“WandaVision” Recreates “Malcolm in the Middle” for Episode 6
Spoilers ahead for WandaVision episodes 1 through 6
While an ordinary sitcom would have used this week to give us a Valentine's Day episode, WandaVision exists in a world (inside of a world, inside of a world) of its own.
Anyone following the series is well aware of the show's conceit: each episode finds Marvel characters Wanda Maximoff and The Vision living in a television sitcom "reality," deliberately imitating classic American sitcoms from the 1950s to the present.
Beginning with an homage to I Love Lucy (1951-1957) in the series premiere, each new entry jumps approximately one decade in television history. Episode 5 evoked famous '80s sitcoms like Family Ties and Full House*, leading many viewers to believe we'd be seated squarely in the '90s this week. However, "All-New Halloween Spooktacular!" (EP6) skips right to the year 2000 with obvious and direct inspiration from Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006).
*Full House aired from 1987 to 1995, possibly making Ep 5 an amalgamation of late '80s to mid '90s style television, meaning Ep 6 maintains the decade per episode pattern.
As disappointed as I am that we missed out on WandaVision's twist on Friends and Seinfeld, the use of Malcolm in the Middle is a delightfully unexpected yet oddly appropriate choice for this stage of the series.
Since the introduction of Wanda and Vision's children, Billy and Tommy, in Ep. 3, much of the plot has focused on kids' "coming of age." Fans familiar with the comics know that Billy and Tommy will eventually become "Wiccan" and "Speed" of the Young Avengers. Therefore, with only three episodes left in the series, the show seems to be fast tracking the kids' trajectory to superhero status.
The biggest '90s sitcoms tended to follow single adults "making it in the big city," making them ill-fitting source material for a show (within a show) that needs to follow a family with young male children in the suburbs. Add to mix that Pietro, aka "Quicksilver," Wanda's twin brother (portrayed in Wandavision by Evan Peters), showed up at the end of Ep. 5 as a standin for a third, much older and cooler son. What show could possibly match that template?
Enter Malcolm in the Middle. The series followed Malcolm Wilkerson (Frankie Muniz), a boy genius in a dysfunctional family of four brothers and his two parents (Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston). Anyone familiar with Malcolm in the Middle can see the obvious parallels between the show's main characters and those of WandaVision. Wanda is Lois, the stubborn helicopter mom with a serious temper. Vision is Hal, the dorky, loving, and gullible father. Pietro is Francis, the eldest son, who is constantly getting into trouble and frequently leaves for long stretches of time (wink, wink). And Billy and Tommy serve as a combination of the three younger brothers: Dewey, Reese, and of course, Malcolm.
I was 10 years old when Malcolm in the Middle premiered, making me almost the perfect age to relate to Malcolm, who was age 12 in the first season. And I remember it well. While "All-New Halloween Spooktacular!" bears little resemblance to Malcolm in the Middle's "Halloween Approximately," the episode nails the 'Malcolm' intro (from distorted visuals to cheesy pop punk theme music) and 4th wall-breaking character asides.
Side note: it would have been kind of awesome if the "big surprise" Paul Bettany keeps hinting at was a cameo from Bryan Cranston as Hal. Bizarre for sure, but so was Evan Peters joining the cast as alternate-dimension Quicksilver, a character Peters has already played outside of the MCU, in FOX's X-Men film franchise.
Unfortunately for Billy and Tommy, this episode's parallels to Malcolm in the Middle extend further than visual gags and music cues. Just as Malcolm Wilkerson was a gifted child caught in the perpetual drama and messes caused by his family, Billy and Tommy barely get to explore their new powers before being sucked into the middle of their parents' marital issues. That's an oversimplification of events, sure, but Wanda's rage and ability to keep people trapped in her own pocket reality doesn't seem entirely unlike Lois + super powers.
The episode wraps with Wanda vastly expanding the boundaries of Westview, the fictional New Jersey town that she has "hexed." Vision — who had nearly dissolved after trying to leave the "Westview anomaly" — was reabsorbed into Wanda's bubble, along with most of the S.W.O.R.D. military compound.
While it remains unclear how much of the show's events have been caused by Wanda alone, her Westview expansion in this episode was deliberate, willful, and debatably hostile. With rumors that Benedict Cumberbatch will make an appearance in the series as Dr. Strange, it's conceivable that folks outside the "hex" might be calling in fellow Avengers for backup.