A cool blend of contemporary & retro culture

Why ‘WandaVision’ is a postmodernist’s wet dream…

My partner Ben and I subscribe to a variety of streaming services: Netflix, of course; its Australian equivalent Stan; Amazon Prime; Disney+, to name a few.

All up, these streaming channels cost less to subscribe to than an extortionate subscription to crappy Foxtel. But selfish me does wonder what I get out of Disney, with me not being the biggest fan of animation or superhero movies. (Truth be told, Ben pays for that one usually).

But then came the brilliant series that is WandaVision.

This dark comedy within a dark comedy makes all other programs on Disney (and on many of the other streaming services) pale in comparison. It is literally more of a bright, vivid and colourful production than, say, Umbrella Academy or American Gods.

Serving as a sequel series to The Avengers film franchise, WandaVision is set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and hones in on the challenging post-Endgame lives of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany).

As any Marvel follower would know, by the end of Endgame, Vision had died, however a highly-fuelled Wanda has now used her powers to bring him back to life.

Although you don’t see the nitty-gritty, the story goes that Wanda has stolen Vision’s body back from the S.W.O.R.D. organisation and has extended her magic to create a kind of ‘reality bubble’ around she and Vision, all in the settings of a made-up town called Westview.

It’s the sort of suburban neighbourhood that looks like having been inspired by every TV sit-com since The Lucille Ball Show. Indeed, every episode of WandaVision takes it aesthetic cue from popular sit-coms of the past, subsequently seeing time sped up and life racing past our characters very quickly.

From the opening titles and theme music to the backdrops, costuming and props, every facet of every show has been drawn from a particular decade, making the series a postmodernist trainspotter’s wet dream.

The first episode sees recently married protagonists Wanda and Vision thrown into the 1950s. It opens with a series of Mary Tyler Moore meets I Love Lucy-style titles. The couple have just moved into a cosy new home – its setting, and just everything they touch, presented in pared-back black-and-white. This is the ’50s, after all.

Subtitled ‘Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience’, episode one sees our newlyweds desperately attempting to get on with suburban life in Westview. Their nosy neighbour Agnes (gloriously camped up by comedienne actor Kathryn Hahn) introduces herself to Wanda and helps settle her in.

Meanwhile at work, Vision amazes his co-workers with his speed but is unsure what his company actually does. His employer, Mr. Hart, reminds him that Wanda and Vision are hosting the boss and  wife for dinner that night, and this is where the real situational comedy kicks in, complete with canned laughter.

But despite the well-kept façade, the tightness in script, and the attention to stylistic detail, you sense something sinister is lurking beneath the shenanigans; something almost alien.

By the time closing titles set in, things have gotten decidedly colourful and certainly graphically inclined; the visual montage’s three main colours being green, blue and red – the primary colours of the medium of television itself.

But it’s episode two where things start to get even more colourful. And certainly real eerie as a drone (dressed down as a toy helicopter) lands in Wanda and Vision’s front yard. Somewhat like that scene in Pleasantville, where the characters first discover the glory (and danger) of technicolour, this burst of brightness in an otherwise mundane neighbourhood naturally has Wanda wondering what the fuck is going on. Who or what is watching her?

The rest of episode two is like ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ meets ‘Bewitched’ – with more of Wanda’s magical powers revealed scene after scene.

Again, the retro references are a delight to spot. There’s one scene where Wanda is having a war of words with one of her uppity neighbours as an old radio plays in the background. Suddenly, the Beach Boys’ Help Me Rhonda kicks in and, together with disturbing static, ends up sounding like a cry of “Help me Wanda!”. It’s this kind of subtle bastardisation of pop culture that makes WandaVision pure joy to watch.

Episode three sees a lot of ’70s bad taste rolled into one show: kitsch fashion including skivvies and flared jeans, unkempt afros, platform shoes, and lots of brown and orange furniture.

The constantly evolving fashions, music and trends in the show have had fans guessing what themes will feature in following weeks. The tip to good guessing? Think family-oriented sit-coms where there’s an outcast who desperately wants in. That job here is taken on by the ubiquitous Agnes, and it didn’t surprise us that in the recent ‘Noughties’ episode, she rocked up looking and acting like Sofia Vergara’s Gloria Delgado in Modern Family (which the episode was partly inspired by).

Throughout ‘WandaVision’, viewers are treated to some fabulous fake commercials – which aren’t just included for superficiality’s sake. Indeed, these actually indicate “part of the truths of the show beginning to leak out”, according to the show’s producers.

As we watch this wonderful show reach its future pinnacle, we wonder what it’s really all about. Why has Wanda (or some powers-that-be) posited herself and a revived Vision into this suburban hell? And what will it take to get them out of there? How will the news of Vision’s resuscitation be taken by the rest of the Avengers, and just who the hell is watching the whole shebang from high up above?

Wanda will surely be one of the main protagonists in the forthcoming new Dr Strange movie, but in what capacity? While the TV series paints her as somewhat of a villain, we know there’s good inside her but wonder how this might be segued back into film.

In the meantime, forget all that pondering and just sit back, relax, and soak in the world’s most marvellous postmodern mish-mash of all that is brilliant about the magical invention of television.

Antonino Tati

‘WandaVision’ streams on Disney+ with a new episode every week.

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