“WandaVision” arrives on your SmartTV as a singular bit of whimsy mined from the intellectual property that is the comic book publisher turned studio, Marvel.
It’s a spoof of sitcoms from various periods, with Marvel characters shoved into say, something inspired by “Bewitched” or “The Brady Bunch” or what have you.
There are inside Marvel Universe jokes and parody TV commercials — in period style — advertising assorted products — toasters, toys — with a hint of Hydra about them.
Because underneath the sunny silliness that American TV has served up in sitcom form, there was always something sinister or at least a lot more real left unexamined and unspoken of — by Samantha and Darren or Rob and Laura or Carol and Tom Brady.
Disney provided three episodes for review, so the suggestions of something Stepford or Patrick McGoohanesque is just hinted at. The first three episodes don’t give us Kat Dennings or Randall Park. So I can’t speak much about where the “darkness” will go, other than repeating my usual gripes about the glacial pace of streaming series storytelling.
“WandaVision” is built around the happy and sitcom-ditzy relationship (“No wedding ring?”) of Wanda Maximoff aka “Scarlet Witch” and AI in the flesh Vision, a mating that…shouldn’t work. Well, in the era of no sex, separate twin beds and Mid Century Modern furniture, it just might.
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany unleash their collective considerable charms on Wanda and Vision in a very black and white, very “Bewitched” opening episode, changing eras and TV sitcom styles as they (in later episodes) add a baby, experience life in suburban Westview and hide their identities from their nosey/funny sitcom neighbors.
Comic actress Kathryn Hahn was born too late to be Mary Tyler Moore’s “best friend next door” in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but she knocks her helpful/welcoming Agnes right out of the park. She’s sorry, for instance, that she didn’t “pop by” earlier.
“My mother-in-law was in town. So I wasn’t.“
Fred Melamed of “A Serious Man” and “In a World…” plays the obligatory tyrannical boss where Vision (masking his robotic looks) works, setting up many a “What do we actually PRODUCE here?” satiric jibes, and deflected probing questions about Vision’s background.
“You don’t have any skeletons in your closet, do you?”
“I don’t HAVE A skeleton, sir!”
This frothy tone and style is cute, and wears thin quickly enough. So does the whole “supernatural” housekeeping, cooking and child-gestation line of gags. Watch the long closing credits to see how much effort it took to get those dishes to float in the air and what-not.
The charity talent show where Vision and Wanda put on a magic act, with a drunken Vision showing off their supernatural powers as sober assistant Wanda has to think fast to “explain” the tricks to their Westview neighbors makes great use of comic talents neither actor got to demonstrate before their indentured servitude with Marvel, much less after.
Bettany’s Vision, playing the ukulele to “entertain” houseguests while commenting on the “nonsensical nature of the lyrics” of current Hit Parade products such as “Yakkety Yak” is just adorable.
But even with the Stepford organization of the charity wives, even with all the Hydra pro-consumerism parody ads (What you buy could control your life, or kill you…like an iPhone?), the pickings are pretty slim in the early episodes. And the series is only six installments long.
As each and every one of the six starts with a :55 second Marvel logo credit, and ends with “Mandalorian” length closing credits in the five-to-six minute range, there isn’t a whole lot of “content” in these sitcomish installments.
Throw in credits for whatever “WandaVision” series (time frame) they’re in this time out, and you’re looking at 20 minutes, with (weak, I have to say) parody commercials mixed in.
If you’re deep into this universe and have been keeping up on all the creator and staff commentary “explaining” what they’re aiming for, you’ll get more out of “WandaVision” than any casual viewer.
The end product is comedically wan, the double-takes broad and all the Olsen/Bettany/Hahn charm squeezed into tiny dabs of screen time and doesn’t add up to enough to make the whole worth the investment in time, even if you switch shows as the endless closing credits start.
And unlike with Marvel movies, that’s allowed.
MPA Rating: TV-PG
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Kat Dennings, Randall Park
Credits: Created by Jac Schaeffer, directed by Matt Shakman. A Marvel Studios release on Disney+.
Running time: 6 episodes @25-30 minutes each