'WandaVision': Marvel's ingenious sidestep into comic-book comedy is weirdly wonderful

The nine-part series is a delightful tribute to 1950s-style sitcoms

WandaVision

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany

Directed by: Matt Shakman

Rating: Four stars

WandaVision, Marvel's first attempt at prestige television, is wild, weird and at times ingenious. Taking two characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wanda Maximoff and Vision, and re-imagining them in a 1950s-style American sitcom, it's a world away from the planet-saving superheroes that have dominated cinemas these recent years. Nevertheless, arriving on Disney+ this weekend, it's essential viewing for any fan of the MCU.

Created by Jac Schaeffer and directed by Matt Shakman, it sees Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their respective roles as Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlett Witch, and Vision. In the films, they fell in love and here, they’re a couple, moving into a new home in the American-as-apple-pie town of Westview. It’s exactly as you’d imagine, with white picket fences and roses in the garden.

The big touchstone here is Bewitched, the ABC sitcom starring Elizabeth Montgomery as a suburban housewife with magical powers. Likewise, Wanda and Vision still have special abilities they last used to battle evil overlord Thanos. She has telekinesis and he is a sophisticated android with vast intelligence. But, desperate to fit into their new neighborhood, they need to hide their skills from those around them.

The first two episodes (there are nine in total) smartly set up their new lives. Wanda gets to meet next-door neighbour Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), who brings her over a house plant by way of introduction. Vision is working for a company called Computational Services Inc. – he has absolutely no idea what they do (and neither does anyone else) but his processing powers are so great, their productivity has improved three hundred per cent since his arrival.

The plot of the first episode revolves around a small heart marked on their calendar; neither Wanda nor Vision can remember what it’s for, until Vision realises it’s a dinner date with his new boss Mr Hart (Fred Melamed) and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp). Wanda has to prepare a meal to impress and, as they say, hilarity ensues. Fortunately, her unearthly abilities allow her to levitate pots, pans and plates – all very helpful in her ambitions to become a domestic goddess.

Shot in black-and-white – although there are splashes of colour along the way – the homage to vintage sitcoms is spot-on. There's an animated Bewitched-style intro and the show is "shot" in front of a studio audience, who whoop if Wanda and Vision kiss or cuddle. True to form, there are even commercials at the halfway point of each episode – including a ToastMate 2000, a sparkly new domestic appliance courtesy of Stark Industries, the company eventually owned by Iron Man himself, Tony Stark.

Paul Bettany is Vision and Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Maximoff in marvel Studios' WandaVision. Courtesy Disney+

There will doubtless be other references to the MCU along the way, and there are some strange, unsettling touches, too. In the second episode, Wanda and Vision go out into the street, where a manhole cover starts shifting and a beekeeper, complete with bees buzzing around him, emerges. The suggestion is that Wanda has created this entire alternate reality around them for reasons yet to be revealed. The credits even tease the possibility of villains from the Marvel comics making an appearance.

Smartly, the show delves into themes typical of 1950s Americana. Here, conformity is the key, as Wanda and Vision try and fit in (every time he leaves the house, Vision must switch his synthetic red face into a ‘normal’ one, allowing Bettany to act without the need for his usual Vision make-up). Jokes are even made about Communism, sewing some delightfully subversive seeds.

Paul Bettany is Vision and Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Maximoff in marvel Studios' WandaVision. Courtesy Disney+

In the second episode, they’re ingratiating themselves in the community further by performing at the local talent show in aid of Westview Elementary School. They do a conjuring act, with Vision calling himself Illusion. But after he eats a piece of chewing gum – Vision has no need for food – he starts to malfunction. Only Wanda’s quick thinking saves the day.

The writing is superb, with era-appropriate language. Hahn's Agnes uses phrases like "crackerjack" and Vision's colleague excitedly exclaims "Gee willikers". Likewise, the music is entirely fitting, with The Coasters' famous bop Yakety Yak getting an airing in the first episode. Yet it'd be wrong to simply call WandaVision a pastiche. The impression so far is that this will deepen relations between Wanda and Vision and shed further light on their relationship.

At the heart of it all are two superb performances from Bettany and Olsen, who both look like they've been schooled in classic American sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Olsen in particular nails that naive innocence that came with such shows, while Bettany's comic chops get a real workout here. While it is a show about two MCU characters, it's important to note that it also works as an entertaining sitcom in its own right. Who knows? Maybe it'll even start a revival of fifties fashions and re-runs of classic shows.

WandaVision is streaming on Disney+ and OSN

WandaVision

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany

Directed by: Matt Shakman

Rating: Four stars