WandaVision, currently airing on Disney+, is many things. It’s a superhero show. It’s a love story. It’s a fun romp through the pantheon of television history.
In a lot of ways, it’s what I’ve been asking of Marvel in many, many, many of our MCU-related podcasts, where I plead for the studio to focus on fewer Avengers, tell smaller-scale stories, and do something that feels distinct from the rest of the 20-plus entries in the franchise.
But there’s one thing that WandaVision is not: weird. It’s also not completely original (by design!), unique, or bizarre. And yet.
WandaVision can’t — and doesn’t — have it both ways. It can’t rely on its audience to recognize sitcom tropes, and then also exist apart from them. And I don’t believe the show is really trying to. I think it wants you to feel the timeworn plot patterns, spot the inspirations in the decor, ease into the comfort of the laugh track. From the show’s debut, any TV fan can tell that one episode is going to feel like the ’50s, with all those conventions, the next is going to take on the ’60s, and so on.
In fact, my biggest complaint about WandaVision is that sometimes the idea of it is more fun than actually sitting down to watch it. (Except for Vision’s magic show. That was great.) I get that Wanda has Bewitched-style powers, and she’s going to use them to get out of a scrape with The Boss and try to whip up a big dinner, and that it’s going to backfire. There is joy in watching it because of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s performances, but the way it unfolds is not particularly refreshing. Even the idea of a classic sitcom parody is not, by itself, something especially new.
Of course, it’s not just a classic sitcom parody. But the way the story hints at something bigger going on is not weird, either. It’s straight out of The Truman Show. Or Lost. I’ve only seen the three episodes that are available to the general public so far, but I know when I start each one that, a couple scenes in, there’s going to be some kind of hint that not everything is as it seems, and then at the end there’s going to be, well, an even bigger hint that not everything is as it seems. Maybe the show will change course and we’ll stop living in TV Land, or maybe the parts that exist outside the sitcom world will take up a bigger slice of the running time of each episode. Maybe she’ll have to fight The Powers That Be — the ones that made our heroes retreat into the imagined safety of a blissful TV marriage. Maybe that’ll involve more typical MCU-style hangars and control rooms. Or maybe not. But I have a feeling that, whatever the reveal is, it’s not going to be shocking. I will come back and sincerely apologize if this show does anything that genuinely surprises me.
So why do people keep calling it weird? I think there’s something else implied that isn’t being said. WandaVision is weird…for Marvel. (It’s not even the weirdest recent Marvel property! Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is weirder! It has a talking pig! Legion, as frustrating as I find it, is weirder! It has an astral plane!) While WandaVision sits comfortably within television tropes, it exists apart from the hardened Marvel formula.
At this point, Marvel shouldn’t be getting credit for moving one standard deviation away from its current status quo. It should’ve been at least this creative the whole time, if not moreso. Was it a long game — making movies so samey that they get oohs and ahhs the minute they decide to change course, even the tiniest bit? Probably not. But I hope this encourages the Marvel suits to take more, and bigger, risks across the board, and not just compartmentalize tiny nods to weirdness into a handful of episodes on Disney+. I want more talking pigs!