The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1977-1978) – Old Superhero Movies & TV, but not necessarily the good stuff

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.After writing about season 1 of Wonder Woman (from the 1970s, see here), I pushed forward with the series and a little while ago I finished season 2.

Season 2 represented a big shift in the show. Although it still starred Lynda Carter, it actually changed networks. It had aired on ABC originally, but for this and the final season, it moved to CBS. Once there, the show dropped its World War II setting and updated things to the modern day. We never saw Wonder Woman at the end of the war, but in the first episode of the new season (where the show was also re-titled as seen above) reveals that she returned to Paradise Island and had been there in the intervening decades. In spite of their occasional flirting, she and Major Steve Trevor never seemed to have gotten together, but we find out in the episode that Steve has since died, but not before fathering a son who is also named Steve (Steve Trevor jr.) and who looks exactly like his father (and like actor Lyle Waggoner, who plays them both).

The new Steve isn’t in the army (although later in the series people start referring to him as “Major Trevor” again, so who knows) but rather is an agent working for something called the IADC–the Inter-Agency Defense Command. Wonder Woman again adopts the identity of Diana Prince, who starts off the year as Steve’s assistant and partner, before graduating to a solo agent when Steve gets promoted to the position of local IADC boss.

The new season changes up the opening credits, creating a new title sequence which still features comic book style-art of the main characters and the bizarre twinkle in Lynda Carter’s eyes and Lyle Waggoner’s teeth…but somehow is not as good as before. Similarly, the iconic title theme is also updated to remove references to World War II, but it’s also less satisfying–even though it does make one change I approve of, as Wonder Woman is now fighting for our rights, instead of her rights. Later the lyrics are dropped completely, along with all the comic book style art.

The opening lot of episodes of season 2 are a marked improvement over the previous season, and almost make Wonder Woman into a legitimately good show. The espionage / action storylines show a lot more nuance and intelligence than the series did previously, and the characterization is a lot more natural. Lynda Carter is a lot more assured in her dual role, and the show itself seems more confident about itself. Wonder Woman’s transformation sequences are generally better done, and cool additions to her bag of tricks include throwing her tiara as a boomerang to knock enemy’s over, and the ability to talk to animals. And although she still gets knocked out by gas, nobody seems to be ripping off her special belt to de-power here anymore.

There is an interesting story in an episode called The Man Who Could Move the World, about a Japanese-American scientist who develops telekinetic powers, and who wrongly blames Wonder Woman for the death of his brother in an incident that took place during the Japanese internment–it was interesting to see the subject touched on with relative sensitivity, especially after seeing lately the horribly outdated reference in the 1943 Batman serial.

In another episode, Steve Trevor faces off with a police woman he had previously worked with who has become disillusioned about her country and become a radical terrorist. There was also a strange story in which Neo-Nazi’s brought to life a clone of Hitler (played by Barry Dennen from Jesus Christ Superstar, of all people), whom Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor were convinced had to be allowed to die.

And along with these there were some very fun stories, including one where Diana goes undercover to infiltrate a group a jewel thieves, and another one which starts with Diana and another guy seeming to get married and head off onto their honeymoon. Of course the whole thing turns out to be a ruse, but it was still interesting to see.

In all this, the series stopped trying to pretend that Lynda Carter + glasses = dowdy woman, and instead acknowledged that she was still extremely attractive, with dudes constantly hitting on her and asking her on dates, and so on (although rarely did she show any interest in anyone). All that meant there was one less demand on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.

Of course, the show is still for kids. For example, the IADC features a “super-computer” named IRAC (Ira, for short) that went through a couple of different voices, who could deliver all sorts of convenient exposition because of its uncanny understanding of criminal activities with with very little input. Usually it could make predictions which were just enough to put the heroes on the right trail, but not enough to allow them to skip to the end. And later, IRAC got a little robot assistant called Rover who trundled around the offices of the IADC delivering coffee and mail, and looking and sounding especially cute (remember, this is only months after Star Wars became a bigger hit than anyone could have guessed).

Speaking of aliens, the extra-terrestrial visitor Andros shows up again, although apparently it’s not the same one as before, but rather the original Andros’ son. This means that that instead of the dignified Tim O’Connor, Andros is now played by the younger and good looking Dack Rambo (who was on Dallas around this time, I think). He and Wonder Woman make a fair amount of goo-goo eyes at each other, and longingly lament their inability to fly off into space together.

No mention is made of the Season 1 “threat” that if the people of earth didn’t shape up, judgment was scheduled to come in 1992, but since there are obviously meant to have been other adventures in the meantime, maybe that got resolved off-screen.

About halfway through the season, something goes seriously wrong with the show. It hits a major stumbling block in an episode called Screaming Javelins in which the villain is the ruler of a tiny country who starts to kidnap famous athletes and hold them prisoner, to force them to compete in the Olympics Games on behalf of his country. The plot is absurd enough, but the story also features a Russian gymnast (inspired obviously by Nadia Comăneci) who keeps running away from everyone who wants to help her and straight into trouble, and a villain played by Henry Darrow who is so absurdly over-the-top that he would fit in well with the 1960s Batman series. It’s all really, really dumb, and the show never seems to completely recover. None of the other villains are quite as bad, but some of them try, and silliness seems to be more and more the order of the day.

The New Adventures of Wonder Woman still features a lot of recognizable faces in the guest starring roles. These include the likes of Roddy McDowall, Eve Plumb, Gary Burghoff, Harry Guardino, Ross Martin, Martin Mull and George Chakiris.

Normann Burton (who played Will Giddings on The Towering Inferno–pretty much the first guy to die from the fire) appears for the first third of the season as Joe Atkinson, who is Steve and Diana’s boss / colleague at the IADC. In the early episodes, we regularly see all three taking orders from some never-seen unnamed boss (possibly supposed to be the US President? It’s never clear) who only talks to them from a special secure room. Joe is a decent character who has more to do than either General Blankenship or Etta Candy did the previous year, but later he gets promoted right on out of the show. Later, Steve briefly gets an assistant named Eve (Saundra Sharp), but she doesn’t stick around long either.

By the end of this season, I was getting pretty tired of this version of Wonder Woman. There’s one more season, which includes a lot of teenaged characters as guest stars and things like Wonder Woman riding a skateboard. There are also some more aliens and a girl who can control ants (an episode I skipped as a kid because the previews scared me). Will I finish this rewatch of a show I don’t actually like all that much, but which I am still kind of curious about? We will see!

2 thoughts on “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1977-1978) – Old Superhero Movies & TV, but not necessarily the good stuff

  1. Reflecting on how I had enjoyed Season 2 of Wonder Woman as a kid, compared to how I can feel about it now in my wiser 50s, I must agree that certain feelings of weariness might be just. That’s how many might feel about old classics due to how advanced our television, most particularly for our superhero genre shows, has become for this century and generation. Thanks, Ben.

  2. The ant-woman episode was decent, IIRC — one of the few costumed supervillains on the show.
    I believe Andros was rejuvenated before his second trip, like a Time Lord. Can’t swear to it though.

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