Did anyone have the MCU merged with classic TV sitcoms on their 2021 Bingo card to help introduce us to the multiverse?
Yeah, me neither, but we’re only three weeks out of the chaos that was 2020. We shouldn’t be too surprised that the Marvel Universe would shoot two beloved superheroes in a totally different trajectory to officially initiate MCU’s phase four.
Instead of outwitting a smooth-talking Ultron, evading crazed Thanos devoted zealots, or the big purple guy himself, the creators of some of my favorite films bring Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) together again, but in domestic bliss as played out through decades of family sitcom TV shows.
Here, Vision and Wanda navigate their lives between noisy neighbors, a loud-mouthed boss and his weirdly perky wife, flighty co-workers, typical goofy sitcom situations, and societal “norms” for women to which my kids more than raised their eyebrows.
Like an overzealous bunny, the writers seamlessly weave comic book and pop culture Easter eggs all over the place, making it impossible to notice all of them the first time we watched this amazingly quirky and fun take about Wanda and Vision in a non-perilous setting, we think.
The navigation of the simple suburban life isn’t only for lovers of the MCU world, but those who appreciate the nostalgia and social history of family sitcoms.
And how far we’ve come.
In the meantime, here are three nods to classic TV in the first three episodes.
(1) Dressing for the part
In the first minutes of episode one, Wanda and Vision walk into their one story ranch-style home set in a lovely neighborhood with wide winding sidewalks. This screams classic 50’s series like The Donna Reed Show, Leave it To Beaver, Make Room for Daddy and Ozzie and Harriett.
As all good women of the time, Wanda dons the classic (unpractical) 50’s housewife ensemble of an immaculately pressed dress, pantyhose, three layers of underwear, perfectly styled hair, full make-up, heels, and of course, pearls for a busy day of cleaning the house, reading vapid relationship magazine articles with her neighbor, and wondering if she’s a good enough wife.
(2) Eat Up
Although Vision doesn’t eat, Wanda offers him a home cooked breakfast before he heads to work. She offers to make him everything from eggs to bacon to pancakes, just like those TV moms of the 50’s who always sent their kids off to school with stomachs full of a carefully prepared breakfast.
In the 1999 movie, Plesantville, staring Toby McGuire (Spider-Man) and Reese Witherspoon (Big Little Lies) as Bud and Mary Sue, respectively, highlights this absurd gluttonous ritual. By the mom, played by Joan Allen, who’s impeccably dressed, loads Mary Sue’s plate with about two thousand fat-filled calories.
(3) Don’t trip.
Even though Wanda wears the classically 50’s women’s ensemble, the set itself had strong Dick Van Dyke Show vibes. In fact, Van Dyke himself visited the set to help with authenticity.
The extremely popular series ran from 1961-1966 and had an opening sequence where Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) enters his home, waves to his friends, and immediately trips over an ottoman.
Seriously, you’d think he’d remember it’s there after a half a dozen times.
The quick nod to that classic opening occurs as Vision carries his beloved Wanda across the threshold and notices he’s about to run into a chair. Instead of tripping, he simply walks through it and gently puts Wanda to her feet.
For those who aren’t familiar, the Dick Van Dyke Show tells the story of Rob and Laura Petrie, a lovely couple living in the suburbs who sleep in separate beds because apparently, TV couples didn’t sleep together before TV shows of the 1960’s like Bewitched and The Munsters.
But it doesn’t mean the show didn’t push the boundaries, which brings me to…
(4) Who wears the pants?
Actress Mary Tyler Moore, who starred as Laura Petrie, played a typical stay at home wife and mother in the long running series, but with one exception: She. Wore. Pants.
Wearing pants, you say? What’s the big deal?
Oh, I’ll tell you.
Go back and look in the movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood and the initial TV series. You’ll notice more times than not, women wore dresses and skirts, which kept societal stereotypes in check.
In the shows where women wore pants, it was only for a scene or two and certainly not the entire time.
Women who wore pants may have come off strong initially, but they were always “put in their places” and usually while wearing dresses. This held true to what the “normal” expectations of the TV mom and woman in general.
Realize, in the 1960’s women couldn’t even get jobs, loans, or make financial decisions without their husband’s, or if single, their brother’s, father’s, uncle’s, etc consent.
It was legal to fire a married woman for being pregnant and a single woman getting knocked up?
For shame you should entertain such a question!
Moore’s costume changes quietly signaled that men weren’t the only ones who wore pants in the family.
Women could do it just as well and all while keeping the house (insanely) immaculate, raising a child, and a serving a perfect meal, all while looking amazing in a dark pair of practical capris.
Initially, the network wasn’t sure it wanted to juggle the potential backlash it anticipated, but the creator of the show, Carl Reiner, stood by his actors as he’d purposely created a couple far more equally yoked than others in the previous TV worlds.
Laura didn’t fall subservient to her husband, Rob. Instead, a mutual respect played out showing her input ranked evenly with his. They had equal say in everything from general disagreements to raising their son.
Wanda and Vision share this same chemistry. They encourage open conversations and don’t shy away from the difficult decisions or defaulting everything to him. He doesn’t attempt to overshadow or minimize her abilities, in fact, she showed in Civil War, he’d be hard pressed to beat her when they had to battle it out.
As much as he respects her abilities, she does his and their domestic partnership highlights how they totally capable of handling whatever comes their way.
Despite the original plan of Moore only wearing pants for one scene per episode, after three shows, that idea was scrapped and Laura’s fashion choices gave tired housewives inspiration. This one change more than likely drastically shifted women’s dress code for future TV series and increased viewership.
Fun fact, when the Dick Van Dyke show ended, Moore developed a new show, the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) about a divorcee who lived in Minneapolis, MN and worked at a local TV station.
The network worried that a divorcee wouldn’t speak to viewers and that they’d think her character divorced Dick Van Dyke, so they insisted the main character, Mary Richards, have a broken engagement instead.
I wonder if they’ll have that show in future episodes.
(5) Twin or King?
As we moved to episode two and officially into the 60’s, it begins with a nod to my favorite TV show growing up, Bewitched.
Now, if you want to hear about some boundary pushing in the TV world, look no further than Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the title role of Samantha Stevens. She was a basic badass on and off screen.
Bewitched told about a witch, Samantha or Sam, who married a mortal, Darrin, played by Dick York from 1964-1969 and then by Dick Sargent 1969-1972.
(Seriously, I think we need to see Wanda and Vision as Morticia and Gomez.)
Within the first few minutes of episode two, we see Wanda and Vision sleeping in twin beds because until the 1960’s TV executives refused to elude to the mere idea or implication of TV married couples being intimate.
Thankfully, forward thinking writers and actors changed that, as did Wanda. Sporting a perfectly coiffed Samantha Steven’s bob and with the flick of her wrist, she moves their twins together and instantly converts them to a single king.
Then Wanda and Vision waste no time getting down to business, under the sheets and during the cut-away, of course.
This merging of the beds signaled a wink to Bewitched (1964-1972) and The Munsters (1964-1966), both of whom had the main couple sleeping together.
(6) The Neighbor
As the show progresses, Agnes, played by Kathryn Hahn (left), offers Wanda some practical advise from the neighborhood in general from helping plan a dinner for Vision’s boss and his wife to advise about how not to upset the Queen Bee of the local PTA before they both head out for a meeting about the town’s talent show.
Her knowing about everyone and everything features what every sitcom has: A nosy, know-it-all, really interested in what your world is, neighbor.
For Bewitched, it was Gladys Cravits and Gladys had a husband, Abner, who truly didn’t care what his wife saw or heard.
Agnes’ absent husband, Ralph, has yet to make an appearance, which is another sitcom trope.
I doubt he won’t stay off screen for long.
This series has so many twists and turns as it drops important bits of information woven between the causal commentary.
It’s still up in the air about who Hahn’s character is or what she knows, exactly. There are multiple rumors online including she actually might be the supervillain Agatha Harkness who’s more than friends with none other than…Mephisto. (cue scary music)
(7) A Wink to an Award-Winner
I don’t know if the name Agnes was specifically for other than the fact it was close enough to Agatha (if that’s who Hahn is) or it was chosen as a nod to Oscar-winner Agnes Moorehead, who played the colorful mother-in-law, Endora, in Bewitched.
One of the original Mercury Players with Orson Wells, Agnes Moorehead had an incredible acting resume under her belt when she came to the show. She had four Oscar nominations, Golden Globe and Emmy awards, as well as Broadway credits under her belt.
Along with Wells, she worked with legends John Wayne, Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, and Debbie Reynolds and multiple others during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Endora, a most over bearing mother-in-law, was a fiercely strong witch who hated her son-in-law and adored her daughter. She’d also been around longer than the Salem Witch Trials and had plenty of mischief and maliciousness to make.
A powerful witch who’s been around since the Witch Trials? Sounds strangely familiar.
(8) Breaking Barriers
Episode two also introduced, Geraldine (Teyonah Parris), the only woman of color.
Although, this may seem normal to have a non-white friend on a sitcom to most under the age of forty, understand, Bewitched ran from 1964-1972.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 hit right as the show hit its stride, but it had already tackled discussions about Samantha and Darrin’s mixed union and how she’d married so beneath her station.
How their families were so totally different, their marriage shouldn’t be allowed.
For anyone who knows US history, interracial marriages weren’t legal in all fifty states until 1967 with SCOTUS’ ruling of Loving v Virginia. The show’s open conversations about couples who weren’t “allowed” to be married, should get the opportunity and quite honestly, it wasn’t anyone’s business otherwise, made a lot of people uncomfortable.
Some were downright hateful, sending ranting racial letters and threats to boycott the show.
Instead of backing away, the show creators and actors pushed back in various ways.
Seeing Geraldine and Wanda talking and meshing so quickly, despite Dottie telling them to stop, could have easily been an acknowledgement of the barriers Bewitched pushed with their December 24th, 1970 episode, Sisters at Heart.
That particular episode, “set on Christmas Eve, twin stories revolve around 6-year-old Tabitha Stephens’ friendship with a black girlfriend whom she calls her sister, and Tabitha’s ad-exec father Darrin dealing with a bigoted client who comes to mistake the “sister” for Darrin’s actual child and thus the product of a mixed-race marriage. Disapproving, he cuts business ties with Darrin, referring to him as ‘unstable.'” (1)
Written by twenty-six tenth graders from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles after their teacher contacted the “Bewitched” production staff, the story brought praise, awards and death threats.
All of the high schoolers were credited for writing the show and the episode won the Governor’s Award that was presented to their teacher, Marcella Saunders, at the 23rd Emmy Awards in 1971.
(9) Color Transition
With color televisions becoming more affordable and TV becoming more popular, the shift drew more viewers and higher sales.
Many of the sitcoms of the 60’s like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, transitioned into color as WandaVision seamlessly brings us forward to the 70’s and anticipation of the next episode.
(10) Family Time
Moving on to episode three, hearing the first few notes of this week’s theme song definitely gives off The Partridge Family season one theme song vibes, but the on-screen graphics roll with the iconic 3×3 Brady Bunch grid.
Both shows featured large families with the abilities to solve problems in less than thirty minutes and who could break into a great song and dance routine when needed.
Wanda nor Vision sing or dance their problems away, but a lot of crazy stuff happens, mimicking a typical episode of either show where something was bound to go weirdly wrong, but wrapped up by the time the credits rolled.
The railless stairs, stone wall, color scheme, and open floor plan were lifted from the Brady’s set for certain. The only thing missing was Alice the Maid showing up and cleaning up an already perfectly clean home.
(11) Marcia. Marcia. Marcia.
Not only does the furniture scream Brady Bunch, but so does Wanda’s hair.
The long and straight style was Marcia Brady’s (Maureen McCormick) signature look and she rocked it beautifully.
Just like Marcia ran the brush through her hair 100 times twice a day to promote its natural luster, Wanda’s locks rested naturally about her face and shoulders, giving her an angelic look.
Of course that could have been the pregnancy glow.
(12) I’m waiting
As my daughter reminded me, “Hey, Mom. We’re like you when you had to wait each week for the new episode.”
It doesn’t seem that long ago and many shows still have this format, Marvel threw everyone back to the age of waiting for new episodes. Instead of releasing the entire series so we could sit and binge, they taunt avid watchers with great episodes and plenty to discuss.
So what about you? Did you see any nods to classic sitcom TV I missed?
Any tropes you hope they’ll cover in the coming weeks?
Throw down your comments below.