WandaVision picked up a surprising 23 Emmy nominations, which may lead Marvel to continue developing riskier content in the MCU.
Naysayers who didn’t believe in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new spate of Disney+ shows were shocked by the announcement of the 2021 Emmy Nominees. WandaVision scored 23 nominations, making it third in total just behand The Mandalorian and The Crown. That included nominations for Best Limited Series, for leads Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn in the Best Supporting Actress category. It was a big win for the MCU, as well as a surprising critical validation from a franchise still viewed more as escapism than art.
Even more surprising is the fact that WandaVision was the vehicle to do it. It was the first new MCU property to be produced in the wake of the epic Infinity Saga, and it swung for the fences with an outlandish concept designed to establish Marvel’s cosmic side. It shouldn’t have succeeded, at least on paper. Yet not only did it set the pace for what has become an outstanding collection of MCU shows on Disney+, but it’s a serious Emmy contender as well. That bodes well for future Marvel projects committed to similarly wild concepts.
From the beginning, WandaVision announced it was not going to follow the standard superhero playbook. Avengers: Endgame concluded with Vision still dead and an un-Snapped Wanda left to grieve. Reuniting the pair may not have been too difficult in a comic book universe — it’s certainly been done before — and Marvel fans would presumably have tuned in to more straightforward adventures of the pair, closer to the likes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Instead, the show went in an absurdly different direction. It combined the crazier aspects of Wanda’s comic-book history with themes of grief and longing, and then somehow wrapped it into an homage to 60 years of network situation comedies, complete with theme songs.
In short, WandaVision was audaciously high concept. Even more, it brought in characters like Darcy Lewis and Agent Jimmy Woo as federal operatives in an X-Files-style subplot, as well as introducing well-established Marvel characters like Agatha Harkness and Monica Rambeau in surprisingly developed fashion. It was a lot to take in, even in the best of circumstances, and it asked the bulk of its audience – those less familiar with the crazier side of the comics – to take a big leap of faith. A misfire might have blunted the franchise’s momentum post-Endgame and curtailed its ambitious plans to expand onto Disney+.
Instead, WandaVision hit every one of its disparate tones perfectly, tying each of its threads with grounded and realistic human emotions, and enhancing the mystery and intrigue instead of the confusion that such a combination might have induced. Rather than being off-putting, the nostalgic nod to classic sit-coms gave non-comics fans an easy way into the story rather than shutting them out. In the process, it suddenly made a lot of Marvel ideas possible in a way that hadn’t happened before Endgame.
Most importantly, it stayed grounded in Wanda’s grief throughout. None of the odd mash-ups or Lynchian plot developments diminished her very human and relatable emotions. Bettany’s Vision, too, experienced an existential crisis and – in a climax that entailed both an evil robot duplicate and a philosophical puzzle called “the ship of Theseus” – evoked the simple dignity of a good soul trying to find his way through a moral nightmare.
Interestingly, Academy voters might have found all of that safer than The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, a more grounded series whose unflinching look at race and representation might have scared them off. It was certainly no less of an accomplishment, but it did leave WandaVision with a surprising windfall. Between that and Loki’s strong reception, the MCU may have proven that even its strangest concepts can win critical and popular approval if presented well. Don’t expect this side of Marvel to disappear anytime soon.
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