How 'WandaVision' Borrows From Classic Sitcoms to Create Its World
The Disney+ pays homage to series like 'The Brady Bunch,' 'Bewitched,' and 'I Love Lucy.'
In the third episode of WandaVision, you might notice a familiar-looking horse statue in the latest version of the suburban home occupied by Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, and her android husband Vision. For anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of sitcoms, this week's set very clearly takes its inspiration from the abode in The Brady Bunch, down to the iconic staircase Carol and Mike's kids would run down. The horse is also an homage to the Brady clan.
WandaVision's production designer Mark Worthington says he did not insist on having that horse there, but when his decorator found one that resembled the Bradys', it had to go in. It was not a conscious "easter egg," Worthington explains, but it was "serendipity."
Another happy coincidence? The Brady horse statue was from a studio prop house and had popped up before in Bewitched, another show from which WandaVision takes major cues. (Before then, it was in the witch-themed film Bell, Book and Candle, adding another layer of magic to it.)
For as much as the first episodes of WandaVision have been a boon for content-deprived Marvel obsessives searching for clues that connect it to the overarching narrative, the show has also proven delightful as a classic sitcom pastiche. For those of us who grew up on Nick @ Nite and TV Land, the joy of WandaVision is noticing where it nods to the TV of yore. And in no place is that more evident than in the ever-evolving set.
So far, each installment has taken inspiration from a different era. The premiere, which starts off with Vision consciously not tripping over an ottoman, is primarily an ode to The Dick Van Dyke Show, though Worthington notes there are elements of The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, and I Love Lucy in its design as well. The second episode moves into the mid-to-late 1960s with Bewitched. At the beginning of the half hour, Wanda and Vision are in twin beds like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, but they move them together like the witch Samantha and her human husband Darrin. Now, as Wanda is experiencing a surprise (and fast-moving pregnancy), we're up to the 1970s and The Brady Bunch.
For Worthington, the goal was not to precisely mimic the old sets, even though Wanda and Vision's kitchen in the opening episode looks almost exactly like Rob and Laura's in Dick Van Dyke. "It's not slavish replication, it's using these ideas that are embedded in everybody's psyche one way or another to express this story idea," he says.
At this point in the series, it's not clear what exactly is happening. Is this in Wanda's mind? Is it a simulation of some sort? But regardless of where the plot is actually going, Worthington and director Matt Shakman are attempting to use the audience's cultural memory of vintage programming to tell their story about these superheroes trapped in some kind of existential maze. "There is an interplay between the environments they are in and who they are at that moment and what they need and how that's developing," Worthington says. "They are not decorative—they are pretty—but they are integrated in terms of expressing character, where they are and what that means and it becomes clearer as time goes on."
Though the house evolves from episode to episode, it also maintains its general structure in key ways. The front door is always prominent—perfect for bits involving Wanda and Vision's nosy neighbor Agnes (played with glee by Kathryn Hahn).
By Episode 3, the house actually starts to come alive as Wanda experiences the pains of labor. Appliances whir, paintings start to spin, and water pours from the ceiling. As with many of the special effects in these early episodes, the goal was to make them happen as practically as possible, using the wire gags that Bewitched relied on. When visited by her friend Geraldine—who we know to be Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris)—Wanda attempts to hide her bump using a fruit bowl, a wink to the creative ways sitcoms have hidden actors' pregnancies in the past. The one element of Wanda's birth sequence that had to be CGI was a stork that mysteriously appears. (According to Worthington, there were discussions about having a real stork on set, but it ended up being too complicated.)
Without understanding precisely what it is, it's clear that the plot of WandaVision has to do with something going on in Wanda's mind, and while the aesthetics are a fun journey through television history, they are also evoking a very specific kind of American nostalgia. Though it might not be worth scouring the sets for "easter eggs," they are a consistent reminder of the comforts of old TV and how it is so easy to slip into a marathon of reruns wherein you might not even notice how strange the Bradys' horse statue really is.
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