Marvel was never shy about promoting that its first Disney+ series, WandaVision, was inspired by classic TV sitcoms. The show’s trailers revealed its concept of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) living a classic sitcom lifestyle, laughtrack and all. In the show’s posters, Wanda, Vision, and other characters like Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) are made up of literal TV sets. Producer/Marvel head Kevin Feige, head writer Jac Schaeffer, and director Matt Shakman all went through what they describe as a “sitcom school.”
Still, even with all that forewarning, it’s hard to contain one’s surprise at just how seriously and literal WandaVision takes its sitcom mission. Save for a handful of moments that suggest all is not what it seems, WandaVision’s first two episodes are made up entirely of classic sitcom plots. In one, Wanda and Vis endure many classic sitcom misunderstandings as the latter’s boss makes an unexpected appearance at dinner. In the second, the pair must concoct a magic show for Westview’s kids…all while Vision is basically drunk on chewing gum.
This is a bold new direction for Marvel’s storytelling. The franchise is beginning its future on television by looking to the medium’s past. Given that Feige, Schaeffer, Shakman, and company went to such efforts to create as “sitcom-y” experience as possible, it’s only fair that we delve into the episodes and identify all the sitcoms it’s paying homage to. What follows are our findings.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Dick Van Dyke Show is the clearest influence on WandaVision’s first two episodes. The first episode in particular closely resembles the aesthetic of the classic Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore-starring show. Wanda and Vision’s home appears to be at least partially modeled off of the Petrie’s abode. Right inside the entrance of the front door is a small landing leading to a lowered living room floor. Van Dyke would step off that landing and theatrically pratfall over an Ottoman in the show’s opener.
Even Wanda and Vision’s kitchen appears to be modeled after the Petrie’s, with ample counter space and shuttered windows leading out into the living room. This modeling of the Van Dyke Show home for WandaVision’s main dwelling was clearly no accident. In fact, as part of their aforementioned “sitcom school” the producers had lunch with the still sprightly and energetic 95-year-old Van Dyke to discuss the finer points of sitcoms.
“That remains one of the great afternoons of my life,” Shakman told reporters about meeting the comedy legend. “We asked him, ‘What was the sort of 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. If you’re drawing something that’s grounded and it’s real and it’s resonating with everyone’s experience at home, you can do crazy things.”
Imagine Shakman’s heart dropping during the first part of Van Dyke’s quote, realizing that he was about to make a sitcom about a magic-user and her android boyfriend. But it’s the second part of Van Dyke’s message that matters. Viewers can accept pratfalls over Ottomans or even tea saucers flying via ESP as long as the characters feel grounded.
WandaVision is dealing with fantastical circumstances to begin with…and that’s before little “glitches” in its characters’ reality suggest that none of this is real. The importance of opening with a setting as grounded and recognizable as The Dick Van Dyke Show therefore cannot be overstated.
I Love Lucy
While The Dick Van Dyke Show makes up most of episode 1 and 2’s settings and vibes, there is also a little bit of I Love Lucy sprinkled in there. And that’s partially because there’s almost always a little bit of I Love Lucy sprinkled into every sitcom.
I Love Lucy is one of the most influential shows of all time. Lucille Ball starred as a fictionalized version of herself, Lucy Ricardo, a young middle-class housewife living in New York City with her husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). Episode 1’s opening theme song (written by EGOT winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez) mentions that Wanda and Vision are relocating from the city to a smaller town, so the setting is not similar, but it’s still hard for the show to avoid Lucy comparisons all the same.
In speaking to reporters Olsen mentioned Lucy as an “accidental” inspiration for her performance, saying: “It was like an amalgamation of Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery (of Bewitched). I think I accidentally threw in some Lucy in the ‘70s just because there was so much physical comedy.”
Feige also invoked I Love Lucy when talking about styling the black and white episodes.
“We often talked about that when something shifted from a Dick Van Dyke or an I Love Lucy style into something that was outside of that, that it was going into kind of a Twilight Zone,” Feige said. “You know, we were thinking about what were the period shows that addressed, you know, the odd and the strange, and how could we embrace that?”
One tangible aspect in which WandaVision pays homage to I Love Lucy is in Wanda and Vision’s separate twin beds at the beginning of the second episode. In the 1930s through the 1950s, TV characters, married or otherwise, almost never shared the same marital bed. The Hays Code explicitly mentioned “Man and woman in bed together” as an image to avoid. As the most popular sitcom of the time, I Love Lucy became something of a hallmark of this strange rule. It was downright jarring to see a couple so clearly close as Lucy and Ricky spending their nights in separate twin beds.
Thankfully, shortly into the episode Wanda uses her magic to conjoin her and Vision’s beds. And that gives her something in common with another TV witch…
Funnily enough, the first live-action TV couple (who weren’t already married in real life) to share a bed were Darrin and Samantha Stephens on Bewitched. And it’s from that show that WandaVision episode 2 borrows much of its format.
The opening credits for WandaVision episode two are highly, highly similar to Bewitched’s animated opener. (There’s also some I Dream of Jeannie influence, which makes sense as that show basically copied Bewitched.)
The general conceit of the episode is right out of a Bewitched episode as well. When her husband (Vision in WandaVision and Darrin Stephens on Bewitched) encounters some trouble, our witch protagonist (Wanda and Samantha Stephens) uses her magic to help him out. It’s a bit of an ironic twist, however, that Wanda uses her magic to make Vision’s own “magic” seem like simple sleight of hand trickery.
Though Bewitched makes up most of the inspiration of WandaVision’s second episode, its influence can also be felt in episode 1. When Wanda uses her powers to make recipe cards float all around her, the show borrows a simple string special effect from Bewitched.
“Our special effects team usually blows things up, sets things on fire, creates wind, creates smoke – (now) these guys became like puppeteers of things floating in the sky and dealing with magnets,” Olsen told reporters. “It was just so incredible to watch them adapt to the specific ways of creating these practical effects by doing the research of what they did on Bewitched.”
Bewitched also aired its first 74 episodes in black and white before switching to color for its next 180. WandaVision’s transition to color at episode’s end could be an homage to that…or it could just be setting up all the other exciting sitcom references to come.