[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for WandaVision, Season 1, Episode 4, “We Interrupt This Program.”]
As many surprises as WandaVision has packed into the first four episodes, head writer Jac Schaeffer might still surprise you in the interview below. Schaeffer‘s additional credits include the someday-it’ll-definitely-come-out Black Widow and the charming 2009 independent film TiMER, and she brought some very unusual inspiration to the table when she began working with Marvel to reveal, in a very unconventional way, what happened to the grief-stricken Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) after Avengers: Endgame.
While WandaVision is still slowly but surely revealing its secrets, it’s also still having an unreal amount of fun playing with the boundaries between established MCU reality and the sitcom-esque world Wanda’s currently inhabiting — and controlling. Here, Schaeffer reveals how she approached constructing the season so far, her love of bringing in “helper characters” for featured roles, and her favorite sitcom eras to play in. She also explains why she knew from the beginning that everyone who originally made fun of the title when it was first announced would be proven wrong.
To start off, talk to me about the genesis of Episode 4. Because I feel like you had this established rhythm of the show for the first three episodes, and then we have this massive break with format. It feels like a really exciting change, but where did that come from?
JAC SCHAEFFER: It actually dates back to my initial pitch for the show. I’m really inspired by so much of the television content that’s out right now. And I developed a particular fondness for bottle episodes. Not to say that this is necessarily a bottle episode, but that things like Episode 4 of Russian Doll or the second to last episode of Escape at Dannemora. On Lost, when you would start an episode and be like, whose episode is it? And you would have to wait drop into the flashback to find that out.
Oh, another one, it’s a weird touchstone, but the last season of Girls, I think about “The Panic at Central Park,” where Marnie [Allison Williams] runs into Christopher Abbot’s character. I love being like challenged and surprised as a viewer in that way.
And so I pitched that as sort of the idea being, we come into the story into this sitcom world and then several episodes in, we kind of reset and start with a different character and get an enormous amount of information that has huge bearing on what we’ve seen so far.
In that pitch, was the idea of bringing in characters like Darcy and Jimmy Woo a part of it?
SCHAEFFER: Well, Marvel was hoping for that kind of thing. They had sort of loose parameters for helper characters and investigating characters. And I jumped all over the opportunity to bring Randall Park and Kat Dennings back into the show for sure.
I love the concept of helper characters. How did they define that?
SCHAEFFER: Well, so you’ve got allies and you’ve got adversaries. And I think you can look at a lot of the Marvel movies and sort of break down who the surrounding characters are and what purpose they serve inside of the narrative.
And I love helper characters. I mean they speak to me. They’re opportunities to, of course, provide comedic relief, but I also feel like they speak to the best of what it means to be human. They’re often characters that put whatever the mission is above themselves, not in grand ways, but in small ways. I think it’s like the best friend trope. Everybody loves a good friend who’s just down for the ride.
Of course. And the nice thing about Episode 4 is that we don’t normally get to spend this amount of time with the helper characters.
SCHAEFFER: Yeah. I mean, that was really exciting. I’m very interested in getting a lot of different faces and perspectives and people into more central roles. And I was very excited at trying to portray how Jimmy and Darcy in their separate worlds have evolved and changed over the past many years. it’s always fun to see evidence of personal and professional growth.
Yeah — I’m not the one who came up with this idea, but at least one of my coworkers definitely has pitched the idea of Darcy and Jimmy Woo solving crimes on a weekly basis.
SCHAEFFER: Yes. I’ve heard that. And I do not hate that.
Would you run that show?
SCHAEFFER: I mean, I would sign up for a lot of shows, that is on the list. So yes.
Excellent. Speaking of sitcoms in general, there’s something so iconic about the traditional sitcom and I’m wondering for you, what excited you about bringing it to the Marvel universe in this way?
SCHAEFFER: I love it when there’s an idea that it’s like, “That doesn’t make any sense.” I love that kind of idea because then it’s like, “Well, how do you make it work?” And when I first heard about it, I thought it was so exciting, but there was a very tiny voice inside of me that was like “Good luck.” So yeah. I also think that it’s so fun to take these characters who we’ve only seen embroiled in the biggest of stakes, in galactic stakes, and have them worried about getting dinner right for the boss. That’s the kind of stuff I want to watch.
Interesting. So, we know in general that the whole history of sitcoms is a part of the show. Which, of all of the sitcoms genres that we’re facing, is your favorite?
SCHAEFFER: That question is always so hard. I should just answer it differently every time.
Yeah, understood. By the way, I apologize for asking a question you’ve gotten before.
SCHAEFFER: No, no, no. It’s a totally valid, good question. It’s hard to answer because I love them all and I love them all for different reasons. And I feel like when I zero in on one that I love so much then I’m reminded of another one and what we were allowed to do. I think it just points to how every era of sitcom has brought something new to the table that is so, so, so fun.
I think the pilot is closest to my heart because it’s the pilot and it’s the origin of everything. And because it was so hard to write. It was really, really, really hard to write. And then I think I loved the magic show [in Episode 2]. We had a lot of different ideas of what the set piece of that episode would be. And it took us longer than other episodes to land on the magic show. It seems so self-evident now, but at the time it was agony. Because on those shows, like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched and those shows, there were often episodes with like a performance or a talent show. So it just felt so right. And then I love Episode 3. I love the look of 3 and I love Wanda’s look in 3. I could see her in that wig all the livelong day. It’s just so pretty.
Of course. So I remember when the show was first announced, the title was revealed as WandaVision, and I know that people were like, “Oh, it’s Wanda and Vision. That’s like the silliest title possible for the show.” But at the same time, watching the show now — it’s clearly the perfect title.
SCHAEFFER: I mean, so Kevin [Feige], when we were thinking about titles… I mean, there are things where I am like, “Oh, that was my idea. That was my idea.” But Kevin came in and was like “I’m thinking of naming it WandaVision, but I don’t know.” And I was like, “I will quit before we don’t use that title.” That’s what it is. That’s the show. I love it. And I know when the title came out and people were kind of ripping it, I was like “Yeah, you wait.”
Yep, we were proven wrong. So when you first came into the concept, how married did you feel to the idea that every episode has to be part of a sitcom world of some sort?
SCHAEFFER: Oh, it’s a tough question to answer without talking about other things. I will say this, I was never interested in doing exclusively one or exclusively other. I wasn’t interested in just doing a sitcom and I wasn’t interested in just doing a straight-ahead MCU concept. It was the synthesis of the two that I showed up for.
New episodes of WandaVision are streaming Fridays on Disney+. For more, here’s our thorough breakdown of the in-show commercials (and what they mean), as well as every Easter egg we’ve spotted to date.
It has to do with grief.
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