Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Final thoughts on WANDAVISION

Okay, I stuck with WANDAVISION until the very end.  All nine episodes.  As some of you know I reviewed it after the first few episodes.  Again, I know I’m not the target audience.  But it seemed to me they took a story that could have been a 90 minute movie and stretched it out to 4 1/2 hours (9 half hour episodes).  To me it was just a confusing mess.  When Kathryn Hahn turned into a witch I should have bailed.  Or when storytelling simply became Wanda shooting red energy bolts into the witch’s purple energy bolts.  

At what point do “epic” air battles between superheroes become boring, even to Marvel Universe fans?   How much suspense can there really be when characters can solve problems with magic?   Or the writers make up bizarre technical gibberish to explain away absurd phenomena?   

I won’t spoil the end except to say the whole series felt like one big shaggy dog story.  

For those who haven’t been following WANDAVISION on Disney +, a Marvel character imagines she’s living sitcoms, and through the course of the series they move from the 50’s-00’s.  And the show reflects the style and dialogue of each era.  So the first two episodes are in black and white.  And there are theme opening titles that reflect each era (which frankly are the best part of the whole series).  The first three episodes are pretty much just these recreated sitcoms.  

We finally learn that it’s all in Wanda’s mind.  And then let the convoluted plot with tanks and force fields and flashbacks to Salem witch trials begin.  Here’s a storytelling tip:  When setting up a fight, let the audience know what they’re fighting for.  But I imagine the thinking was: as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the cool CGI effects, who gives a shit?  

Mike Reiss is a longtime writer/producer of THE SIMPSONS.  To me, his recent tweet summed up WANDAVISION perfectly. 


Anonymous said...

Cue the "you didn't get it" clique. The thing I love about the "you didn't get it" crowd is when something really is bad they morph into the "let's see the director's cut" clique. The director's cut solves everything and turns anything ever made into Citizen Kane. Ken might as well just change his name to "hey Boomer" right now because he, and I, didn't know "the backstory." This is my favorite part, the guy telling me I need to know "what happened before" the start of the series or movie. I remember a series where the backstory was a single woman moving to a bigger city and finding a job and new friends. The backstory was told at the beginning of each episode, took about a minute and 20 seconds, started with "How will you make it on your own?"

Ralph C. said...

I will chime in here. I had a lot of fun watching this series, watching every episode multiple times. However, I won’t debate or argue with anyone that didn’t like it because, at that point, it’s debating or arguing about opinions. That’s cool if others don’t like it. I enjoy reading the reasons.

tavm said...

Annoymous, having the theme song being the backstory of a show was not only used on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" but also the Paul Henning series' "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres" and also the Sherwood Schwartz shows "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch".

Don R. said...

I'm someone who grew up with Marvel comics in the 60s and 70s. And I enjoy watching the Marvel movies and TV shows even now, because I think they're sticking to Marvel's premise that these are people with powers that didn't always ask for those powers. The premise of the show was that Wanda had lost every person she ever loved, and she dealt with that by almost unconsciously using those powers to literally create the TV shows that had brought her so much comfort as a kid. Sure, it ends with a comic-book fight, but that shouldn't negate what came before.

Covarr said...

The best part, to me, was the way it toyed with the format. Gags like the credits rolling right over their argument, I loved that stuff. The actual story was not Marvel's best, and largely felt like it was mainly an excuse to introduce a bunch of stuff and set the stage for MCU Phase 4. Not ideal, kinda reminded me of Iron Man 2 in a bad way. And they also introduced several things that didn't go anywhere, which seems to be at least in part due to a rushed production schedule (thanks, COVID).

Also, I felt like they completely mishandled Darcy. I know it's been years since she last appeared (Thor: The Dark World, 2013), but... in her early appearances she was such a clueless buffoon. In making her smart, they've made her unrecognizable. It's got me wondering if she was originally written to be a different character, but Kat Dennings got thrown in at the last minute to reprise her role with minimal rewrites.

On a more positive note, I really liked the acting. Whatever I have to say about Darcy, I think Kat Dennings handled it beautifully. Randall Park stole every scene he was in, Kathryn Hahn was hilarious, Elizabeth Olsen was remarkably believable in her buried grief, and Paul Bettany had so much heart I couldn't not be invested in his story, entirely regardless of the rest of the show.

Gary Conrad said...

Great review. I gave up after four episodes then wondered if I should have slogged through the rest. Thanks for taking the bullet for me Ken.

Dimension Skipper said...

Just leaving this here for what it's worth if folks may be interested...

‘We Started With Sitcom Boot Camp’: Director Matt Shakman on the Making of ‘WandaVision’

Daniel said...

The first four or five episodes of WandaVision were essentially the same story as the Joe Dante-directed The Good Life segment from The Twilight Zone: The Movie back in the 1980s (which I think may have been based on an episode of the TV series): Mentally unstable telekinetic takes family hostage by making them live in perpetual twisted sitcom world. Except that the Dante segment told the story in 30 minutes, whereas those four episodes of WV took two hours plus.

I agree with Ken that there was probably a pretty good 90-minute story buried in there somewhere, but the creatie team just padded it out with so much unnecessary stuff that it got in its own way. Contemporary writers need to learn that longer isn't necessarily better. If something can be cut out without its absence affecting the story, then by definition it is unnecessary, so cut it out. More dialogue and more scenes does not mean better developed characterization.

(That doesn't mean that longer is inherently bad, either. The Godfather Part II is a long movie, but it's as long as it needs to be. I can't think of anything that I could cut out of it without negatively impacting the story. Whereas with WV, there were dozens and dozens of examples of things (including entire episodes) that could eliminated.)

I also agree with Ken that this was just a shaggy dog story. If the next MCU movie begins with Wanda at her new cabin (seen at the end of the episode), will anyone who hadn't seen the WV series be the least bit confused? My guess is no, so to me, nothing consequential happened in the series. It just kept going and going and going until it basically reset to the status quo.

Also, if someone is going to do a pastiche (in any medium) it should be as good as the thing that it is referencing, if not better (Stephen Sondheim does this regularly with his songs). The sitcoms in WV were so banal and forgettable. It was like they were written by someone reading an instruction manual for how to be funny. The contours were all there, but none of the substance.

Again, the series wasn't bad. It was just...meh. It reeked of a corporation trying to convince people that they were taking chances but were really just playing it safe.

Rob Sisco said...

This show, like most everything in the Marvel Universe does require a reasonable amount of background on Marvel’s story lines.
I’m not suggesting that they couldn’t have done better for the uninitiated, but for those millions who have some background (in my case from with my 18 year old son who is a Marvel aficionado) the series is chock full of references to past stories and teases to upcoming plots. I suspect that audience found the series very satisfying.

blinky said...

My son keeps trying to explain the Marvel universe to me but I don’t think it’s really a universe as much as a magazine rack. Remember those? The whole Marvel universe was just whatever comic book they could come up with for 20 or 30 years and then somehow putting them all together in a world. It makes absolutely no sense to me. Compare that to Tolkien who created the LOTR universe; it was one guy with a vision of what it would be. The comic book universe is just a random assortment of whatever comics they came up with over the years.

DBA said...

I may have mentioned this after the first review, but it seems still relevant for this one: if you know what Wanda/Scarlet Witch's powers actually are, the whole show makes much more sense. But I also appreciated they didn't spend a ton of exposition spelling it out. That said, I've seen a pretty clear divide between those who liked it and didn't like it, and it does seem to follow the line of "knew what her powers were going in" vs "did not" sprinkled with a little bit of already liked the character or not.
This story was part origin story for both the Scarlet Witch and Cataract (White Vision); part origin story for whatever powers Monica Rambeau got through this experience; and part "what happens when someone with super magic powers they can't necessarily always control experiences intense grief". I do think it was too long, and the flying fight scenes were too long, but that's true of the movies too. This could've been a single 2.5 hour movie and done it all better, but I don't think it was bad. And it did make me excited for where they're going next.

Paul Eisenbrey said...

Hi Ken,

I disagree with you on many of the points, but it is likely due more to my attachment to the character rather than the quality of the show itself.

In light of the later episodes, I saw the blandness of the sitcom episodes was due to the character, Wanda, writing them in her fever-dream. She was not a writer, and the plot and dialog showed that.

If I liked the character less, I'd probably agree with you more...

Call Me Mike said...

I fell off the superhero train about ten years ago. I couldn't stay invested with all the expanding story lines and characters, particularly with Marvel; I felt more like an accountant than a fan. And now, while Wandavision looks interesting with its takes on old sitcoms, all the references to the Marvel Universe, with this very important person shooting beams at that very important person (check the spreadsheet), it has me thinking I'd rather just watch those old sitcoms. I mean, the most homework I want from a piece of entertainment is figuring out what a yellow light means.

Anonymous said...

Tavm, yep you are correct, and those you mentioned were all made before the MTM show. Someone in the comments mentioned WV playing with the credits. I think Green Acres had the characters, except Eddie Albert of course, the sane one, acknowledging that the opening credits were actually being shown on the screen. I recall Gabor's "Lisa" calling her pancakes "namecakes" because they had "written by..." and 'directed by...' on them.

MikeN said...

Ken, your conclusion was that this was all happening in Wanda's mind?
She was controlling people's minds, but everything was real. Even the kids were real but only able to exist in the area Wanda was controlling.
While there were lots of things for people who've read the comic books or watched the movies, there really was no need to have seen anything prior.

Bob Sassone said...

Friday question: Something that bugs me about sitcoms is the fake car/driving scenes. I don't mind at all how cheesy they look, but why do they usually take out the rearview mirror? Is it just for how the shot looks? And why do so many characters still LOOK in the rearview mirror to talk to someone in the back seat when there's no mirror????

Rant over.

Steve said...

Those who say you need a lot of backstory to get what's going on in Wandavision are wrong. Exposition is provided to fill us in on (or remind us of) all the salient points. Often more than once, in case we didn't catch it. If a viewer can't track it, its not because they don't have all the pieces.

I like the show, but then I like Marvel Superhero bullshit. I disagree that the villian reveal at the end came out of nowhere (I saw it coming for a long time). And if you were paying attention you know it wasn't all in her head.

It is, however, is twice as long as it needs to be (like most shows that have a single plot that runs through the full season), and the climatic fight at the end is the least interesting part and goes on too long (like most Marvel Studios stuff).

It would be nice if people writing shows (especially for streaming services) could one day get to a point where the show could be the length that the story demands instead of signing a contract for x episodes and having to pad it out to that length. Very few stories take 13 hours to tell.

Unknown said...

Neal Page's thoughts on WandaVision, "And by the way, you know, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea: have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the viewers!"

Big Murr said...

So far, I'd say the vast majority of streaming shows (Netflix, Amazon, etc, etc) are thick with unnecessary padding. Time after time, they could cut four of ten episodes and not damage the story at all.

If someone could tell me why, that would be swell. In classic TV, padding to create extra episodes would be related to having more opportunity for airing commercials. BUT, these streamers already have my money. I'm paying my monthly fee. What advantage is it to them to have me yawning through 40% extra drivel? It actually makes me hesitate to start some shows.

Anonymous said...

Mr . Levine: ”How much suspense can there really be when characters can solve problems with magic?”
Basically the same problem with the Superman character, especially when he was changed from being a plausible leaper into a flier,
so boringly powerful they had to “make up” various kryptonites.

tavm3/10/2021 : “Anonymous, having the theme song being the backstory of a show was not only used on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" but also the Paul Henning series' "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres" and also the Sherwood Schwartz shows "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch".
As for TV theme songs as backstory, nothing tops Neal Hefti’s Batman.
And also, in the final season, Adam West had even become a Hefty Batman.
{Correction “As for TV theme songs as batstory...”}

DBenson said...

Haven't seen WandaVision, being an old luddite with TCM and DVDs. I did see both seasons of Agent Carter, which arguably plays with the same idea.

Season one is in postwar New York. Sharon Carter, still mourning Steve Rogers / Captain America, is part of the agency that will become SHIELD. She deals with sexism and a possible romance, along with a sadistic villainess (out of the same institution that later produced Black Widow). The MacGuffin is a nasty weapon somebody intends to deploy on Manhattan. It was imperfect but fun, a bit more lavish than the usual TV series and mostly satisfying.

Season two moves the characters to Hollywood. Not making this up. An actress, just at the point of being discarded as "too old", comes into scary powers resulting from Tony Stark's messing with other dimensions. It starts promisingly, but kind of falls apart with soapy threads -- some of them interesting, such as Carter's budding interracial romance -- uneasily mixed into Marvel technobabble and effects. Despite the high gloss on the rest of the show, the climax plays like a cheap parody.

There was no season three. Pity, because we might have seen Sharon Carter continue her uphill fight to the top levels of SHIELD and have the full personal life implied when Steve Rogers reappeared in her old age.

stephen catron said...

Not a Marvel guy, but I enjoyed it up until the token laser battle. I like folks that take chances rather than just same old-same old. Sometimes they miss as did Community in later seasons, but sometimes it works. But at least they tried to give audiences something besides another cut and paste Marvel flick.

John said...

I've been a big MCU fan for a long time, and unfortunately it just wasn't a great entry.... although my kid (who's 21) really liked it. I think all the connections to other films and characters was a lot of fun for him, but you have to be highly invested to care or notice that stuff. As a standalone series it was a solid B-.

Joyce Melton said...

I'm an old comic book fan, I started reading superhero comics with the first appearance of the Barry Allen Flash in Showcase. Before than I had been reading Little Lulu, Uncle Scrooge and Archie.

So I got it.

There's no shame in not having got it. But there's no great honor either. :)

Covarr said...

To Anonymous, who said "Basically the same problem with the Superman character, especially when he was changed from being a plausible leaper into a flier, so boringly powerful they had to “make up” various kryptonites."

I think this was handled masterfully in Superman: The Animated Series ('90s, starring Tim Daly). Yes, he's still obscenely powerful, but he's also rather hotheaded, and that combination can be quite hazardous. He typically has to find a way to solve problems without going to far and making things worse, but he often fails (or doesn't try) and then has to deal with the consequences of that. Basically what Man of Steel tried to do, but executed competently.

Troy McClure said...

Isn't it refreshing to have a White House address by a decent, articulate, intelligent and compassionate human being talking about following science and saving lives?

Anonymous said...

Don't worry Ken, I've seen almost all of the Marvel films and your appraisal of WandaVision is dead-on. If you're going to spend 3+ episodes in fake sitcoms, they need to be at least as entertaining as real sitcoms. There's no need for Wanda's sitcoms to be bad on purpose, and given all their consultations with Dick Van Dyke and recreating '70s lighting, etc., it seems like they were going for homage over parody. But the writing comes across as condescending parody anyway. Sitcoms as written by drama writers who think sitcom writing is easy. (Maybe Dick Van Dyke also should have told them how humans install the handle of a front door, because it's inexplicably and distractingly backwards in the sitcom set of the first episode.) The latter half of the series is technobabble nonsense to explain the gimmick of the first half of the series, which wasn't worth it anyway since the sitcom episodes were so flat and lazy. The red magic vs purple magic fight was just as dull as you say, one of the most empty, boring, stakes-free fights of the Marvel universe so far. Being familiar with the Marvel universe would only have risked blinding you to the truth of your appraisal.

Anonymous said...

A Friday question
During MASH there was a thread of sexual relations running through the show.
To my knowledge, which is hardly encyclopedic, except for 1 episode involveing Margaret and Radar's rabbit the issue of unplanned pregnancies did not come up.
Considering the time it was set in this seems statistically unlikely.
Did you ever consider the issue of aboration for any of your storiess?
I know it is not a humorous issue but the delicate tauch the writers howed around so many other issues that were delicate ( waiting for one patient to die so as to use arterial transplant to save onother as a single example, or keeping someone alive so the children would not associate Xmas day with fathers death as another)
Was the subject of unplanned pregnancies and the option of abortion ever considered?

purplepenquin said...

I don't understand why someone who hasn't seen any Marvel movies at all would wanna watch "WandaVision", but I totally understand how someone who hasn't seen any Marvel movies at all would not like "WandaVision".

While some of 'em can stand alone (looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy), the films/shows are all part of the series...and ya really should watch the whole series in order to enjoy it.

It'd be akin to jumping into Downton Abby at S5E5. Even if someone was to explain what was going on, it probably ain't gonna be all that enjoyable...especially if ya don't even like British dramas to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Please let this be the beginning of the end of Hollywood shoveling comics and superheroes into the demanding, gaping maws of two generations of fat, lazy, arrested adolescents. Of course it’s not. They must be groomed for totalitarianism.

At this point, I’d sooner watch Mel Brooks’ entire catalog.

MikeN said...

Ken, this went totally over my head, but did you recognize the specific episodes of the various sitcoms being referenced? Walnut episode of Dick Van Dyke for example.
I'm told they tie into the plot of the episodes, but I have no knowledge of these sitcoms to be sure.

Issa Kelly said...

Actually you are wrong. There was an episode where Oliver sees the opening credits and drops something on his foot. Lisa also notices them and they briefly discuss them. Oliver only ever sees the credits that one time. I wonder how Ken would feel that a Millennial knew that fact since he constantly underestimates our ability to appreciate television and films past 1990.

Issa Kelly said...

Sorry I just rewatched the clip. Oliver hits his thumb with a hammer while fixing the tractor. He sees the credits appear. He notices them but doesn't fully react to them because of his hurt thumb. Lisa walks out of the house and sees the rest of the credits. She tells Oliver that there were names that appeared in front of her and he mentions he saw some names while working on the tractor. That's the only time he's used for that gag.
It's at 0:24

Betty said...

Didn't read the comics, haven't seen the movies (except the first RDJ Iron Man). But I loved WandaVision. Didn't find it overly padded at all. Thought it had a nice arc, lots of humor, and sufficient suspense that I waited eagerly for the next episode. Sure, I missed Easter Eggs that MCU fans appreciated, but they weren't necessary for for following the plot, and in the end enough was explained that even a noob like me *could* follow what happened and why.

Obviously, YMMV. But I never fail to be amused by those who say "XYZ sucks" when what's really true is "I didn't like XYZ." It's just opinions. And I enjoy reading yours, Ken, even when we don't agree.