I’ve been on a bit of an old superhero TV / movie binge lately. And in doing so, I’ve been a bit of a sucker for punishment.
Wonder Woman (1976-1977)
After watching the pilot for Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman (mentioned here) I carried on and finished the entire first season of the show, which is all the episodes that take place during World War II (when the series came back for a second season, it was on a new network and was basically rebooted to the modern day).
The show is not very good though often entertaining. Lynda Carter looks amazing as Wonder Woman but is frequently awkward in her delivery as the dowdy Diana Prince. I have no idea if it’s just her youth as an actress or a misguided attempt to make Diana herself less confident, but her dialogue is often affected and unnatural, and her reactions a bit cringe-worthy. Lyle Waggoner fairs a bit better as Steve Trevor, perhaps because of his greater experience. There were two other regular characters–man-crazy Corporal Etta Candy (Beatrice Colen), who worked with Steve and Diana; and General Blankenship (Richard Eastham), who was everyone else’s boss. Both characters were pretty limited and never got anything personal to do.
The stories are a mixed bag–all but one feature Nazi spies and agents. The one that didn’t took the action to Texas and involved cattle rustlers, which was fun just for being different. True to the intentions with the character, Wonder Woman is frequently seen trying to make peace with her enemies, especially if they are women (or gorillas). That doesn’t stop her from throwing bad guys around like loaves of bread, though. I could have stood to see her use her strength and speed more, but In one episode she does get to fight a gorilla, and in another, she stops an airplane from taking off.
It’s frustrating at times to see how easily Wonder Woman can actually be knocked unconscious, usually by a gas or at times by someone with chloroform on a rag. Having gotten use to Gal Gadot’s amazing melee action scenes, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman looks a bit pathetic being taken by surprise by some Nazi stooge or another. Even worse, occasionally she is de-powered by being caught off-guard and having her special belt be removed.
The belt (and her famous bracelets, by the way) are very unconvincing–it looks like something from a kid’s dress-up box and seems to be attached by Velcro. You’d think if this was the source of your power you might want to find a way to make it a bit more secure.
One of the most famous things about the TV version of Wonder Woman is the spin that she would do to transform from her normal identity to her heroic one. In the early episodes of the season, its a strange looking process. She turns with the same sort of vacuous gaze that most of Diana Prince’s dialogue is delivered with, and instead of the “explosion” effect, things go into a series of overlapping slow-motion images of her spinning in various states of clothes changing. When she’s done, she’s still holding her civilian clothes, which she then has to stash away somewhere.
Later, they brought in the explosion sound and flash of light, but included an odd motion where Lynda Carter would raise her hands over her head toward the end. We’d then see Wonder Woman quickly checking to make sure that her tiara and belt were fastened correctly before springing into action. As the series went on, the whole process was streamlined and the arm-raising and accessory-checking would all be dropped.
Maybe my favorite story of the season is a two-parter called Judgement from Outer Space, in which Tim O’Connor plays Andros, an alien who comes to earth looking for a reason to not destroy the place (an alien consortium is worried that the humans developing both atomic weapons and space-flight is a bad combination, and believes that our war-like species needs to be put down before we can cause any trouble). Andros wants to prove that it’s not as bad as that, but he’s looking at the whole picture: it’s not enough for the Americans to just show they are better than the Nazi’s, for example, but the fact that the Nazi’s exist at all might be enough to doom the world. As such, Andros welcomes the Nazi’s efforts to capture him, which of course causes concern and mistrust for the Americans. Diana Prince gets into a big argument with Steve Trevor (her boss and military superior) which is interesting to see. And the whole thing makes for an interesting dramatic dilemma, even if does get resolved too simplistically. At the end of the episode, earth gets a 50 year reprieve (which means that judgment is now coming in 1992, according to the show’s chronology).
Andros wonders if humanity will have learned the lessons that they need to by then, and Wonder Woman optimistically insists that they will, before more soberly amending her statement to, “We may.” Apparently in one of the later episodes, Andros’ son makes an appearance–I’ll be interested to see if this story thread is followed up on or not.
In addition to Tim O’Connor, here are lots of other famous 1970’s actors guest starring throughout the series. There’s Carolyn Jones as Wonder Woman’s mother (replacing Cloris Leachman in the pilot), as well as the likes of Lynda Day George, Robert Reed, Anne Francis, Dick Van Patten, John Hillerman, Robert Loggia, and more. A young Debra Winger shows up in three episodes (a two-parter and a later single episode) as Diana’s younger sister Drusilla who becomes Wonder Girl (I think she is named just once) and does her best to help, though often gets in trouble as much as anything.
Debra Winger is a good actress but has a bit of a New York accent that comes through in everything, which definitely doesn’t sound like an ancient Amazon from Paradise Island. I’d say on the whole the character doesn’t add much except for a bit of a variety in a show that often suffered from being too routine.
On the whole, the show is a bit of a chore in spite of the charisma of the two leads. I have gone on with the show beyond the first season–more on that when I finish it.
One thought on “Wonder Woman (1976-1977) – Old Superhero Movies & TV, but not necessarily the good stuff”
Wonder Woman was a TV show that I could enjoy like a lot of particularly limited TV shows at that time when I was a kid. Quite agreeably, it may not have been the best that it could have been. But I was personally very impressed by Lynda Carter as well as Debra Winger for making me appreciate strong acting roles for women. That was clearly a most important education in the 70s for boys and girls. Thank you for your superhero reviews, Ben.