No gatherings? No problem. ‘WandaVision’ fans geek out with virtual watch parties
By day, Tiffany Telles is a writer and urban planner for the Army Reserve in San Jose. On Sunday nights, though, she moonlights in another field: expert “WandaVision” consultant.
During her weekly watch party, Telles, 40, engages with fellow fans of the Disney+ series on social media while stationed in her home office with an iPad, a laptop, a glass of wine and the occasional snack.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, right? So a lot of people are watching more TV,” says Telles. “I don’t even know if there’s anything that’s been like [‘WandaVision’] previously — nothing that I’ve watched or experienced.”
Telles watched the penultimate episode multiple times — and took notes on it — before settling in for a viewing party hosted by Disney Moms of Color, an online content community of Black, Disney-loving mothers who use social media to bond over their favorite movies and TV shows.
In Marvel’s “WandaVision,” nothing is as it seems. So we prepared an episode-by-episode guide to the Disney+ series for you to keep handy as you watch.
She and her fellow DMOC members — Shaye Wyllie, 28, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Amiyrah Martin, 38, of Columbus, Ohio; and Camille Wall, 39, of Santa Cruz, Calif. — are just some of many Marvel enthusiasts from around the globe who have turned to virtual platforms for a pandemic-friendly communal experience of Marvel’s first scripted series for Disney+.
The superhero-sitcom hybrid, an ode of sorts to classic television, has emerged as the kind of event series more common in the days of “must-see TV.” Releasing episodes the old-fashioned way — one a week— has helped fuel enthusiastic analysis about its fictional universe in the days between episodes.
“‘WandaVision’ is now making people talk about this show all week long, [as opposed to] a Netflix show, where you would watch it, talk about it over the weekend of the premiere, and then ... you’ve already moved on to something else,” says Wyllie, an entertainment writer.
Martin, an online content creator, suggests it’s giving viewers who have grown accustomed to binge-watching shows a fun reminder of — and in some cases introduction to — the thrill of the wait.
"['WandaVision’ is] the real ‘90s essence of having to wait for a show, but getting really excited about sitting down with your family and watching something that you waited all week to watch,” says Martin, who fondly remembers anticipating and discussing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” with her classmates.
“And that nostalgia factor is making a lot of people feel better, because they’re thinking about those times when they used to be happier.”
The Disney+ series, which concludes Friday, mixed sitcom aesthetics, superhero stories and profound emotion. No wonder it’s the watercooler show of the moment.
The Times spoke with Marvel lovers from four separate watch-party groups, all of which use different services to connect, react to and theorize about the twisty, Easter egg-filled series in real time. (Notably, none opted for Disney+'s GroupWatch feature, which allows up to six subscribers to watch and chat about a title at once.)
For these superfans, “WandaVision” has been a welcome downpour amid an MCU drought. The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed the release of feature film “Black Widow,” as well as series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which was originally set to debut prior to “WandaVision” as the MCU’s first foray into TV.
“I’ve missed Marvel since last year, and it’s really refreshing to get new content,” says Chelsea Evans, an entertainment and media student at the University of Georgia who has been hosting “WandaVision” viewing sessions with friends via the Google Chrome browser extension Scener. Evans, 19, even turns off all the lights in her dorm room during watch parties to re-create that bygone movie-theater atmosphere.
“I like how they’re diving deeper into Wanda’s character, because I feel like the past movies just kind of brushed it off,” says Evans, who revels in the series’ weekly cliffhangers. “I like how she’s getting more spotlight and how they’re bringing more women to the main front in the MCU.”
The compelling women of “WandaVision” — particularly Elizabeth Olsen’s titular antihero and Teyonah Parris’ Captain Monica Rambeau — have resonated with a number of watch-party participants, including John Marcotte and Melissa Kelly of Heroic Girls.
The nonprofit organization, which advocates for more exemplary representation of women in comics and their adaptations, hosts its “WandaVision” watch parties Fridays at 6 p.m. via Discord, where fans can exchange messages, GIFs and memes related to the show.
“I’ve been in the geek-sphere since I was a kid, and — even as much as it’s opened up — it’s still a boys club in a lot of ways,” says Kelly, 42, a Heroic Girls contributor and caregiver from Roseville, Calif. “It was nice to find a section of the sphere that’s ... about empowering young girls and women.”
"['WandaVision’ is] kind of foundational for us,” adds Sacramento-based Marcotte, 49, president of Heroic Girls. “It’s a ... female-led superhero [series] where the character has some complexity to her ... so it has a lot of things that we like, and I thought this was a good way to help develop that sense of community and maintain it at a time when we can’t have our normal events.”
Each commercial in the Disney+ series has revealed key information about what’s really going on. Before the finale, read our guide to what they mean.
Geeking out, of course, is all part of the fun. And for the founding and community leaders of DMOC, which uses the #DMOCWatchParty and #WandaVision hashtags on Facebook and Twitter to post, like, retweet and comment on each other’s takes after pressing play simultaneously at 6 p.m. Pacific each week, there’s pride in expertise too. They draw on their extensive Marvel knowledge and research to operate as their followers’ “virtual tour guide [to] the Avengers fandom,” as Martin puts it, answering newcomers’ burning questions about key plot points and the MCU canon.
“I probably watch it two or three times before the watch party, so that as people are tweeting, I already know what they’re talking about,” says Wall, a human resources director from Santa Cruz. “I’ve already done my rabbit hole into research on the MCU and all these other things between Friday and Sunday. People might think I’m witty in my GIF responses, but it’s really because I’ve actually just been studying it for two days straight.”
But as charming as its sitcom trappings may be, “WandaVision” is about a powerful enchantress who unwittingly casts a dark spell over an entire town while grieving the recent losses of her brother, Pietro, and partner, Vision. Which means the #DMOCWatchParty discourse can get deep.
When the eighth episode of “WandaVision” debuted last week, several fans latched onto Vision’s poignant line, “What is grief if not love persevering?”
But for Wyllie, who lost her aunt a few years ago, it was the preceding line that held more resonance.
“Vision ... grabbed me when he said that he couldn’t tell what grief felt like,” Wyllie says. “I relate to it because I didn’t know what grief was like until she had died. ... That hits harder when you see it in the TV shows and the stuff that you’re trying to watch.”
By the end of ‘WandaVision’ Episode 8, Wanda Maximoff has been called ‘the Scarlet Witch.’ What does that really mean?
At a time of social isolation, the sense of community created by these “WandaVision” watch parties has been a salve. Aizzat Azmi, 22, a student at the University of Technology Malaysia who uses Google Meet to video-chat with his friends once a week, says the conversation isn’t limited to “WandaVision.”
“We end up staying in the meeting until 1 in the morning,” Azmi says, “because we spend three hours just talking about the show and catching up with each other.”
Heading into Friday’s finale of “WandaVision”, each Marvel aficionado had their own hopes for the story’s end.
The Disney Moms of Color are wishing for the safe return of Wanda’s twin boys, who were abducted earlier in the season by wicked witch Agatha Harkness, played by Kathryn Hahn. ("[Wanda’s] been though enough, OK?” says Telles. “Let her have her children back!”) And several are curious to know how the last installment will set up the forthcoming sequel to “Doctor Strange.”
“Well, I’m hoping [the finale] is five hours long, because there are so many loose plot points floating out there,” Marcotte says. “I’m hoping that the fantasy world is over, and we’ve established a better place for the Scarlet Witch. ... And the bad guys to get their comeuppance — Agatha, Hayward, the head of S.W.O.R.D. Oh! And I want Monica Rambeau to become Photon. How nerdy is this? Do you know any of this stuff?”
In watch-party spaces across the internet, lively discussions are happening right now.
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