There's a trick to transporting an audience back in time, particularly in an age as cynical as this. It's not enough just to throw a bunch of nostalgia on screen. Old brands, old tech, and old characters only get you so far.
As we've seen a number of times the past few years, it takes a special person to really tie a blast from the past into entertaining content that's worthy of the future.
The gold standard for my generation has got to be Back to the Future. The 1985 film took us back 30 years when it was released and gave us a taste of the culture our parents grew up with, while keeping us rooted in the future Marty McFly was trying to get back to. Marty — who you can't really separate from Michael J. Fox — was the tether in all three BTTF films, no matter the timeline.
More recently, Stranger Things managed to pull off the 1980s a couple ways: First, with an engaging group of youngsters (who aren't nearly as young anymore), who embraced their parents' generation and made us remember what it was like to grow up in the late 1970s and '80s. Second was the addition of Winona Rider, who's as 1980s (and 1990s) as it comes. (And all the players have been backed up by sets and scenes that damn well make you wonder if Netflix somehow managed to go back in time to shoot the series.)
Those are but two examples that worked extremely well, and they lead us to WandaVision, the latest spinoff of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney+. The first two episodes already have dropped (you can read our not-quite spoiler-free WandaVision review here), and this much is clear early on: There's a lot more to this series than what you get in even the first hour. The trailers don't exactly make that a secret, and neither does the show itself. But it's important to remember.
The gist is this: Wanda Maximov and Vision are together and living in a 1950s sitcom. That's odd for any number of reasons, first and foremost because Vision was killed by Thanos pulling the Soul Stone from his forehead in Avengers: Infinity War. Marvel has confirmed that WandaVision lives in the timeline after Avengers: Endgame, so something is up.
WandaVision is an anachronism. It takes you back to shows of the 1960s like Bewitched, Patty Duke, My Three Sons and more — the staples of Nick At Nite back in the 1980s, by the way. WandaVision is purposefully stilted. If you've never had exposure to those old shows from [editor's note: gasp] 50 years ago, you're probably wondering what the hell you're watching. But, yes, that's what TV was like back then, back when folks thought ducking and covering would save you from The Bomb, and that Communism was just a hair's breadth away from taking over the world.
You know, simpler times.
Wanda and Vision keep us moving forward, though. What's all this about, and what's going to happen? Why are they acting like this? They're not tethering us to the 1950s — they're leaving us wondering how they're going to get out of it.
But there is a rock in the first couple of episodes, in the unmistakable form of Debra Jo Rupp, who plays Mrs. Hart, wife to Vision's boss, Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed).
Yes, it's Kitty Forman from That 70s Show. Maybe toned down, but just barely so. And certainly without the subversive edge lurking just under the surface. (On the other hand, Mr. Hart is no Red Forman, that's for sure.) The setting may be 20 years before Eric Forman started being a dumbass, but there's a direct line between Mrs. Hart and Kitty, and that line runs through Krupp.
In a future Ted Talk we'll discuss how WandaVision actually is the launching point for the great MCU-T7S crossover, after Mrs. Hart divorces Mr. Hart after discovering his penchant for visiting underground BDSM dungeons and leaves him for Red Forman, thus rendering the timeline complete and allowing for That 70s Show to exist at all.
But for now, just enjoy the shrill.
The first two episodes of WandaVision are now available on Disney+, with new episodes on Fridays. Disney+ is available for $6.99 a month, or for $12.99 a month as part of the Disney+ bundle that also gives you Hulu and ESPN+. Disney+ is available on all major streaming services, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV and Google TV, phones and tablets, and on web browsers.
Disney+ also is the best way to watch all the Marvel movies in order.
Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.
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