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It’s All Wanda: What’s Next for TV After Marvel’s Genre-Bending Hit?

If there’s one truth about the entertainment world, it’s this: if something is a hit, there’s going to be more of that type of thing. Like LOST? Here are dozens of other TV shows with massive casts and never-ending mysteries. Enjoy Breaking Bad? Here’s a few more “good” characters going down a very dangerous road. And that trend looks like it’s going to continue with Disney+’s genre-bending Marvel TV show, WandaVision.

On the surface, the series seems almost entirely irreproducible. It’s set in the insanely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), something that various production companies have tried — and failed — to ape (RIP, Dark Universe). It has a nearly unlimited budget to reproduce multiple decades of sitcoms as well as the action heroics of a superhero movie. And more than anything, the plot, which finds Avengers Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) trapped in a weird, sitcom world doesn’t seem ready made to be copied and pasted onto other networks.

But the fact of it is, that’s seemingly exactly what’s going to happen. For the past few weeks, as they usually do, the networks and streamers have been previewing their upcoming slate of shows as part of the Television Critics Association’s Winter press tour. And though the shows have run the gamut from quirky reality to serious drama, a mini-trend has emerged where series down the pike are rather simply explained as: “Like WandaVision, but with…”

Two upcoming series in particular jump out from this trend, though in both cases it’s more coincidence that they may ride the WandaVision wave than purposeful strategizing. The first, from AMC, is titled Kevin Can F**k Himself, and finds Schitt’s Creek star Annie Murphy playing a typical sitcom wife who goes on a cocaine bender and decides to kill her overbearing husband. The second is Apple TV+’s Schmigadoon! which traps Cecily Strong and Keegan Michael-Key’s sparring couple in a town right out of a classic ’40s or ’50s musical.

In both cases, the series have been in development for a long time, and won’t debut for a while. Kevin Can F**k Himself will premiere on the vague date of “Summer,” while Schmigadoon! is currently undated. Still, even with the short shelf-life of cultural conversation, it’s impossible to think that WandaVision won’t bubble up like a witch’s cauldron when discussing the two series.

paul bettany as vision and elizabeth olsen as wanda on wandavision
Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff on Disney+’s WandaVisionPhoto: Disney+

Part of that is because WandaVision isn’t just a hit show; it’s a phenomenon. Like most streamers, Disney+ doesn’t share exact viewing numbers for its series. But beyond the anecdotal “all my friends are talking about it,” Forbes recently noted that Parrot Analytics (which measures online conversation) said it was the “number one series worldwide” as of Episode 5. And Nielsen, which runs about a month behind in reporting, ranked it in its streaming Top 10 for the first two weeks of release.

Point being: WandaVision is a hit, and seems to be a lasting one at that (at the current time it’s only planned as a limited series). So whenever new series debut with a similar premise, they’ll inevitably draw comparisons.

In the case of the aforementioned shows, that’s probably to their advantage. Kevin Can F**k Himself jumps between a typical three-camera sitcom and a gritty drama, and is best described as “WandaVision, but set in the AMC-verse instead of the MCU.” Like on innumerable sitcoms before, Murphy is the put-upon wife who only gets to react to her husband’s (Eric Peterson) shenanigans — previous press has been careful to note it is not based on Kevin James’ sitcoms, but it’s hard to argue those weren’t the initial inspiration — and based on footage shown is either suffering a psychotic break, or really blipping between sitcom world and the “real” world, just like Wanda on Disney+’s show.

annie murphy on kevin can f**k himself
Annie Murphy as Sheila on AMC’s Kevin Can F**k HimselfPhoto: AMC

In fact, one of the initial aspects of the series viewers grabbed on to in the first few episodes were the moments when the sitcom world of WandaVision changed filming style and aspect ratio to give something realistic and more horrifying. At the TCA panel for Kevin Can F**k Himself, show creator Valerie Armstrong implied a similar approach, noting that while the pilot is about 50/50 sitcom and “real” world, as the show continues, “we play with it more,” to the point that scenes will blend from sitcom to real seamlessly. Time will tell whether Kevin will be as successful at employing this mixed media technique as WandaVision, but it will difficult to watch one without thinking of the other.

Schmigadoon!, on the other hand, captures the surreality of WandaVision, but instead focuses on old musicals. Featuring a murderers’ row of Broadway trained performers including Strong and Key as well as Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada, Schmigadoon! might have the cheery, sunny nature of Westview from WandaVision down, but it’s more likely the couple dynamic — and being trapped — are the comparison points here.

“I had the idea for this over 20 years ago, but I had no idea what it should be,” EP Cinco Paul said at the series’ TCA panel. “The big key was it had always been two guys stumbling upon a musical, and then when I said, ‘Let’s make it a couple, and they’re stuck there until they can find true love,’ that’s when it really clicked for me.”

Like in WandaVisionSchmigadoon! focuses on a couple slowly realizing they aren’t quite as aligned as they may have thought, thanks to the weirdness of the town they’re trapped in. And though it’s fair to point out that ’50s sitcoms and ’50s musicals are two different things, it’s splitting hairs, particularly for the majority of the viewing audience who will probably jam them together as “old stuff” in their minds. Plus, not for nothing, but a town full of residents who seem blissfully unaware of what’s happening around them in the modern world? Someone get Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) on the phone, ASAP.

cecily strong and keegan michael key on schmigadoon
Cecily Strong as Melissa and Keegan-Michael Key as Josh on Apple TV+’s Schmigadoon!Photo: Apple TV+

It’s worth mentioning, again, that both of these ideas have been gestating for a long time. AMC first announced EP Rashida Jones was developing Kevin Can F**k Himself back on November 2, 2018. And according to Armstrong, the concept has been in development even longer.

“I wrote it three and a half years ago and I’ve been waiting for it to get less relevant, and it just doesn’t,” Armstrong noted during the show’s TCA panel. “I think stories about women being overlooked are sadly going to be relevant for a while, and it’s going to connect deeply with people for a long time.”

Schmigadoon! was first teased — without the name — back in January, 2020, but as mentioned above, the idea had been gestating in various forms for nearly 20 years. Is it possible these were a case of parallel development, or a game of telephone through Hollywood? Marvel first started publicly discussing creating Disney+ series back in 2018, with a Wanda/Vision series teased in October of that same year. More likely, though, these series all coming out (presumably) in 2021 is happenstance.

This is far from the first time someone has thought of mixing a self-reflexive look at sitcoms with other genres. There’s a whole page of TV Tropes dedicated to the “Trapped in TV Land” trope that stretches as far back as 1989, and includes shows like SupernaturalLegends of Tomorrow, and the feature film Pleasantville, which has been referenced repeatedly in regards to WandaVision. More recently, as noted by Charles Pulliam-Moore over at io9, Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina attempted a similar deconstruction of sitcom formats on its second to last episode, which began streaming on December 31, 2020 — two weeks before WandaVision debuted. In the episode, Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) ended up trapped in dark sitcom version of her own life straight out of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even included cameos from the original Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda, Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick, as well as talking puppet version of Salem the Cat.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA (L to R) BETH BRODERICK as ZELDA and CAROLINE RHEA as HILDA in episode 215 of CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2src2src
Caroline Rhea as Hilda and Beth Broderick as Zelda on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of SabrinaPhoto: Courtesy of Netflix

So yes, WandaVision is not the first time someone has attempted this sort of thing. But its impact will still be felt going forward, leading to the the bigger question of “what’s next?” Beyond Kevin Can F**k Himself and Schmigadoon!, studios are almost assuredly scrambling to figure out “our WandaVision” right now. If history has told us anything, these clones will A) not be nearly as successful, and B) pull out entirely the wrong parts of what people liked about the original series. With LOST, the appeal wasn’t large casts and mysteries, it was the connection the characters felt between each other as they struggled to survive. With Breaking Bad, it wasn’t just a school teacher selling meth, it was Bryan Cranston’s performance and the visual language of Albuquerque created by Vince Gilligan and his crew. Same with WandaVision, which is working because of the sitcom weirdness and MCU Easter eggs; but is keeping fans coming beck because they want to see what happens with Wanda, Vision, and even the folks on the outside of Wanda’s Hex, Monica (Teyonah Parris), Jimmy and Darcy (Kat Dennings). As Armstrong noted for Kevin Can F**k Himself, and Paul did for Schmigadoon!, the key to the shows aren’t the concepts; it’s the characters, first, and their relatability to the audience.

For Disney+ and Marvel, at least, they already have several “the next WandaVision” series lined up based on that latter factor: the characters of the MCU. First up is Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which premieres a mere two weeks after WandaVision wraps, on March 19. While on the surface the two series couldn’t seem more dissimilar — one is a genre-bending puzzle box, the other looks to be a straightforward buddy action movie — the same core is there, which is the heroes of the MCU we know and love. There’s also a glimmer that, just how WandaVision is not so sneakily about how we deal with tragedy and loss, Falcon and Winter Soldier, in between explosions, may be digging into how we talk about race. And after that, Disney+ has innumerable other series to keep the machine chugging along, all featuring beloved MCU characters while introducing new ones to keep the audience enraptured for years to come.

So will these other series like Kevin Can F**k Himself and Schmigadoon! thrive with the comparisons, or be dragged down? And what will other production companies come up with to grab a little of that WandaVision fever? As they say at end of every episode of the Disney+ series: Please stand by.

Where to watch WandaVision

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