Warner Bros. // 1977 // 1094 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 2nd, 2005
Wonder Woman [to a woman holding her up at gunpoint]: You're a woman! We
shouldn't be enemies.
Gloria: I don't know where your head is at, baby. Women are naturally enemies.
Wonder Woman changed networks in its second season, moving from ABC to CBS. In addition to the channel flip, she also got a make-over (slight changes to the costume and a new wetsuit), and the setting of the show was moved forward thirty-five years from World War II to the disco era of 1977. In her satin tights, she was fighting for our rights and the old red, white, and blue. Her super powers were bestowed on her race by the Greek Gods -- she's a real looker, considering she's 2,526 years old. She's got the strength of Superman, the speed of The Flash, and an uncanny knack for accessorizing that would make Batman jealous. She wears bracelets that deflect bullets, carries a lasso that forces people to tell the truth, and sports a boomerang tiara that is also a direct communication device to Paradise Island (should she ever want to phone home). And then there is her clothes-altering spin, whereby she has the ability to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions simply with a few quick turns. She's a wonder.
The late '70s was an era when chicks ruled television, especially crime-fighting action chicks. Yeah sure, we have Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in our recent pop culture history, but when this series ran in 1977 Diana Prince was only one member of a squad of butt-kicking beauties of broadcast. Consider Charlie's Angels and The Bionic Woman, just to name two. But for some reason Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman seemed more iconic than all of them put together, and still looms larger than life today amidst rumors of an inevitable remake. And thankfully, through the miracle of DVD, we finally get to see all of the Season Two episodes uncut and without commercials on Wonder Woman -- The Complete Second Season.
In 1977 Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner, The Carol Burnett Show) is flying four nuclear scientists on a secret diplomatic mission to Samara. They are almost hijacked, and the plane starts to go down in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. They are brought in safely by the Amazons on Paradise Island. Princess Diana (Lynda Carter) is shocked when she sees Steve. Turns out he is the son of the major she helped back in World War II, and he's an important figure with the United States Department of Defense. Diana learns that the world has changed, and new threats, such as terrorists, have replaced the Nazis. She decides it's time once again for Wonder Woman to come out of hiding, and assumes her secret identity as Diana Prince. Working with Steve, she takes on a variety of villains throughout these twenty-two episodes (nine more than the first season). This time around she'll meet terrorists, evil toy makers, Nazis in hiding, robots, magicians, and even an evil rock-n-roll flute player.
This second season of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman was slightly more serious in tone than the first. Developer Stanley Ralph Ross had worked extensively on the Batman series, and it seemed in the first season they tried to cash in on that show's high camp formula. Comedians were often cast as villains during the first season, and the show really never took itself all that seriously. The problem was that Lynda Carter certainly made people believe in her powers, and she never camped it up like Adam West did in Batman. Lynda Carter became a female Christopher Reeve, in that she was so identified with her superhero persona that it probably impeded the rest of her career. She'll always be Wonder Woman, and anyone else who tries to play the role will inevitably be measured against her. But that's not a bad legacy for her! She played Diana Prince so convincingly and earnestly we had to take her seriously. And that is where the genius of Wonder Woman -- The Complete Second Season trumps its predecessor. The stories are played seriously, and the villains seem out to do some damage, as opposed to the silly bumbling Nazis she faced before.
Now don't get me wrong, this is only slightly more serious. There's still plenty of goofy fun to be had when watching the series, and it's certainly not played for real all the time. The invisible plane effect was ultimately silly, with its dolls in the cockpit look. There are obvious stunt doubles used for all the actors, and little is done to hide them. The computers look like Lite Brite toys when they light up. None of the villains are given powers that would stretch the budget of the show, and it all seems quaint when you consider they usually aren't out for world domination, but rather want to take over a health spa or blow up a small part of a city. Wonder Woman was never a show concerned with a grand arc or developing storylines, so each episode is self-contained and can be watched in any order you choose.
The guest stars were great in this season (although no Debra Winger as Wonder Girl this time around). In the first episode you get Oscar winner (for Network) and stage legend Beatrice Straight as Wonder Woman's queen and mother. Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) appears as the evil femme fatale Gloria in the show as well. You can also catch glimpses of Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch) and Martin Mull (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) in the "Pied Piper" episode. Football star Bubba Smith appeared in "Light-Fingered Lady," and reportedly balked when the script called for Lynda Carter to throw him. He announced "No f -- ing white woman is going to throw me!" on the set. Lynda Carter bet him she could, and she flipped him on her first try. Rick Springfield appears in "Screaming Javelin." Celeste Holm appears in "I Do, I Do," which also marked the first appearance of the revamped image for Diana Prince (better clothes, and she loses the glasses now and then). It became a "Who's Who in '70s Television" cavalcade, and it's a lot of fun.
A popular television critic of the day claimed Wonder Woman only had two good things going for it, and they were holding up Lynda Carter's strapless leotard. Ouch! What a spoilsport. The show was colorful and a lot of fun, and Carter had an appeal that extended above and beyond any support she provided her costume. Yet many new potential fans may find the show horribly dated and mired in the constraints of a '70s television show. The effects are simplistic, and so are the ideas behind Diana's role as a powerful female. She's certainly no feminist icon running around in high heeled boots and a corset, and it seems hopelessly quaint compared to more contemporary heroines (though I recall Buffy falling victim to the same double-standard of running into battle on impossibly high heels). I really have no beef with the show, but I could see it as hopelessly dated by today's standards. Diana's relationship with Steve Trevor always kind of bugged me since he treated her as a little "less than" because she was a woman. Maybe I shouldn't have minored in Women's Studies in college, but he seems patronizing towards his able assistant (whom he never figures out is Wonder Woman, so no indication of a high IQ there).
And then there is a lackluster transfer on the set as well. The fullscreen episodes look okay, but there is a wash of grain and a softness to the image that seems to not have been corrected in the slightest. Dirt pops up now and then, and it all smacks of a syndicated broadcast rather than the careful, loving transfer the show deserves. The sound mix is an underwhelming mono track that does nothing to liven up the famous theme song or any of the action scenes. It sounds tinny and forced, and turned my home system into a '70s model television quite effectively. I appreciate the nostalgia factor, but I wish they had grown the show to make it fit into this digital age. Putting the thunderclaps during the spinning into stereo and adding some directional effects sure would have helped. There is only one extra, in the form of a nice documentary that discusses the variances in the character from comic to small screen. You glean some fun facts, but precious little time is given to Lynda Carter or the show's creators; the featurette defers more to the comic book artists who go on and on about how the show changed the comic. The packaging is nice, but again we get the dreaded "flipper" discs, where you have a double-sided DVD that spoils all the fun of having a carousel capable of handling multiple discs.
I say Wonder Woman is the best television comic adaptation ever (go ahead and challenge me, but I'm not budging). It was appropriately campy, but never slipped into the excesses of silliness like Batman did in its run. And it was certainly more comic book in feel than The Incredible Hulk, which was more dark, often playing out as a straight drama rather than as a fun romp. Wonder Woman was total fantasy-made-real, thanks to an amazing lead in Lynda Carter. Many people protested the change in the time era, but I liked updating Diana Prince into the days of disco. It allowed for more elaborate plots with more technology, gave the show the freedom to explore some of the modern world rather than having to pretzel backwards to fit the '40s. The show took off and seemed more assured and aware of its tone and ambitions during the two CBS years. I wish we could get a Smallville treatment of Diana Prince someday to further expand one of comic's greatest all-time heroines. (It could be a cross between Smallville and Lost taking place on Paradise Island...) If you're a fan, this set is a no-brainer. It's easily the best season of the series, where the actors and creative team both had their roles down pat. Never mind the okay transfers; it's still better than the incomplete video sets, which never had all the episodes, or syndicated airings, where they trim bits here and there.
Wonder Woman is free to spin around in my DVD player anytime she wants to, especially when I need the escape and solace of a beautiful woman with a great sense of dignity and a solid right hook. She's never guilty! There's only one season left to be released, and my only hope is Warner Brothers will pull out the stops and let loose with extras and commentaries next round. But I'll take these episodes any way I can get them. Until the next season comes along I'll be out back practicing my "bullets and bracelets" routine.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1094 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus documentary: Revolutionizing a Classic: From Comic Book to Television
* Jump the Shark Analysis
* Suffering Sappho! It's WONDER WOMAN...