“Sitcoms are deeply reassuring,” said “WandaVision” director Matt Shakman, a huge Marvel Comics fan who also happened to be a child actor in sitcoms such as “Growing Pains” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” “There’s always a problem. It’s always manageable. There are shenanigans. It always ends up fine in the end. We focused on family-oriented sitcoms. The main theme on most shows is we can do better together than apart. We wanted to bring those themes into ‘WandaVision.’”
The question of why these two superhero characters are incorporating themselves into suburban sitcom sets of yore is not readily explained but clues of discord pop into each episode.
The first six episodes were shot at Pinewood Studios (now called Trilith) in Fayetteville just before the pandemic hit. They even recruited a live studio audience for the first episode, using equipment from the era and low-tech wires and rods to create floating dishes and food as Wanda prepared a meal via “magic.”
“It was a blast,” Shakman said. “We all dressed in period clothes. It felt like a snapshot of a different time. It was great having the audience laughing and going along with the show. You can’t make up that energy. And we shot the entire episode straight through. There were no second takes. That was how it was done in the 1950s like a theater production.”
After the pandemic, the final three episodes were shot at Warner Brothers Ranch in Burbank, California, where classic sitcoms like “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Partridge Family” and “Father Knows Best” were based.
“Stylistically, it’s very hard to re-create this neighborhood,” said Shakman, who remembers skateboarding down the fake Blondie Street as a child actor. “It’s real but also kind of fake. It’s that tension that works.”
The scripts were written to reflect the time periods. Episodes feature misunderstandings that lead to hilarity, a standard trope of the genre. The actors were even put through a “sitcom boot camp” to prepare for the roles. “We worked with a fabulous dialect coach,” Shakman said, the goal being to capture “how people sounded in that era, how they moved. We did everything to make it as authentic as possible.”
Paul Bettany (left) is Vision, and Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda here in episode two of "WandaVision" on Disney+. Photo: DISNEY+
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was able to screen the first three episodes.
In the first episode, which evokes “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Kathryn Hahn’s nosy neighbor, Agnes, utters terms like “crackerjack,” “golly” and “this is going to be a gas!’ It’s no coincidence that Shakman and Feige met with 95-year-old Dick Van Dyke himself to glean insight about his show. “We wanted to learn about the show’s tone and how he identified what was too silly or not silly enough,” Shakman said. “He was really generous with his time.”
The second episode features a theme song and cartoon opening that would feel familiar to anybody who has watched “Bewitched.” Olsen as Wanda dresses like Elizabeth Montgomery did when she played Samantha on the classic sitcom. “Bewitched” also straddled the black-and-white era and the colorization of TV, which “WandaVision” smartly acknowledges.
Episode three takes us into the early 1970s with winks to “The Brady Bunch” and ‘The Partridge Family” and era-appropriate phrases like “foxy,” “sugar” and “catch you on the flip side!”
The second episode of "WandaVision" evoked a bit of the 1960s show "Bewitched." DISNEY+
Wanda in the comics and in multiple Marvel films had a loving relationship with the sweet robotic Vision but suffered plenty of trauma including the loss of many family members. (Vision even died during the “Avengers: Infinity War” film.)
“Their love story has been so very tragic but also really warm and intimate,” said “WandaVision” showrunner Jac Schaeffer during a virtual press conference. “We’ve seen them in these stolen moments in the [Marvel Cinematic Universe]. It’s been a small amount of screen time but very powerful, very soulful.”
“WandaVision,” Schaeffer noted, provides a window into their “cute, cute” domestic life that “we never get to see in a superhero movie. "
Vision remains a beacon of hope. Bettany said he considers his character “omnipotent but a naive ingénue... Vision is decent and honorable.”
Kathryn Hahn plays Agnes, a nosy neighbor in "WandaVision," a new Disney+ series created by Marvel. Photo: DISNEY+
The more surreal moments in “WandaVision” were influenced by classic Rod Sterling anthology show “The Twilight Zone.”
“That’s actually kind of how I learned to write stories like this,” Schaeffer said. “You think you’re in one thing, then suddenly it’s flipped on its head. We were incredibly enamored with that... It’s very exciting. You watch a couple of episodes, and you think it’s one thing, but by episode four or five, it will look different.”
Ultimately, the series is not a parody or satire. “WandaVision” is an homage to the sitcom.
“I watched too much TV as a kid,” said Feige. “TV meant a lot to me. I found comfort in television families. Dated and silly they may see, there is a comfort factor there.”
WHAT TO WATCH
“WandaVision,” first two episodes currently available on Disney+ with the next seven episodes available weekly one episode at a time.