| March 6, 2022
I watched the first three episodes of WandaVision that were provided to the media… with modest interest. The buzz was super-hot. The internet, as it sometimes does, so oversaturated the web with anticipation that the actual show seemed anticlimactic. Still, when the content became available, I jumped on it, not because I wanted to see the earth’s two most perfect specimens recreate the TV of my childhood, but to get the big answer.
This question has many answers, of course. Why is Marvel approaching this in this way? On screen, there was a meticulous recreation of the sets and the tone of The Dick Van Dyke Show (sans Ritchie), Bewitched (sans Endora or other family members), and in Episode 3, The Brady Bunch (sans Marcia, Marcia, Marcia or any of the other kids or Alice).
We also know by the end of Episode 1 that there are outside forces and that all the fun of going back through couples sitcom history is not the focus of this project.
If you have been online this week and swimming in the genre pool at all, you have seen lots of detailed breakdowns of the clues hidden all over the first two episodes of WandaVision. I mean, virtually every decision in these episodes seem to have subtext, whether those elements will have a specific future effect on the show or not. Once it all rolls out, no doubt there will be book-length analyses of every detail and what it meant. All very interesting, but not critically important for a small-time geek like myself.
What is important is to me is how Disney is, on the creative and financial side, investing in a more complex idea of how the future of filmed entertainment is going to work.
Kevin Feige announced that Marvel would integrate Streaming TV and Theatrical Releases in Summer 2019, so this is not really a surprise. But as it is now actually happening, the reception doesn’t suggest it is well understood outside of the Geek Universe.
The idea of this kind of integration actually started in the Star Wars Universe, though again, the idea that shows like The Clone Wars and Rebels were more than standalones with nods to the hardcore audience were never normalized.
With The Mandalorian, the Disney+ series became a sensation with the arrival of then-Baby-Yoda, but didn’t make a non-geek-audience-friendly connection to the overall story of the Star Wars Universe until the second season with the arrival of Boba Fett and then even more so in the last episode of that second season. (The series now seems placed between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.)
Feige and Company came from a different direction, first with individual movies for Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor leading to The Avengers and then, what seemed like side movies in the MCU leading to the last two Avengers movies.
But the notion of an ongoing and consistent dialogue between Disney+ TV limited series and theatrical releases is something no one has done in 60 years of mainstream television and theatrical films living in the same space.
Flip intellectual channels to the ever-problematic DC Cinematic Universe and the entire WarnerMedia strategy that was rolled out by Jason Kilar a few weeks ago. The only purpose of the move of all of 2021’s movies to HBO Max (at least, for now) is about trying to deliver subscriptions to the company’s streaming channel. There is no coordination. There is no subtext. It’s throwing raw meat into the arena and hoping the natives will grab it. And then, figure out how it all comes together.
It took DC and WarnerMedia years to catch up to the Marvel/Disney notion of side movies of different styles than the central titles/characters (which took a while for Marvel to figure out itself… but it did), but they still haven’t figured out why Marvel was really doing this. In fact, they are doing almost the opposite, building big excitement within the Snyder fanbase as he is heading out the door forever. Wonder Woman and Aquaman took a very different tack than the Snyder films. Joker, too. Suicide Squad is being (kinda) rebooted and The Batman suggests a very different tone than WB has ever done. And don’t even get me started on Shazam!
Imagine if the CW Batgirl has anything at all to do with the rest of the DC Universe of filmed entertainment… or Supergirl… or if any of this was really connected. I respect WB for hiring really interesting directors on a bunch of these movies… but they are continuing the idea of each individual film having its own space and financial value. When people talk about the industry living in its past… this is a good example.
The idea is to maximize revenues and connectivity (aka committed subscribers and ticket buyers). Every revenue possibility will be on the table for the most successful companies. Limiting options, except when appropriate, is not the future.
Netflix, of course, doesn’t have much IP that they can experiment with in this way. They are coming at it from a completely different direction, so they are a non-issue in this discussion… for the moment. I would be shocked, honestly, if they haven’t already started a Cinematic Universe Project – all launching on the app, of course – where five (or four or six) sets of limited series lead to a group universe. There is no reason for a company creating the amount of content that Netflix is creating cannot put $1 billion into a plan where this can be executed.
Disney is, naturally, best-positioned to execute a multi-year event like this. They have the theatrical strength, the streaming strength (which they are aggressively posturing internationally), the parks that will support an ongoing experience with this content, and the broadcast network to promote and benefit from this kind of thing.
And they have The Feige.
This concept is not for every piece of IP. I won’t be looking forward to the Chuck Lorre Cinematic Universe. Dick Wolf crossovers are already stretched to within an inch of my patience.
But imagine a James Bond Cinematic Universe where the issue of “Who is James Bond?” becomes less significant, as the other double-0s have their own arcs on, say, AppleTV+ or Netflix. The much-desired Idris Elba 00 Experience could be happening right now… without the pressure that sits on the feature film side of “need to have four or five movies… he’s getting too old… what is his unique place… what if it doesn’t work?” hanging over the choice. No Time To Die features a black, female double-0 in Lashana Lynch, but there could have been a backstory limited series for her already… or there could be one due right after the theatrical launch.
The keys to WandaVision, in the broadest sense, in the limited episodes currently available, are the briefest moments of the texts. In Episode 1, there is a moment of real danger when The Boss is choking. The show is on a kind of loop, with his wife saying, “Stop it” and him choking and Wanda and Vision just watching… until he hits the floor. And then Wanda lets Vision save him. Things reset and the couple leaves as though nothing had happened.
Episode 2 starts with a never-explained series of explosions outside, offers sex that while subtle is still way beyond Bewitched, breaks into color with what seems like a S.W.O.R.D. logo on a toy helicopter, matching the symbol seen by whoever is watching “the show” at the end of both episodes. The couple do a neighborhood talent show that is “all for the children.” And just as Wanda and Vision say those words, boom, she is showing as pregnant for the first time. “Is this really happening?” “Yes, my love, it’s really happening.” Another bang outside. It’s The Beekeeper. (See many geeks for a guess at who it is and why, if you like.) But once again, at the moment of confrontation, Wanda not only resets… this time, she rewinds the show and avoids the conflict. This is the second offer of color, as Vision’s head turns to its natural red color and the whole show with it (as Bewitched changed in its third season).
So we know that Wanda is in control of “the show” and we know she is avoiding conflict and trying to maintain the false reality. We don’t know why or how or who else is actively involved.
For those who feel like Episodes 1 and 2 were too slow, there is a ton of action coming in episode 3… but I won’t spoil that here. There are other sitcoms gleaned from promotional content… and there are actors listed in the credits who don’t appear through the first 3 episodes. All very interesting and fun.
But I am most interested in the open-minded thinking about how TV and films can work together, interlaced. The idea that content, once it goes to streaming, is forever and that a very expensive 9-episode limited series is worth the expense, well beyond the simple idea of maintaining the subscription base.
It is my belief that the best content leads the audience, as opposed to existing to satisfy the audience. It’s like finding something you LOVE at a restaurant. All the structures involved with going to a restaurant are the same. But a dish, familiar or not, is served and something about it is better than most of the things you have ever eaten. And it sticks with you. Some restaurants are well-liked because of the energy of the space or something that clicks that isn’t about the unique pleasure of the food. Same with movies and TV. Sometimes, we crave familiarity and the IP world satisfies that.
What is starting with WandaVision is a potential new “forever” paradigm in entertainment. Disney and Feige and everyone involved are ahead of a curve. They are creating something that is brand new, even if the formats they are using involve nostalgia. (Think of the first 20 times you heard old hits sampled into new music.)
That is why I intend to watch WandaVision closely over the next couple months. It is an entertainment and will work for audiences as such. But it seems to be something bigger than that. And those moments are even more precious to those of us trying to read the future of this industry.
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