WandaVision, as the first Marvel Studios TV series to debut on Disney+, marks the beginning of the future of Marvel post-Avengers: Endgame — by returning to the past. Literally.
The upcoming miniseries starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, reprising their roles as Wanda Maximoff and Vision from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pays deliberate homage to the midcentury sitcom, utilizing the classic look of old school situation comedies, and even utilizing laugh tracks. And they pulled it off by using techniques from those sitcoms, including the same lenses and wire tricks used in shows like Bewitched or I Dreamed of Jeannie, as well as a live studio audience.
The result was an experience that was full circle for Olsen (who grew up visiting the Full House sets where her famous sisters worked) and a wake-up call for Bettany, who joked to Entertainment Weekly, “I should have been doing sitcoms all this time.”
Entertainment Weekly debuted a series of new images and new details from WandaVision, Marvel’s highly anticipated experimental Disney+ miniseries created by Jac Shaeffer and directed by Matt Shakman. WandaVision leads the way for MCU stars making their TV debut, so it’s almost fitting that the first Marvel Disney+ series is about finding a safe haven within a suburban sitcom. It was Marvel chief Kevin Feige who came up with the idea, as a self-professed sitcom nerd who grew up on Nick at Nite.
“I would get ready for the day and watch some old sitcom because I couldn’t take the news anymore,” Feige told EW. “Getting ready to go to set over the last few years, I kept thinking of how influential these programs were on our society and on myself, and how certainly I was using it as an escape from reality where things could be tied up in a nice bow in 30 minutes.”
But it was up to Schaeffer, who is the head writer for WandaVision, and Shakman to create that authentic vision of the midcentury sitcom, enrolling in “sitcom school,” EW says, with the two of them doing their homework on the ins and outs of classic comedy. During their research, they went to the king of classic sitcoms himself, Dick van Dyke, whom they met with at Disneyland to ask about his time on The Dick van Dyke show. Shakman relayed:
“[The Dick Van Dyke Show] can be very broad with silly physical-comedy gags, and yet it never feels false, and I wondered how they did that.His answer was really simple: He basically said that if it couldn’t happen in real life, it couldn’t happen on the show.”
Schaeffer and Shakman took that advice to heart, employing the same period lenses and lighting used on classic ’50s sitcoms, and using the same wire and camera tricks seen on Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie to showcase Wanda’s magic, rather than resorting to CGI. In homage to the classic sitcoms before them, they partly filmed WandaVision on the famous Blondie Street at the Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank (where Father Knows Best, The Partridge Family, and Bewitched all filmed). They painted Bettany blue to show better in grayscale, and even got crew members to show up in ’50s era clothing.
But the most immersive part of the production was the live studio audience. EW described:
Bettany and Olsen rehearsed their entrances and exits as if putting on a play, and at first, they say the notion of live performance terrified them more than any Marvel supervillain. But by the time they secured their first audience chuckle, the pair realized they might have missed their calling as sitcom stars. “It was insanity,” Olsen, 31, says with a laugh. “There was something very meta for my own life because I would visit those tapings as a kid, where my sisters were working [on Full House].”
Bettany seemed really taken with the whole sitcom experience too, joking to EW that they could continue doing live shows like “WandaVision on ice,” or if things dry up, find a second career in sitcoms. But while WandaVision is more likely just a one-off experiment playing with past techniques and homages, it’s a way for Marvel to push into new territory, Schaeffer said:
“The show is a love letter to the golden age of television. We’re paying tribute and honoring all of these incredible shows and people who came before us, [but] we’re also trying to blaze new territory.”
WandaVision debuts on Disney+ sometime this winter.
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