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'WandaVision': How What You See on TV Reflects How We Live

,, | May 3, 2021 | By

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary (or other) works adapted into TV or movies.

WandaVision a Disney+ series based on the Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you haven't seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Avengers: Endgame, this story will be spoiler-y regarding the movie, and the series, likely entirely unintelligible.

Now, on to Father Vince, who manages to discuss WandaVision from beginning to end without actually spoiling it ...

WandaVision mesmerized me in a visual sense. As related in the MCU film Avengers: Endgame, Thanos wiped out half of all life. Then, through the great sacrifice of Tony Stark, a k a Iron Man, it was all restored.

But, those who died prior to Thanos' destructive action stayed that way -- and one of them was the shape-shifting superhero cyborg Vision (Paul Bettany), who was romantically involved with the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen)

And, yet, in the Marvel Disney+ series WandaVision, there he is, with Wanda, in a version of a classic TV sitcom.

In the firsts two episodes, the cinematography is black-and white, and the 4x3 aspect ratio mirrors the shape of TV screens of the time. The story unfolds on a proscenium multi-camera format, where the viewer only sees the action from one side, much like a stage play. The short-lived but memorable 1950s show The Honeymooners came to mind.

The limited technical aspects of that decade perhaps reflected the tidy moral universe of the day. For the purposes of this Disney+ show, the producers replicate that visual look, I gather, to convey the two superheroes' enthusiasm for the marriage institution.

By episode three, the aspect ratio remains the same, but the color palette opens up in a big way. The show’s colorist purposely over-saturates the hues to create the brightest of any episode of the series …might this be reflective of the discarding of moral shackles that happened during the 1960s? I should think so.

It’s only the world Vision and Wanda live in, however, not the world they choose to be of. Wanda’s expecting, and Vision needs to provide for family. The episodes’ title sequence reminded me of the brief yet still widely popular Brady Bunch. For all the libertine nature of the decade, the TV show with the most staying power was a family show.

Episode five progresses in technical prowess, even if deliberately choosing to suffer in theme. Multi-cam, natural colors and wider aspect ratio fit the 1980s, so too does the episode title, “A Very Special Episode.”

In family sitcoms of '80s, producers broke the tone of various series to deliver on-the-nose moral messages, marshalling families at home through difficult issues with the heaviest of hands.

I’m grateful the 1990s moralized more subtly with themes paralleled with more clever parenting by Vision and Wanda, as their children, now tweens, grow in sophistication.

In episode six, we witness the '90s shift to the single-camera format, and with the advent of reality TV, a very shaky single camera, a la MTV.

A late episode has characters breaking the fourth wall, a common trait of the new millennium.

Then we arrive at the final episode, set in the present day, and a mise en scène (a French term for the arrangement of everything we see on stage or on camera) that we equate with modern -day television viewing.

The series' technical disciplines show us how the signs and symbols of our lives change constantly, sometimes in the most dramatic of ways.

Who would have thought that just over a year ago, we would now be living in a world with circular discs to mark social distancing, and the people outside our homes covered in masks?

What once thought was deleterious to health, that is, our kids in front of screens all day, has become the necessity of the day for many families, as kids sit in front of screens all day attending virtual school.

WandaVision shows us, too, that whatever the external veneer of our present day might be, deep down we still have to go about the work of marrying, birthing, raising up and coming of age.

Credit Disney’s own progress on this cultural journey. I once accused its theme parks of merely offering escapism and an unhealthy dose of “everything’s OK."

After a year of global pandemic, I think people realize most things are not. With this superbly crafted family series, the Mouse shows us a way through.

WandaVision is rated TV-PG for “action, adventure, comedy.”


Image: Netflix

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