Review: Marvel's 'WandaVision' a weird, wild journey into TV Land

Secondary Marvel characters step to forefront in strange sitcom extension of MCU

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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They're just a normal suburban couple living an idyllic sitcom life. Except she's a witch, he's an android and behind all that canned studio laughter, something very strange is going on.

That something strange is at the heart of "WandaVision," the bizarre, bewitching and ultimately enchanting Disney+ series that is acting as the kickoff to the latest phase of the ever-expanding, world-swallowing Marvel Cinematic Universe. On its surface it pays homage to classic American sitcoms (with hat tips to "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Bewitched" and "The Brady Bunch," to name a few), with situations and set-ups that could pass for any night of programming on TV Land. Bigger questions — chiefly, what in the heck is going on here? — will keep audiences glued to the duration of the series' nine-episode run. 

Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen in "WandaVision."

The answers to those big questions aren't even close to answered in the series' first three episodes, the allotment which was made available to reviewers. But there are small hints of the bigger picture, and callbacks to the MCU that it won't take eagle-eyed Redditors to point out (although there's plenty there for them to expand upon). 

Elizabeth Olsen resumes her role as Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlett Witch, whom she first portrayed in 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (after making a brief appearance in the previous year's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"). She's married to Paul Bettany's Vision, an android with a host of superpowers, whom it seems important to point out met his end in 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War." Does his death have anything to do with the seeming fever dream, alternate reality feel of "WandaVision?" Let the theories start flying. 

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in "WandaVision."

As "WandaVision" kicks off, Wanda and Vision — who, up to now, have been relegated to secondary players — are newlyweds moving into a suburban home. The set-up is a black-and-white 1950s sitcom, complete with a cheery theme song ("a newlywed couple just moved to town!" we're told in one of those themes that spells out a show's plot) and a canned audience track, and the pair is thrown into a classic mix-up situation: Vision, who works at a faceless office firm, is bringing his boss over to dinner in hopes of winning a big promotion, and Wanda has to whip up dinner on the fly, all while they keep up the appearance of an everyday husband and wife. 

Olsen and Bettany are delightful, as is Kathryn Hahn, who plays Agnes, the sitcom trope of the nosy neighbor. The spirit is playful, the humor in line with the period material and the details are exacting, and you can forget the bigger picture and enjoy it for face value as a glowing tribute to sitcoms of yesteryear. (Bonus points for the in-show commercials which allude to companies and groups within the MCU mythology.) 

There are occasional cracks in the veneer of the show's reality, glitches in the Matrix, that hint that all is not what it seems. Is there a larger government-led experiment going on? Are the side characters moles? Or is Wanda creating this reality in her own head, and editing in real time? 

Whatever it is, "WandaVision" is the weirdest entry yet into the MCU, and a significant artistic step forward in its storytelling. It's bold and visionary and also a lot of fun, tweaking sitcoms in a knowing, loving way and playing with their format in a way that turns Americana on its ear. Like any great show, we're hooked. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'WandaVision'

GRADE: B+

Rated TV-PG: Nothing objectionable

Starts Friday on Disney+

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