“WandaVision” Draws Inspiration From “Full House”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, and More Classic Family Sitcoms
Warning: This post contains possible spoilers for Marvel’s “WandaVision”.
“WandaVision”, Marvel’s highly anticipated first Disney+ series, is debuting this week on January 15. The series is created by Jac Schaeffer and stars Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany as Vision. Schaeffer and the stars, as well as director Matt Shakman, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, and President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, attended a virtual press conference Sunday moderated by Jaleel White (“Family Matters”). White was the perfect moderator, as the new series draws inspiration from classic sitcoms, including “Family Matters”, “Dick Van Dyke Show”, and “Full House.”
Each episode of the mini-series is set in a different decade, drawing inspiration from the sitcoms of that time period, beginning with the 1950s. That’s why the first episode is black-and-white and was filmed in front of a live studio audience (well before COVID-19 was an issue).
“It was so nerve-wracking,” Elizabeth Olsen said about the live performance. “There was a lot of adrenaline, there were a lot of quick changes, and it totally confused my brain. The idea of not playing to an audience, but feeding off an audience and having a camera. I was really grateful when we added the fourth wall.”
The mind-bending series isn’t just confusing Olsen, it’s confusing the fans excited for it. The series will be setting up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which was originally going to begin with “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”, now delayed to next year. Feige hinted at the show’s mysteries and how commercials inserted into the sitcom episodes will contribute to that.
“Other truths of the show begin to leak out, and commercials was an early idea for that,” Feige said. “And if this is the very first Marvel MCU thing you’re watching, it’s just a strange version of a 50s commercial or a 60s commercial that you’ll have to keep watching the series to understand. If you have been watching the movies, you might be able to start connecting what those things mean to the past.”
Fans have also been theorizing about two particular actors seen in the show’s trailers. Teyonah Parris will be making her first appearance as Monica Rambeau, who was played by Akira Akbar as a child in Captain Marvel, set in 1995.
“Through the course of the show,” Parris said, “we find out what she’s been up to, what’s happened for her between that gap in the years. And how she’s grown and evolved or… or not.” In the comics, Monica Rambeau was the second Captain Marvel after being hit by extradimensional energy from an energy disruptor weapon and gaining superpowers. She was briefly the leader of the Avengers, and later went by the hero names Photon, Pulsar, and Spectrum.
After “WandaVision”, Parris will be reappearing as Rambeau in Captain Marvel2.
Kathryn Hahn’s character, Agnes, is also a mystery. Agnes is the nosy next-door neighbor who appears in multiple decades of the show.
“In all those classic sitcoms,” Hahn said, “there’s always that person that busts through the doors and sits on the couch but you never get to know anything about them. In that classic way, I was able to walk in as Agnes with all those beautiful tropes set up behind me to just build on.”
To prepare for the show’s sitcom nature, the cast and crew watched and researched old sitcoms, observing how comedy changed throughout the years.
“The approach to comedy in the 50s, 60s, 70s is really different,” Shakman said. “And as [Elizabeth Olsen] said, doing it in front of this live studio audience—which is this quasi-theater-TV thing—it really adds to it.”
Family sitcoms were what the team dialed in on, including “Full House”, which starred Olsen’s older sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate (Elizabeth made a cameo appearance in the show’s series finale in 1995).
“[Family sitcoms] meant a lot to us,” Feige said, “dated and silly as they may seem, there’s a comfort factor there. That was the primary factor behind the comic inspiration versus what led us to putting these ideas together. There is a wonderful thing that happened with Matt’s background [as a child actor] as he’s talked about, which is so amazing. Lizzie’s background with her sisters, which didn’t even occur to me until I think we were standing in the writer’s room with pictures of ‘Full House’ on the wall and I went ‘Oh, right.’”
The team also addressed how to keep modern ideals in place despite pulling from the tropes of sometimes 70-year-old shows. “When we looked back and we were doing research and looking at these older shows, there were shows that were a little disappointing and that were not acceptable for today. We had a really incredible writer’s room full of people who part of our job was to keep an eye on these things.”
Shakman referenced how “The Dick Van Dyke” show manages to stay timeless and funny today, and he and Feige actually met with Dick Van Dyke himself for advice. “That remains one of the greatest afternoons of my life,” Shakman said about their lunch together. “And we asked him, ‘What was the governing principle behind The Dick Van Dyke Show? Why did it work so well?’ And he said, ‘If it couldn’t happen in real life, it can’t happen on the show.'”
Of course, this is no ordinary show, staring two magical superheroes, one of whom definitively died in Avengers: Infinity War. With the show’s debut only a few days away, theories are flurrying, but we’ll just have to wait to find out more. When asked how “WandaVision” will prepare fans for the future of the MCU, Feige said, “I hope it says get ready for the new and the different.”