'WandaVision' Episodes 1 & 2 Review: Show lures you in with hilarity and charm before discomfort creeps in

The series, for the most part, plays straight with its format of classic sitcom homages, making the underlying defragmenting of reality all the more disturbing

                            'WandaVision' Episodes 1 & 2 Review: Show lures you in with hilarity and charm before discomfort creeps in
Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in 'WandaVision' (Disney+)

Spoilers for 'WandaVision' Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2

One of the biggest surprises of 'WandaVision' is how much of it is a genuinely delightful sitcom in its own right. After watching the posters and various trailers for the city, it would be easy to assume that 'WandaVision' would simply parody several eras of sitcom television before getting to the more familiar superheroics in the face of fragmenting reality. Though there are some teases of the latter, the first two episodes of 'WandaVision' showcase two extremely charming stories, putting a spotlight on two characters who have clearly been underserved by their film appearances.

'WandaVision' tells the story of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and the Vision (Paul Bettany), two superheroes with wildly complicated origin stories who get their power from what's known as the Mind Stone. Though a fleeting romance sprung up between the couple, their lives as Avengers came in the way, and when we last saw the Vision, he was killed by the world-conquering Thanos (Josh Brolin). Now, without a hint of explanation, both Wanda and Vision appear to be living inside a classic sitcom TV series, in full black and white, trying to make it as an ordinary couple hiding their powers in a small suburban town.

Still from 'WandaVision' (Disney+)

The first episode is a loving homage to 'I Love Lucy', while the second episode skips ahead by about a decade to homage 'Bewitched'. The main plot of both episodes is typical of their eras, but still engaging. In the first episode, a misunderstanding between Wanda and Vision sees Wanda having to make a last-minute meal for the Vision's boss while keeping her powers a secret. In the second episode, Wanda and Vision get to know the residents of their neighborhood, but nearly reveal their secret when Vision's inner workings are literally gummed up.

There is a third, more disturbing underlying plot, as the "real" world starts to seep in, and the alternate reality of this sitcom world starts to come apart at the seams. It can be tempting to think of this third plot as the "real" story, and take the sitcom stories as throwaway plot, and that would be a mistake. Wanda and Vision have had the misfortune of being secondary characters in films crammed in with larger-than-life characters. We've only seen glimpses of their development despite their appearances over three movies. In 'WandaVision', both characters are finally allowed to shine, and it's there that the show's strength truly lies.

Gone is the brooding witch seeking either revenge against Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) or redemption for the damage she's caused. In this sitcom world, Wanda is finally allowed to be happy, and she is radiant with it. The chemistry between her and Vision is the most charming part of the series. Wanda brings an earnestness to the screen - even in the trappings of a sitcom, it's clear to see just how badly she wants to fit in, and enjoy a happy life together with Vision. There's a radiant earnestness to her every action, be it making new friends, or bantering with Vision. Vision makes for a delightful bumbling husband, always on the verge of letting slip his true nature, but endearingly trusting of everyone around him.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda on 'WandaVision' (Marvel Studios)

It's notable that it's only when Wanda is on screen that we start to notice reality start to come apart. It's clear that she's at the center of this world, and has complete control over it - and the way the series shows that her control is slipping is both brilliant and disturbing. The show's committment to the sitcom format is what makes 'WandaVision' such a tragedy - there's a lot of joy in every scene, a lot of love, and a lot of charm. The fact that none of it is real is heartbreaking, and the fact that the reality of the show still refuses to explicitly state that it's fake gives the oncoming doom a lot of tension. There's an anxiety running underneath it all that's hard to pin down, and that makes the experience all the more powerful.

The next episode of 'WandaVision' airs January 22, on Disney+.