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WandaVision

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What it’s about:

Wanda and Vision, of Marvel’s Avengers franchise, mysteriously find themselves tripping through decades of television history as the stars of their own show.

Names you might know:

WandaVision stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Kat Dennings, Randall Park, and Teyonah Parris.

Why it’s worth your time:

The first in a batch of new series spun off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision is a loving tribute to comic books, superhero movies, and, most obviously, the medium of television itself. If that sounds like a tall order for a TV show, it sure is, but the creative team behind this unique series seems up to the task. Viewers must puzzle out the mystery at the heart of it over the course of several weeks. And what a puzzle it promises to be.

With no explanation or context, the first episode drops former Avengers Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) into a black-and-white 1950s sitcom as a couple of newlyweds trying to fit in with their neighbors. Episode one borrows much from classics like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave it to Beaver, with a hint of something sinister lurking beneath the surface. Supporting characters we’ve never met before, played by Kathyrn Hahn, Debra Jo Rupp, and Fred Melamed, show up to add to the trope-tastic setup of a dinner party gone horribly wrong.

That subtle feeling of dread grows in episode two, which makes a stylistic leap to the 1960s — think Betwitched and I Dream of Jeannie — and offers more clues to the story behind the story. The cast expands too, with the notable additions of Teyonah Parris as Geraldine, a newcomer who seems to suffer from the same memory lapses as Wanda and Vision (and who has a hidden connection to the MCU) and Emma Caulfield Ford as Dottie, a housewife who rules the neighborhood with an “iron fist.”

Olsen and Bettany have had the benefit of working together since their characters were first introduced in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the show is all the better for it. Their delightful chemistry and comic timing make them a joy to watch, but it’s their ability to instantly shift from light to dark with a shared look or a single syllable that shows what a formidable double-act they are. Among the supporting cast, Hahn especially crackles with energy as the couple’s overly friendly next-door neighbor, Agnes (or whatever her real name may be).

The show takes its TV influences seriously. There’s a wealth of detail in every scene, from the costumes to the sets to the dialogue to the opening credits. The writers play with nostalgia in creative ways, winking at the audience but never mocking the source material. The only drawback to this approach is the implied assumption that the audience is familiar with the meta context, not just the television shows referenced but the MCU films as well. Someone with gaps in their pop-culture knowledge could probably still enjoy WandaVision on its own, but they’d be missing out on the layers of meaning that make it all the more impressive.

The takeaway:

A highly imaginative tribute to comic books, superhero movies, and, most obviously, the medium of television itself, WandaVision takes us tripping through decades of sitcom history while challenging us to unravel a dark and complex Marvel puzzle.

Watch it with:

Marvel fans, TV fans, comic book fans, or pretty much anyone who likes shows with an interesting twist should find something to enjoy here. It’s fairly tame for the rating, though younger viewers who haven’t watched a lot of Nick at Night or vintage reruns might not get all the references.

Worth noting:

WandaVision is the first Phase Four release from the MCU, and will be followed by two more series, Falcon and the Winter Soldier in March and Loki in May. According to Marvel head Kevin Feige, the series will tie directly in to the upcoming feature sequel Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, due for release in 2022.

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