Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany never got much to do in the Avengers movies—when we recently watched them in preparation for “WandaVision,” it turns out I’d made up my favorite Bettany moment in my head. It doesn’t appear in any of his three appearances. And, indeed, Olsen’s accent does disappear over the years, even as her European backstory gets a very nice nod this episode. But they’ve both been good and good together, so “WandaVision” seemed like a sturdy idea.
And it indeed works out.
The show’s got a familiar concept on top of its MacGuffin—Olsen and Bettany are living (in glorious black and white) in a fifties sitcom a la “I Love Lucy,” “Dick Van Dyke,” “Donna Reed,” and very obviously “Bewitched.” Olsen’s the trying-to-be-perfect housewife, whose magic powers cause more problems than they solve, and Bettany’s the vaguely obtuse breadwinner with a nondescript sitcom job who just happens to be an android who magicks himself human to go to work and out in public.
The episode opens with Bettany and Olsen not being able to remember why they’ve got a heart on the calendar for the day’s date—they’re both worried they forgot an anniversary even though Bettany’s got perfect memory (though he immediately forgets to put on his human face to go to work, which is funny but goes unnoticed by the studio audience—they’re very important, adding another layer to it all).
We get some potential plot reveals with Olsen when sitcom neighbor Kathryn Hahn comes over to visit and the girls get talking, whereas Bettany is just trying to figure out what he’s doing at work. Although Bettany’s the fastest report collater anyone’s ever seen, boss Fred Melamed isn’t too sure about him yet. Bettany’s also got a work sidekick in Asif Ali.
The work stuff is where Bettany gets to show off his charming comedic ease, while Olsen ends up playing second fiddle to Hahn just because Hahn’s such a scene-stealer. She really is the perfect sitcom neighbor.
There’s a pretty good resolution, with a nice dip into the uncanny—more uncanny than a fifties sitcom shot in high definition—with some foreshadowing for an eventual reveal.
Good supporting turn from Debra Jo Rupp as Melamed’s wife; Melamed’s fine but can’t keep up with her. He’s just a sitcom boss after all.
Not a lot of obvious Marvel references outside a commercial–but then the last shot gives away something about the layers of narrative, or at least calls attention to their being layers.
It’s off to a fine start.