Monday, 17 January 2022

Wonder Woman

Bullets & Bracelets

Wonder Woman/
The New Adventures
Of Wonder Woman

USA 1975 - 1979
Three Seasons
Blu Ray Zone B

Following a somewhat muted attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show with a pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby, in a much toned down version of the role (similar to a run on the DC comics around that time, when the character had lost her powers and become a kind of secret agent, I suspect) a new attempt was made to capture the lightning of the character (DCs top female superhero character, pretty much since her first appearances in Sensation Comics in 1942). A new pilot starring Miss World 1972, the great Lynda Carter, was commissioned... along with a couple of episodes. Then a gap as this first series proved good with the ratings and another load of episodes were commissioned, giving a total of 14 episodes in total made by Warner Brothers for ABC. Despite the popularity, ABC didn’t renew the contract but two more seasons were created for CBS, under the slightly revised title The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman.

Now, I didn’t really watch these as a kid. I saw a few episodes and liked what I saw at the time but couldn’t get over the fact that I’d managed to miss the Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie from the year before (it aired on the week I was away on holiday) and I found it hard to get invested in something if I couldn’t see all the episodes (even when I was six). By the time I was eight, though, I was very much interested in her as a pin up girl and I treasured any issues of Starburst, Starlog and the like which had photos of Lynda in her sexy costume.

However, visiting them properly now for the first time on Blu Ray (I’ll get to the 1974 TV movie when I finally get around to purchasing it), I can see just how great this must have been for young female viewers in the 1970s. Shows like Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels, all of which had relatively strong female characters (while still operating with highly sexist values, it has to be said) must have had a considerable impact on women of the time and I’m so glad these were made. I came to Wonder Woman as an interesting character very late (asides from seeing her regularly on the old Super Friends cartoon show), when I grudgingly went to the first Gal Gadot movie... which completely blew me away and forced me to re-examine this character.

All I can say is, wow, this was a really great show. Especially the first series where you had Lynda as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Lyle Waggoner (who was just pipped at the post by Adam West for the role of Batman in 1966) as Steve Trevor and Beatrice Colen as Etta Candy (all characters from the comic books). These first season episodes were set in the 1940s during the war (as were the original comics penned by William Moulton Marston, although the TV show continues using his literary pen name, Charles Moulton, on the credits). This debut season was amazing in that it used a brilliant series of animated comic book panels for the opening credits (pitched against a rollicking song which was toned down more and more each season) and the comic book style would continue into the story so you’d have comic book drawings become photos and the constant use of captions superimposed on the live action footage such as ‘Meanwhile’ and so on. One minor problem in the writing, perhaps, was that the villains were always the ‘Nazi of the week’ during the first year but, heck, the entertainment value was high and she also had her ‘invisible jet’ in this season. I don’t recall if it was used more than maybe only once more from Season 2 onwards... which is strange because I can remember that invisible jet being a hugely popular thing when I was a kid and the recent Wonder Woman 84 movie (reviewed here) also features an homage to it.

Like later seasons, the show was peppered with guest stars, many of them big names and one of the fun things about watching the various incarnations of the show now is spotting the various people who were either nearing the end of their careers or just starting out. There were people like Frank Gorshin, Roddy McDowell, John Saxon, Ron Ely and Ann Francis turning up in various shows. Even Roy Rogers was in one, although he refused to work with Carter until they got her some Western style clothes... so Wonder Woman has a new cowboy themed look to her costume for that episode (which actually works quite well, it has to be said). Also, a young Debra Winger was in a few episodes as Diana’s sister, Wonder Girl for the first season, although she bought herself out of the contract and turned down offers for episodes in a future season and her own spin off series (I’m currently reading Elvira’s wonderful autobiography and I now know why that particular piece of casting came to be).

For the second season, the show was updated to contemporary times... which was fine with the Wonder Woman character, as she’s not supposed to age. However, Lyle Waggoner also returned, this time playing the son of the character he'd played in the first season, also called Steve Trevor. This version of Trevor works for the Inter-Agency Defence Command (IADC) and, following an opening episode which half plays as a repeat of the first season pilot, Diana becomes an agent working under him. However, the revamped show lost its ‘comic book’ visual connections and, although the villains in the stories were more varied in their motivations, it did kind of lose a little in the updating. Especially when a ‘funny computer’ and a ‘funny robot’ were thrown into the mix.

In the third from last episode of Season 3, the show’s producers went for another reboot and Diana moves to LA, to work for a different branch of the IADC... introducing a whole host of new regular characters including a streetwise, Gary Colemanesque kid, a chimpanzee and an invincible man. This must have been made after the last two episodes (which were aired a little later as specials) because, in those two (which make up a single story), Diana is back in Washington and working for Steve Trevor Jr again. So yeah... I would have liked to have seen it continue but, honestly, not in the new format they were steering towards for an LA version of the show so... perhaps it’s best it ended when it did, with 60 episodes under its belt.

Still it’s a really interesting series but I did notice it always kept reinventing itself a little more than I would have liked... which is my polite way of saying it kept changing the rules. For example, the famous spin created for the TV show, where Diana Prince transforms into Wonder Woman, is shown as it should be for the first three episodes. It’s slowed down and shows Diana moving at super speed and throwing off her outer clothes to change costume. But it was time consuming (and therefore expensive) to keep doing that and locking off the camera before a 45 minute make-up and costume change so... pretty soon they developed a magical woosh superimposed over the two parts of the spin to bridge the footage and, it looks fine and is a staple of TV nostalgia now (again, there are even a couple of very subtle references to them in the Gal Gadot movies) but it’s also problematic. And the reason it’s problematic and the reason I say it’s reinventing itself is because the rules of Diana’s powers change over time due to this. When she’s tied up or imprisoned as Diana, she no longer has her powers unless she’s completed her spin in later episodes. So she becomes more like a Billy Batson changing to Captain Marvel style character, when he used to have to shout SHAZAM! to change and gain his powers. She is vulnerable when she’s Diana Prince which, obviously, is total rubbish and not the way the character is supposed to work at all. Not how she did work in the earlier episodes, where she had various other powers such as the ability to mimic any voice, many of which were dropped for the post-season one incarnations of the show. There seems to be a definite lack of consistency as the show develops as to what she can and can’t do and, if you’re watching them back to back in a compressed time slot as I just did, you’ll notice these little changes more.

And there’s a heck of a lot more I could write about this show, actually. I wrote a lot of notes as I watched but, honestly, I don’t want to write a book on the subject (although, if anyone wants to commission me to write a book on the first of the Gal Gadot movies, I’d be happy to oblige). Unless you want to read about me getting annoyed about how every corporation depicted in Season Three having exactly the same bizarrely shaped coffee mugs and things like that. Suffice it to say that Lynda Carter totally nails it in the role and is an amazing hero who, I guess, happened to hit at the right time when she was needed by an audience that appreciated her. The only thing which occasionally grates is the big, cheesy, freeze frame grin she gives at the end of pretty much every story but, honestly, she’s absolutely brilliant in this and I’m surprised she didn’t go on to do more higher profile things in Hollywood once the show had ended. 

 If you are interested in the character then this show, despite its differences to the comic, does not let the character down too much and the title role is a strong, positive role model for people, as far as I’m concerned. Or if you don’t want to go the long haul, maybe give Season One a spin, where the visual style of the comic book source material is played up  in a really nice way... something which should never have been dropped in my opinion. Anyway, the recent Warner Brother Blu Ray set of the entire three seasons of Wonder Woman is definitely worth a twirl, whichever way you look at it.

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