TV Review: ‘What If…?’ Episode 1

by Erik Amaya

Marvel Studios’ take on What If…? is utterly charming. Clearly, that’s to be expected, but the sophistication of that charm will still surprise those who watch the debut episode, available on Disney+ as of today. Based on the irregular Marvel Comics series of the same name, it posits questions like “What if Peggy Carter took the Super Solider Serum?” and extrapolates a whole different Marvel Cinematic Universe from that point of departure.

And, to be clear, the questions posed in What If …? — at least in the first three episodes — take their cues from the MCU. This is clearest here in the first episode, in which Peggy takes the serum and becomes Captain Britain in just about every way except the name. Her subsequent adventure plays out as a version of Captain America: The First Avenger with key scenes remixed to put certain characters in new outcomes. But it also focuses in on what Peggy (voiced by Hayley Atwell) would be like if the US military (and its male command staff) absolutely had to listen to her. The character who emerges from that is a revelation as Peggy unbound is an absolute joy.

The story is backed by some great animation and art design — the episode feels like Walt Disney’s original animators put their stamp on it — and a shocking amount of Marvel acting talent reprising their roles. Although, we won’t spoil who else returns as identifying voices is part of the fun. Just about everyone who does participate nails their part, even if its only a few lines.

Amid all that fun, though, we’ll also caution you not to expect an ongoing storyline or any obvious hooks back into the main MCU. The program may exist within the recently revealed Multiverse, but it’s clear What If…? is more focused on its alternate realities than tying back to the live action universe. And, for the moment, that’s enough for us. Sure, Jeffrey Wright‘s enigmatic Watcher is holding everything together and may yet reveal a key detail in the series which will directly impacts an upcoming film or series — but don’t go looking for it. The thrill of What If…? is in the unleashed imagination its creative team can indulge in when released from the trappings of continuity.

What If…? streams Wednesdays on Disney+

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