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Bringing Sitcoms Into The MCU With WandaVision

Marvel Studios set out to do something that could never happen in a feature film with WandaVision, their first original series for Disney+. Each episode–at least in the beginning–draws on a particular decade’s sitcoms for inspiration, with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as the stars of the show. Of course, this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so nothing is quite what it appears.

Director Matt Shakman is no stranger to the world of sitcoms. As a former child actor, he had guest roles in Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Webster, and Growing Pains. The latter of those led to the spinoff Just The Ten Of Us, a sitcom where Shakman played J.R. Lubbock for three seasons. “We wanted to be as authentic as possible,” according to Shakman. “So we watched just a ton of old television episodes, talked about how comedy changes, because it really does. The approach to
comedy in the 50s, 60s, 70s is really different.” They even tried to capture the sounds of each decade. “We also worked with a fabulous dialect coach to work on how the people would sound in that era.”

One way they brought authenticity was shooting the first episode with a live studio audience. “It was so nerve-wracking and there was a lot of adrenaline,” according to Olsen. “It really messed with 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 for our second episode.” They also utilized vintage techniques to create some of the magic in the show, even researching some of the tricks they used when filming Bewitched. “I’m used to it all just coming together in CGI, so it was really fun to have the practical effects there.”

As a child of the 80s, Kathryn Hahn, who plays Agnes, felt right at home making WandaVision. “The structure of a sitcom, which is the setup, the misunderstanding, and the resolution is such a comfortable, comforting little structure,” she says. “The trick was to not to satirize it, but to get inside of each one.”

There’s something going on beneath that sitcom surface in WandaVision, but even there they found inspiration from classic television. “When something shifted from say a Dick Van Dyke or an I Love Lucy style into something that was outside of that, it was going into kind of a Twilight Zone,” according to producer Kevin Feige.

“Twilight Zone is an enormous influence on me personally,” agrees writer Jac Schaeffer. “I really think that actually how I learned to tell stories. It was so incredibly deft at that turn. You think you’re in one sort of thing and then suddenly it’s flipped on its head.”

WandaVision uses one more vintage detail in its storytelling: commercials. Period advertisements appear in each episode, and of course, they are more than a fun little Easter egg. “You’ll have to keep watching the series to understand,” says Feige. “If you have been watching all the movies, you might be able to start connecting what those things mean to the past.”

WandaVision begins streaming exclusively on Disney+ on January 15, 2021.

About WandaVision

Marvel Studios’ captivating new series “WandaVision” stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, and marks the first series from Marvel Studios streaming exclusively on Disney+. The series is a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff and Vision—two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives—begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems.

As The Bunny Hops®