As subsequent episodes roll out, the narrative becomes a little clearer: Wanda and Vision are married and living in an as-yet-unexplained sitcom-perfect reality, slowly ticking through time, beginning with the 1950s, but moving quickly into the 1960s with touches of Bewitched, and the 1970s with touches of The Brady Bunch. As the series progresses, the comedies of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s seem like inevitable destinations.
Not yet clear is how Vision is there – in the MCU he died during the events of the Infinity War films – but there is an increasingly menacing undertone to the narrative which suggests that nothing is what it seems; a kind of brilliant, subcutaneous horror that has echoes of Dark Shadows, The Stepford Wives and The Truman Show.
The series alternately nods to the tonal and character notes of the shows it is emulating – a Kitty Karry-All doll, for example, has an uncredited guest appearance in the episode styled on The Brady Bunch – as well as the MCU itself, with, for example, a 1950s-era commercial for the Stark Industries Toastmate 2000. (Stark Industries is the company owned by Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man.)
Initially you could be forgiven for thinking the writer’s room dropped acid while watching late-night re-runs of old sitcoms, and the result is a show that is both a pastiche of everything you’ve ever seen, and at the same time not quite like anything you’ve seen. It does beg you to give it the benefit of the doubt, at least initially, but go with it, because there is something magical about the dance.
Olsen and Bettany are not pitch perfect as a TV sitcom couple, but that’s OK. As each layer of the veneer seems to erode, and they find their footing, their magnificent chemistry sparkles, particularly when Vision’s more familiar mechanised silver and red visage is replaced with Bettany’s own. Olsen and Bettany lean into the material and have great fun playing with the elasticity of it.
The darker emerging narrative is also intriguing, brilliantly teased by unexpected moments and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashes that seem to break the spell, whether it is the arrival of a shadowy figure in the postcard-perfect white picket fence street where the couple live, or jigsaw pieces of the bigger story that land in the middle of moments like dialogue bombs.
Written by Jac Schaeffer and directed by Matt Shakman, this is something of a television hand trick. The sitcom tropes that frame the narrative are a little bit of visual legerdemain. And yet the beautiful cinematography by Jess Hall and Christophe Beck’s soundscape knit it into a strange escapist fantasy that is unexpectedly delightful. One moment you’re thinking, what am I watching? And the next, you’re hooked.
Disney+, on demand