It has its own goofy theme song, of course. The show is black and white and presented in a classic squared-off TV aspect ratio; it was filmed in front of an honest-to-God live studio audience; and there’s even a commercial break for a new Stark Industries toaster (just one of many MCU references throughout the episode). 

It clearly takes inspiration primarily from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in its look and presentation, but the jokes are essentially “‘Bewitched,’ but Darrin’s a British robot,” complete with practical effects where household objects float through the kitchen suspended by wires.

The plot of the first episode is classic boilerplate sitcom: They’ve just moved to a new suburb, they have a nosy neighbor, and Vision’s blowhard boss and his wife are coming over for dinner. 

Hijinks ensue.

And here’s the thing: As a sitcom, it works! The jokes really land even though they’re stock gags you’ve seen before — a testament to the skill of Elizabeth Olson (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision), who both do charming, engaging work here.

Also tons of fun in this first episode are three fantastic character actors. Kathryn Hahn is the overbearing, slightly inappropriate neighbor who is perpetually annoyed with her husband. The blustering boss is played with relish by Fred Melamed.

Most delightful of all, Debra Jo Rupp does a variation on her role as the mom on “That ’70s Show” as the boss’ wife. (A number of previously known MCU supporting characters will appear later in the miniseries.)

But simmering just under the surface of the time-honored sitcom format is Wanda’s growing awareness that they don’t know how they got there, how they met, how long they’ve been married or where they lived before. 

And, oh yeah — as of three movies ago, Vision was dead. 

Perhaps this is a warped reality where the fake-perfect lives of mid-century sitcoms can protect Wanda from the fact of his death. 

But is she creating this world? Or someone else?

“WandaVision” pushes the boundaries of what you can do within the MCU in an exciting way, disregarding the formulas that we expect of superhero stories. The first episode is absolute fun to watch, though there are some unsettling moments toward the end. The second episode is fun too, but the plot begins to thicken and the sitcom format begins to break down. All in all, a strong start to this miniseries. 

And listen, folks: I hope you like it. Because we’ve got eight weeks of this show, followed immediately by another five Disney+ series and four movies currently slated for later this year. The MCU rolls on.

There is a growing sense of fatigue with big superhero movies — and Marvel Studios is the most prolific player in the genre. What keeps me coming back to theaters (or my TV) for anything Marvel throws at us is that every few years they throw something entirely new and surprising at us — “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Black Panther” … “WandaVision.”

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Fabulist media critic David A.M. Wilensky is the digital editor of jweekly.com and modmin of the Star Trek Jewposting group on Facebook.

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