Kunis and Close Spend ‘Four Good Days’ Fighting for Sobriety

Glenn Close and Mila Kunis play characters inspired by a real-life mother and daughter in “Four Good Days.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eli Saslow co-wrote the screenplay with director Rodrigo Garcia, who reunites for the fourth time with lead actress Close in this tense, tightly-structured drama about a longtime heroin addict and a determined but exhausted mother’s fight to keep her clean.

Based on Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article, “Four Good Days” begins its sharp narrative with a sharp knock. Molly (Kunis) has returned to her mother’s house after what we later learn is an 18-month bender. She is ready to get sober, she swears, but it’s nothing Deb (Close) hasn’t heard before. The audience grows familiar with their decade-long plight on the drive to the detox center, where they repeat a familiar cycle of lies, frustration and pain. Until a doctor offers the desperate pair a new lifeline – a treatment that could finally help Molly’s addiction after years of self-destruction. 

All she has to do is stay clean for four days. If drugs are in her system when she receives the shot, she could die.

Saslow and Garcia don’t tell us about Molly and Deb’s shared history – they show us, with real conversations that slowly and organically reveal what they’ve been through. They give us only part of the picture, not unlike the unfinished jigsaw puzzle in Deb’s garage that Molly left 18 months ago, before disappearing again. 

Rodrigo and Saslow give the film structure, but the actors give it substance. Close and Kunis feel not only like a real mother and daughter, but like they’ve truly been through this saga before – and they do justice to real-life article subjects Libby Alexander and Amanda Wendler. This is clearly not a new struggle, but it could be a new chance at something better if they get through it together. 

That doesn’t mean “Four Good Days” is saccharine or falsely hopeful – their struggles are clear without being gory and gruesome. We see the effect on not just Molly’s health in her body and appearance, but in her life decisions as we learn more about her past and what her life could have been if drugs hadn’t interfered. But it’s the emotional trauma played out with her mother that shows viewers what this kind of situation does to families. Not in an overarching intrapersonal sense, but with each painful day. It is exhausting, and perfectly executed. It will make you think about this affliction in a new way.

It also offers an empathetic take on the addict’s perspective – the psychology of someone who doesn’t want to be this way, rather than just the other side of it – statistics, science, therapies. Kunis is perfect at portraying a woman whose true personality is slowly coming through the haze of substance abuse, withdrawal and the desperate desire to stay sober.

Close said she took the role because she wanted to put a face to a statistic. While recent offerings like “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” have tackled true stories of drug abuse and the emotionally raw aspects of the opioid epidemic, “Four Good Days” feels the most real of any of them. While the energy runs low and grating, the stakes feel incredibly high because of the four-day time frame. We wonder if Molly is going to get through it, and how Deb will cope if she can’t. It is the perfect boiling-down of an overwhelming, nationwide problem into two people, sitting in a dingy garage, waiting. 

Waiting to see how the rest of their lives will be, if they can make it through four good days. 

“Four Good Days” opens in theaters April 30.

Photos courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
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Familiar Faces Anchor Offbeat ‘Eat Wheaties!’

Tony Hale anchors the cast of Eat Wheaties!, an offbeat new comedy from Scott Abramovitch. Based on Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters, Hale plays an overeager marketing manager who attempts to prove he knew the actress Elizabeth Banks in college.

While this premise drives the plot, it’s the singular bits and oddball cast of characters who bring this funny farce to life. The cast is stacked with familiar faces from your favorite television comedies: character actors from Schitt’s Creek, New Girl, Mom, Barry, Orange is the New Black and Scrubs are just a few who populate the earnest world of Sid Straw, a nice if overly enthusiastic guy who simply tries too hard to fit in.

Hale’s endearingly strange lead character gives embarrassing unprompted speeches at family events and writes accidentally-public letters to Banks on Facebook for the world to see. His cringe-inducing jokes and attempts to bond with co-workers and first dates are hilariously awkward, but when he tries to get in touch with Banks ahead of their college reunion, a few misunderstandings spiral into a viral narrative he can’t work his way out of. 

Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films

The silliness of the story is surprisingly grounded in human emotion, which makes us root for Sid despite his quirks. The supporting cast is especially funny in their reactions to him – often annoyed, mostly baffled, actors like Lamorne Morris, Paul Walter Hauser, Sarah Goldberg and David Walton are great at playing it straight to Sid’s eccentricities. Though his humor is that signature subtlety Hale brought to Veep and Arrested Development, this character is entirely new – and the stigma surrounding him somehow manages to be equally funny and heartbreaking.

Eat Wheaties! often feels like a string of recurring character sketches strung together – and that’s a good thing. Sid feels like someone we’ve known for a very long time, stuck in several situations that put him out of his element. One bit where his name is misspelled to “Sad Striw” (“who would name their kid ‘Sad?’) just shows how there is still humor to be found in characters who feel stuck or unseen. In a time when it feels like well-intentioned humor is hard to come by, especially on social media where this story begins, Abramovitch doesn’t overanalyze his protagonist – he makes us laugh instead.

Peppered with funny references (“Jesse James robbed Sandra Bullock of five years of her life”), Eat Wheaties! is a sweet and lighthearted film as offbeat and sincere as its main character. With the resurgence of well-meaning doofs in modern comedy thanks to the success of Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso (though maybe it dates back as far as The Office), a character like Sid Straw is worth rooting for. And he just might cause us to look a little closer at the people in our own lives who might have more to offer than it seems on the surface – that’s a worthy 90 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Screen Media Films
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In Era of Isolation, ‘Together Together’ Says We’re Not Alone

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison play a single expectant father and his pregnant surrogate in “Together Together,” a Bleecker Street film that hits theaters April 23. Writer-director Nicole Beckwith’s refreshingly real feature tackles the stigma of singlehood – and the unlikely places we find family.

App developer Matt (Helms) meets Anna (Harrison) while interviewing potential candidates to carry his child. It is immediately clear that Matt is unique, telling the rarely-depicted story of a single dad who chooses parenthood, rather than having it thrust upon him by tragic or comic circumstances.

Their awkward and unconventional exchanges begin from the opening scene, and never really waiver throughout nine months and 90 minutes.

Beckwith covers the ground of exposition effortlessly, allowing the audience to simply watch an unlikely friendship unfold organically – if somewhat awkwardly, considering the circumstances. As we travel with these two people throughout the pregnancy, their reliance on each other evolves into a solid and surprising friendship. But as Anna’s very funny coffee shop co-worker Jules (Julio Torres) expresses, their relationship has an end date, which leads both of them to question what this moment in time means – and whether it’s even ethical.

Both actors have experience in the art of dry comedy: Helms on “The Office” and Harrison in two seasons of Hulu’s “Shrill.” Their onscreen friendship never feels artificial or saccharine, thanks to quippy, smart dialogue that feels authentic.

But it’s more than their chemistry and delivery that make “Together Together” special – it’s the simple fact that they sound like real people having real conversations, about life, career, dating and the choices that have defined who they are. The real love that grows between them is refreshingly free of melodrama, and their genuine characters are never sacrificed for plot.

In addition to its uniquely platonic protagonists, “Together Together” is better than most expectant-parent films because it focuses more on the people than the process of pregnancy. It portrays two people of different generations and genders, who refuse to be bogged down by the stigma of singlehood at the various stages of their lives. While Anna’s family shut her out in her teen years and she seeks the chance to start fresh, Matt’s friends and family question his decision to pursue single fatherhood. What others see as “being alone,” they see as the path that makes sense to them. And God, is it good to see that portrayed onscreen in a new way.

Matt’s expression of confidence feels like a beacon to Anna, and the audience: “It’s weird to be perceived as hopeless in this moment, when I’m actually incredibly hopeful.” 

Beckwith’s second theatrical feature film brings Matt’s hope and Anna’s humor to people who might have to take an unconventional route to finding family – biological or otherwise.

“Together Together” will be available to watch on VOD and digital platforms May 11.

Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker Street
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Cumberbatch, Brosnahan Star In New Spy Drama ‘The Courier’

Opening March 19 in select theaters, “The Courier” brings a whole new meaning to the term “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Starring Emmy winners Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan, the Cold War drama based on true events screened a lifetime ago at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Then dubbed “Ironbark,” the film tells the story of how an ordinary businessman assisted MI6 in obtaining intelligence about the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.

Russian informant Oleg Penkovsky (codename Ironbark, played by Merab Ninidze) has been filtering information from the Kremlin to UK and US intelligence officials through the hands of a seemingly innocent British businessman, Greyville Wynne (Cumberbatch). The events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis frame the narrative for the film, written by Tom O’Conner and directed by Dominic Cooke. With impressive imagery that makes it more artful than most spy genre films, “The Courier” tells an unbelievable, compelling true story with heartbreaking intensity.

Cumberbatch tells Wynne’s little-known story in “The Courier.” (Liam Daniel/Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Cumberbatch brings the same signature humanity he exudes in other real-life roles, but Wynne is altogether unique from his previous Oscar-nominated portrayal of code-breaker Alan Turing, or the bullheaded inventor Thomas Edison. But his raw depiction of internal conflict is the same, which makes the audience care deeply what happens to him, despite lulls in the plot.

Highland Park native Brosnahan is steady as Emily Donovan, a determined U.S. diplomat who arranges Wynne’s meetings with Ironbark. The men’s work together leads to an unexpected friendship that propels the story forward, to surprising and sometimes painful-to-watch places.

Merab Ninidze co-stars as Ironbark. (Liam Daniel/Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

In a pandemic era that feels like its own form of wartime, with sides and death and sacrifice, “The Courier” also has the benefit of feeling relevant. Especially when audiences are forced to consider Wynne’s sacrifice – the risk he took to help other people who lived in daily fear of nuclear war.

Despite its lulls, Cooke’s film just might restore your faith in how ordinary people can make the world better – especially during a crisis. With slogans like “Stay Home, Save Lives” feeling incredibly distant in the rearview mirror of this year, Wynne and Cumberbatch’s portrayal are good reminders that you don’t have to be a government official or superhero to do something special with your life. Even if it means undergoing temporary suffering for the greater good. Even if you’re “just the messenger” – that’s worth something.

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‘The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’ Review: Humanity In Heroism

The first episode of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” premieres on Disney+ March 19, with a surprisingly character-driven 45 minutes that seamlessly reintroduce audiences to Marvel characters Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). They were last seen just after battling Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame,” two years and what feels like a lifetime ago.

From the action-packed opening sequence that finds Falcon in flight assisting the U.S. Air Force, “quiet” and “character-driven” might not be the most obvious characterizations of episode one, directed by Kari Skogland and written by Malcolm Spellman. But while it contains just enough action to lay the groundwork for future episodes, the installment refreshingly takes the time to remind us of who Sam and Bucky are, where they came from and where they find themselves months after the epic battle that cost them friends and fellow heroes – but saved the world, a world one character calls “broken.”

Sound familiar?

Photos by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios 2020 All rights reserved.

With the looming shadow of Steve Rogers (who links the titular characters with shared history), the world is facing the challenges of healing after half its population vanished from existence for five years, an eerily understandable plight as the COVID-19 virus continues its deadly spread and vaccines offer glimmers of hope.

“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” picks up where the film left off, but it thankfully zooms in more deeply to these vastly different men who have one thing – one Captain – in common.

“If the movies were a snack, this six-hour series is the meal,” Skogland said. “And yet, it has all of the wonderful things that come with the MCU—action, comedy, the high-octane pace, familiar faces and new characters. It’s all incredibly relatable.”

Sam is still grappling with the possession of Captain America’s shield, bestowed upon him by Rogers in the final moments of “Endgame.” His struggle with the implications of the shield – and how much his nation needs it – provides the springboard for Sam’s development as more than just the Falcon. 

“Sam considers the shield a representation of the country that we live in,” Mackie said. “There’s a lot of trepidation as far as how does a Black man represent a country that does not represent him?” The scenes that delve deeper into his family history – and the practical implications of the Blip – are far more interesting than any popcorn blockbuster action sequence. (Remember those?)

Photos by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios 2020 All rights reserved.

Bucky remains a cathartic example of the life-long toll trauma can take on a human – or, in his case, on a Winter Soldier brainwashed into a killing machine. At more than 100 years old, he finds himself for the first time without a fight – and it leaves him too much time to think about all he’s done, and what his purpose is in a post-”Endgame” universe.

“How does this character now function in the world?” Stan said of his character’s mindset. “What’s his life going back to Brooklyn? How is he meeting people? How is he interacting at coffee shops? Is he dating? Is he thinking about another career? Is he in therapy? There were all these questions about where we could take this character. There were a lot of fun and exciting things that came out of that exploration.”

“They’re both thoughtful and smart actors who bring tremendous history to their characters,” Skogland said of Mackie and Stan, who are infinitely watchable – and gave Marvel fans endless entertainment on “Avengers” press tours. Both are dynamic and subtle onscreen, bring a refreshing humanity to the hero narrative that is all too often forgotten.

With a timeliness its creators could not have predicted, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” will likely grow to feel as necessary to our national conversation as “Wandavision” did this winter. Possibly even moreso, with themes of national chaos and what “American values” really mean.

And, maybe most importantly, how we move forward.

Photos by Chuck Zlotnick © Marvel Studios 2020 All rights reserved.
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An Author Returns To His Craft In ‘The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien’

There is a moment early in “The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” in which the titular author mailgns being known as a “war writer.” He doesn’t want to be remembered only for the moment in his life he most despises – the Vietnam War, the focus of his many books, including “The Things They Carried” and National Book Award winner “Going After Cacciato.” Aaron Matthews’ new documentary focuses far more on the writer than the war, as he attempts to craft his final book after nearly two decades away from his writing desk. 

The father of two teenage boys, an underlying theme of “The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” is that time is running out – and there are still words to be written and questions to be answered. There are still far too many wars being fought. In a particularly telling home video captured by his wife Meredith, the author is cleaning the kitchen floor at three o’clock in the morning – the writing is going badly, and he is thinking out loud about the idea that combat should not even be sanitized by the word “war,” but instead what it is: “killing people.” 

“The Things They Carried” is a modern classic, selling six million copies and named by the Library of Congress as one of the most influential books in American history. Too often with biographies of the men and women who create classics, we get stodgy facts and speculation about their processes, their inspirations, their lives. Matthews gives us a modern telling of a writer’s life – the struggle, the detail and the questions that fuel a writer to pick up a pen again after 20 years. 

“It’s never about what happened, but about what could’ve happened,” O’Brien says of fiction writing. Matthews presents us with what’s happening in the present: a blend of home life, the lecture circuit and the clacking keys in an office. He and O’Brien paint the portrait of a life, and a growing awareness of mortality – and morality.

It is quickly clear why Matthews thought he would make a compelling and worthy documentary subject. He wants to be remembered as “a preacher for peace,” smoking cigarettes and wearing college caps and t-shirts with photos or phrases like “Make Coffee Not War.”

“Witnessing an artist and father at home, I saw that he is a dogged truth teller, an inveterate scab picker, an eloquent confessor,” Matthews said. “I saw how his rigorous soul searching prodded me to examine my own self. And I saw how O’Brien could shed light on the wars we all fight.” O’Brien shows this in his work with veterans, writing students, his sons and wife. But he is especially honest about his own inner war, from combat to creating. He admits feeling misunderstood as an author – his writing was always meant to deter war, not to advocate for it.

My dad is around O’Brien’s age; he spent more than 40 years as a reporter – a retired “newspaperman,” he calls himself, a staunch opponent of the word “journalist.” He also had children later in life, and I try to imagine myself in the shoes of Tad and Timmy O’Brien – if a camera came into my house to observe my dad and his life in his natural habitat, I would feel proud. Not just of what my dad wrote, but who he is. And as much as O’Brien’s latest book “Dad’s Maybe Book” is a letter to his sons, so too is this film.

“The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien” is available on VOD beginning March 2.

Photos courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
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Chloe Zhao’s Inspired ‘Nomadland’ Resonates After Year of Uncertainty

Consistently nuanced actress Frances McDormand stars in Chloe Zhao’s poignant Nomadland, a film that will undoubtedly resonate with both Academy voters and a wide-ranging audience looking for hope after a year of earth-shattering uncertainty. The grey-toned journey of life on the road feels more like a documentary than a scripted “Neo-Western drama,” as it’s described.

Set in 2011, McDormand stars as Fern, an out-of-work widow who loses her job after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada shuts down. Packing her entire life into a van, she sets out on the road and picks up seasonal shifts at an Amazon fulfillment center and other odd jobs to get by. It’s out of the ordinary, making it an extraordinary subject for Zhao to explore and for McDormand to perfect.

Every person we meet along the way is a non-actor (save for David Straitharn) who live their lives free of convention in search of a greater purpose, or at least greater self-contentment. There’s Linda May and Swankie and Bob Wells, all “characters” in the truest sense of the word. Their perspectives on living life from place to place is another take on minimalism, a philosophy that has resonated with American viewers as of late. But each viewer can take from it what they will – the film is meditative that way. It’s a blank slate for Fern and, in a way, a blank slate for the audience. 

“No one ever says goodbye. We just say, I’ll see you down the road.” While this film was made before the Coronavirus pandemic, its release and awards buzz come at the perfect time when more than half a million people in the United States of America have lost their lives to Covid-19 at this point. Every human being has been forced into a resilient-like state, metaphorically packing what they deem necessary into their van-like bubbles. But Zhao’s Nomadland is a silver lining. It’s a reminder that, while our journeys may look different, we’re never alone. It’s a reminder that we can change at any age, meet new people along the way and know that whoever we’re missing, we’ll see down the road.

Frances McDormand and David Strathairn in the movie “Nomadland.”
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Empathy Is A Main Character In Heartfelt ‘Palmer’

Apple TV+ adds to its slate of original films with “Palmer,” a heartfelt story of unlikely guardianship and mutual understanding. Justin Timberlake stars as the film’s namesake, who gets a job as an elementary school janitor after serving 12 years in prison.

Now seen as a faded football star-turned-felon, his fresh start is upended by a seven-year-old neighbor whose mom takes off, leaving no one to care for him. Palmer, who is treated like an outcast in his small Louisiana hometown, feels a certain responsibility to Sam (Ryder Allen), who is also judged for a very different reason: Sam loves princesses, dolls, dancing and makeup. It often makes him the target of ridicule from both kids and narrow-minded adults. From the start, he and Palmer share a feeling of being treated differently, and often unfairly.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

The two grow together in this sweet story from director Fisher Stevens and writer Cheryl Guerriero, who said it took 10 years for the film to get made.

Stevens is an Oscar winner for Best Documentary, which could explain why the film seems to hold such simple truths that in real life we make too complicated. The drama is rarely contrived, and Guerriero has already shared stories of grandmothers and kids who are comforted by this portrayal of difference – and the film hasn’t even been released yet.  Timberlake shows understated strength in the role, and his performance feels as solid to the viewer as his character’s presence does to young Sam, who has never had a parental figure. Young Allen musters great depth and elicits empathy completely unique to Sam – he is not merely playing a child who is different, he is that child, and Timberlake mirrors (I had to, I’m sorry) the audience’s desire to see him loved.

A timely message of love, acceptance and forgiveness is only the surface of this special, well-paced drama. It also gets to the heart of how we label people: by the sport they play, the clothes they wear or the mistakes they make. People are often more than just one thing, and performances by Timberlake and Allen show that characters should be, too. “Palmer” is a reminder to look past your expectations for other people. Maybe the project was meant to take 10 years, so it could reach us today, when the need to look deeper is more necessary than ever. 

The simple story is a testament to the power of letting a story do its work without telling the audience how to think, and instead allowing them to observe and feel. The difference that can be made in someone’s life when you put aside judgement is not a new theme, but it feels fresh and needed in this feature – a triumph for Timberlake, a charming debut for Allen, and the launchpad for more well-crafted dramas from Guerriero.

“Palmer” begins streaming on Apple TV+ Jan. 29.

Courtesy of Apple TV+
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Tucci, Firth give career-best in painful dementia drama ‘Supernova’

“You’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive.” Summarizing the theme of Harry Macqueen’s poignant, heartbreaking drama Supernova in one line of dialogue, Stanley Tucci gives a career-best performance as dementia-ridden Tusker. With an equally dynamic Colin Firth as his longtime partner Sam, the two travel across England as a makeshift farewell to family and friends.

The devastating subject matter and weight of the film unfortunately fit the tone of the time we’re living in, when death is at the forefront of people’s minds. Here, a slow death is inevitable for writer Tusker who has good days and bad days, sometimes lapsing in his ability to button a shirt or read a letter aloud. Macqueen’s subtle approach to Tusker’s decline makes Sam’s frustration all the more compelling. 

It’s a love story, albeit a peek into the final chapter of one. The homosexually aspect is never dwelled on, looked down upon or used as a plot device – rather the opposite. It’s an endearing partnership from the opening scene as Sam and Tusker drive their old RV through the English countryside, stop at roadside diners and take their dog for a walk. The “normalcy” of it all adds to the undercurrent of bleakness, with both men knowing what the future holds and trying to navigate what’s best for both of them. 

While there are moments of levity (provided mainly by Tusker as he pokes fun of the situation), it’s consistently and overwhelmingly sad. When you have veteran performers like Tucci and Firth, though, sadness can lend itself to a cathartic viewing experience. Such is the case with Supernova.

In select theaters January 29. Digital on Demand February 16th.

Photos courtesy of Bleecker Street
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Superheroes Drop Into Sitcom Suburbia in Immensely Clever ‘WandaVision’

It’s only fitting that Marvel Studios’ first foray into television is a tribute to the medium itself.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) and Vision, first seen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and throughout subsequent films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For reasons unknown, these heroes are dropped into the world of old-school multi-camera sitcoms in the sharp new TV series, streaming its first two chapters Jan. 15 on Disney+.  

Studio President Kevin Feige told Variety that Wanda and Vision “are great characters in the comics that we don’t scratch the surface of in the movies.” So when he read the 2016 comic miniseries “The Vision,” by writer Tom King and artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Mike Del Mundo, he knew he had to bring to life the image of the Android coming home to a wife and a white picket fence.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

And the first three episodes brilliantly capture the oddball imagination of the idea, taking viewers through the evolution of the sitcom with its cheesy humor, live audience laughter and signature screwball mishaps. Marvel Easter eggs are plentiful, but it’s an especially fun viewing experience for fans of classic television – in addition to being an incredibly smart strategy to make the transition from the movie theater to the living room.

With theaters closed and some straight-to-streaming options making us long for the big screen, “WandaVision” is perfectly suited to the small one – by design. It was brilliant to ease the record-breaking, action-packed film franchise off the big screen into a tightly-written, clever watch-at-home format, leaning away from cinematic, crash-bang superhero expectations to something slower and smaller.

“It felt great to do something that could only be done for television,” Feige said. “I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child watching TV and syndicated repeats of lots of sitcoms.”

The detailed images of sitcoms past are enough to garner their own re-watch, with subtle and silly nods to sitcoms of old. Detailed set designs and nuanced humor will make avid, keen-eyed sitcom watchers happy. But the writers also have you wondering what’s lurking underneath  – and with Marvel, you know it’s usually something big. Even as you shake your head at its cleverness, you understand it is simply a unique medium to tell a deeper, darker story – and it’s fun to feel in on the joke.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

From showrunner Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman, this show wasn’t meant to be viewed on a 20-foot-tall screen with hundreds of people, but on your couch. And you need not worry if nostalgia isn’t your thing – “WandaVision” seems to be as much about searingly mocking the genre as it does about perfecting it. Clearly these characters are in this world for a reason, and it will be undoubtedly compelling to know why, as nine 30-minute installments unfold over the next few months.

With empty theaters and darkened screens, it’s comforting that “WandaVision” was meant to be watched at home, on television – a word that’s ever changing in the Internet age. The medium it pays tribute to was originally built to entertain millions of families – to make them laugh, if not always wonder what was going to happen next. This series offers both.

And the show itself is smart, aptly-titled and written by a mostly female staff. Because it is written by women, it hilariously mocks the uneven gender roles of classic sitcoms when wives – always wives, never just women – were often the butt of the joke. Kathryn Hahn is ridiculously funny as quirky neighbor Agnes, who cracks jokes about her useless husband Ralph (but who some fans believe is not what she seems).

Olsen is effortless, and Bettany is genuinely funny, nailing the kind of quirky faux-happiness of those suburban shows – but the pure joy of them too, in the days when millions of families would laugh at the same Rob Petry line or the famous scrapes of Samantha Stevens. This is the way we used to watch television together, and the pandemic has made that even clearer with the widespread success of “Ozark,” “The Mandalorian,” and “The Queen’s Gambit.” This is appointment television, and “WandaVision” is no exception, even as we have no water coolers around which to gather.

The uncanny sitcom details in “WandaVision” are exceptional, down to Rob and Laura Petry’s separate beds. Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

The “Avengers” offered us a shared cinematic experience, when everyone was on the same side for a night at the movies. Maybe in 2021, this is as close as we’ll get to that. A throwback to a time when there were just a few channels, and no fast forward. A time we miss, especially now, as Thanos-shaped villains stomp through our universe, along with a rampantly-spreading silent killer that robs people of breath and has devastated millions worldwide. Mobs and riots are forming, except in this world, the good guys wear masks and superheroes work in hospitals.

It sometimes feels like the world blipped – like we’re in the third act of an “Avengers” film, and no one knows what’s coming. It’s felt like that for almost a year now. We need heroes, but we need humor, too. And we need to be entertained in this new way – while poking tremendous fun at the old.

Maybe I’m being far too sentimental – the underlying mysterious plot of “WandaVision” will no doubt be what most people remember about it. But for now I’m just thankful to laugh – to remember a time when we would bond over characters, and know that no matter how bad things get, there will always be heroes.

Paul Bettany as Vision and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ WANDAVISION exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.
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