WandaVision: The Sitcom Influences of Episode 6
WandaVision jumps right into the early 2000s in episode 6 to pay homage to the fourth wall-breaking Malcolm in the Middle.
WandaVision episode 6 “All-New Halloween Spooktacular!” finds Wanda Maximoff accelerating the situation in Westview quite a bit. The children are all allowed out of their homes for a Halloween celebration and the very boundaries of the town are expanded.
Fittingly for such an episode, the show’s sitcom homages experience quite a bump as well. After honoring Family Ties, Full House, and other ‘80s and early ‘90s TV comedies in episode 5, this installment speeds ahead to the more experimental 2000s. Fox’s superb Malcolm in the Middle is in the driver’s seat this time and both Tommy and Billy are our precocious protagonists.
Here are the many ways in which WandaVision episode 6 honors sitcom history.
Malcolm in the Middle
“Yes, no, maybe, I don’t know. Can you repeat the question?” That opening lyric from They Might Be Giants’ song “Boss of Me” was many early 2000s TV viewers heads up that they were about to be treated to an episode of one of the decades very best sitcoms: Malcolm in the Middle.
And make no mistake, Malcolm in the Middle is one of the new millennium’s best TV comedies. This series from Linwood Boomer premiered in 2000 on Fox. Alongside Roseanne (which wrapped in ‘97), it was one of the few sitcoms of its era to accurately depict a working class family…like really working class. Husband Hal (none other than Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston) would go to work at an anonymous job while wife Lois (a simply perfect Jane Kaczmarek) would stay home raising three horrible boys: Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey. Middle child Malcom (Frankie Muniz) just happened to be a genius and our helpful narrator, and would frequently break the fourth wall by turning to speak to the camera.
Much of WandaVision episode 6 is lifted directly from Malcolm. The opening credits, featuring a new alt rock theme song from the Lopez family, is highly reminiscent of Malcolm in the Middle’s energetic opener. In fact, the font used for the “actors’” names appears to be identical. Check it out below:
Additionally, Tommy and Billy’s penchant for turning to the camera to offer up added exposition is very much in keeping with Malcolm’s fourth wall-breaking powers. The house that Wanda, Vision, Billy, Tommy, and Uncle Pietro reside also resembles that of Malcolm’s family (which never got a last name) quite closely.
When the first trailer for WandaVision was released, we theorized that this era would be paying homage to Roseanne. Now it would appear that WandaVision is influenced by Roseanne only inasmuch as Malcolm in the Middle was. This episode may be the most direct comparison to a classic sitcom since the show’s first installment mimicked The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Midway through episode 6, Wanda and her brother Pietro have a discussion. Before Pietro compliments Wanda’s world-building abilities, he reveals that he has a shockingly thorough understanding of his role in all this.
“I’m just trying to do my part, K? Come to town unexpectedly, create tension with the brother-in-law, stir up trouble with the rugrats, and ultimately give you grief. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Pietro knows that he’s here not only to ease Wanda’s grief from a truly traumatic past few weeks (remember she went away in the Snap, so Vision and Pietro’s deaths are particularly fresh) but also that he knows exactly how to do so within the context of a sitcom archetype. It’s now more clear than ever that the Maximoff siblings watched a lot of American TV in their native Sokovia. Pietro (or more likely Wanda, since Pietro doesn’t technically exist) has become the undead embodiment of a popular kind of TV character: the wacky brother or brother-in-law.
Truthfully, there are many kinds of sibling archetypes within the TV sitcom world. What Wanda and Pietro seem to be experiencing is a kind of Goofus and Gallant-style dynamic, where one sibling is foolish and the other is responsible. Pietro has wacky hair, a strangely personable East Coast accent, and sets a terrible example for his nephews by sleeping in until 4 p.m. The aforementioned Malcolm in the Middle is positively filled with wacky brothers. Though Malcolm is a genius, his brothers Francis, Reese, and Dewey are all different manners of dysfunctional. Sleeping until 4 p.m. but still being the hero to one’s younger siblings or nephews is very much a Francis move.
The Pietro of Westview does not appear to be anything like the actual Pietro Maximoff of the MCU. Granted, our time with the former Quicksilver was brief, but when we saw him last, he was a dutiful, responsible brother intent on keeping his sister safe at all costs. He was also kind of grim, which is the sort of thing that’s bound to happen when you lose your parents and then spend your childhood being experimented on by HYDRA.
Still, in Wanda’s perfect sitcom world it’s helpful to put Pietro in a recognizable sitcom role like everyone else in town.
As episode 6’s name so helpfully suggests, this is WandaVision’s Halloween special, or “Spooktacular!” For the show this means getting to dress Wanda, Vision, and Quicksilver in the comic-appropriate versions of their costume. While those Easter eggs is appreciated, the nature of this episode is another Easter egg entirely for fans of TV sitcoms.
While television is a 24/7 proposition now, traditionally the TV season began in the fall and concluded before the summer. This means that the early episodes of any sitcom will line up with Halloween on October 31. As such, TV sitcom history is awash in very special Halloween episodes.
Shows like Boys Meet World, Friends, Cheers, and many more have aired beloved Halloween episodes. Brooklyn Nine-Nine in particular has made a habit of airing increasingly elaborate “Halloween Heist” episodes each year. But even beyond just the confines of a traditional episode, television is well-known for broadcasting Halloween “specials.” Some of these include “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Mockingbird Lane, and even “The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special.”
Spooky season is a dramatically rich time of the year for sitcoms to draw from. And of course WandaVision would put it to good use in an episode where everything gets far spookier.