Riverdale Season 2 Review (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Riverdale
  • Season: Season 2
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 4
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Ashleigh Murray, Marisol Nichols, Luke Perry
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

Some Spoilers Below – be warned.

Riverdale Season 2 opens with the cliffhanger from the end of Season 1 with Fred Andrews getting shot at Pop’s. Archie runs to his father and also sees the man, a man in a Black Hood, who shot his father. Archie rushes to the hospital with his Dad. It’s a near thing, but Fred recovers. Shortly thereafter Ms. Grundy (Archie’s former music teacher) is murdered in Greendale, and Moose and Midge are attacked by a hooded man with a gun in Lover’s Lane, where they are also trying the new street drug, Jingle Jangle. The mystery for the season is: Who is the Black Hood? The mystery of who the Black Hood is is simply not as compelling as the mystery of Who Killed Jason Blossom? from last season. Not to say Season 2 is bad – it isn’t. This is still a well-crafted mystery show, but the first season had a tenser feel and a mystery that was more connected to the characters. About halfway through the season, the Black Hood, who has been tormenting Betty with sick phone calls, is caught. But Archie isn’t sure it’s the right man, because he saw the Black Hood’s eyes and he thinks he could identify him. But since Sheriff Keller shot the man in the back (while he was threatening Archie and Betty) the narrative is set.

The rest of the season focuses more on the characters and their dark emotions and secrets. Whereas season 1 showed us some really messed-up parents, season 2 shows us teenagers who haven’t fallen that far from the tree so to speak. Betty is especially becoming a dark character, but Archie isn’t the “all-American teenager” he appears to be – from briefly founding a vigilante group/protection league for students called, “The Red Circle”, to working for Veronica’s mobster father, Hiram Lodge – Archie is often just not a sweet kid, not by a long shot.

Meanwhile, Jughead is shipped off to the South Side of Riverdale, and it’s through him that we meet new characters, see new locations and form sympathies with people who are poorer than those on the “Northside” and who have fewer opportunities. In his new school, Southside High – a nightmare of a place with metal detectors on the doors, no doors in the restrooms, drugs, gangs, and violence, Jughead’s first priority is to get the school paper up and running again. Told by the teacher-sponsor to steer clear of drugs and gangs, Jughead plans on doing just that. But Toni Topaz, a girl in his father’s gang the Southside Serpents, gives him lay of the land and warns him that he needs to join the Serpents or a rival gang, the Ghoulies, will have him for lunch. Jughead resists briefly but then joins the Serpents. In the Serpents, he finds a home, a community, and as he tries to navigate this new and dangerous world, he also finds dangerous rivals in the gang, especially Tall Boy and the Serpent lawyer, or “Snake Charmer”, Penny.

Jughead shines throughout the season – his narration underlines many of the episodes, and episodes without it are somehow missing something. Jughead emerges as an artistic, romantic, and justice-seeking soul, despite his dark, sarcastic narration. Jughead believes in justice, justice for all, and even manages to see the good in the Serpents.

Unfortunately, another theme of the season is the Northside blaming every bad thing on the Serpents, including the Black Hood crimes (who turns out not to be a Serpent or even from the Southside – both of them). From Hiram Lodge’s business dealings to acquire Southside land, and even landmarks, at rock-bottom prices for a project that’s very hush-hush; to Betty’s mother’s tirades against the Southside in her paper, The Register, to the mayor and Riverdale principal attacking Southside tradition – it’s a virtual Civil War in Riverdale. And pretty much everything the more privileged Northsiders say about the Southside is proven false, but too late to stop Hiram’s plans.

Once we’ve met our Southside cast, and become familiar with its locations – things are shaken up. Southside High is closed so Hiram can buy the land dirt cheap, for, it turns out, building a prison. Jughead, Toni, and other Serpents are sent to Riverdale High. There’s an adjustment period, but when it looks like the Serpents will be transferred again to a school two hours away, Archie and Jughead rally the school to stand with the new students – who get to stay.

Season 2 of Riverdale was not as focused as Season 1 – some plotlines get dropped or resolved too quickly. The street drug Jingle Jangle is mentioned in the first episode, but other than a pair of kids getting high on the drug at Lover’s Lane while doing what one does at Lover’s Lane, and one wild party held by Veronica and an old friend of her’s Nick St. Clair – the drug isn’t much of an important plot. It doesn’t help that Jingle Jangle looks like Pixie Stix – and it’s eaten the same way. Nick is a jerk who tries to assault Veronica (and gets flattened for his trouble), then roofie’s Cheryl and tries to date rape her – only to be stopped by the Pussycats, led by Veronica and Josie. Jingle Jangle is made by a drug dealer called “The Sugarman” with ties to Clifford Blossom. But when the Black Hood sends Betty after him, she discovers his identity in one episode – so not much suspense there.

The kids have ups and downs in their relationships, but for the most part throughout the season, it’s Archie and Veronica and Betty and Jughead. Any issues tend to be temporary. At the very end of the season, we find out that Cheryl is a lesbian, who starts a relationship with Toni Topaz. I hope we see more of this relationship next season because the little we see crackles and it’s awesome. And yes, Cheryl’s horrible mother disapproves of her daughter’s sexuality. Penelope Blossom even tries to have it beat out of her, but Kevin and Veronica rescue Cheryl. (Their line? “Cheryl, We’re here to rescue you!”)

This season includes, “Carrie, the Musical”, which seems to fit the characters, though it also felt like an episode of Glee instead of Riverdale. But the episode ends with Midge getting killed, which gets everyone to realize they caught the wrong guy when it comes to the Black Hood. The end of the season is a wild ride to find out who the Black Hood is. Not saying who it was, though it wasn’t entirely a surprise, especially with hints that get dropped quickly. Also, a character I never quite trusted. And that’s all I’m saying about that.

Overall, I recommend Riverdale Season 2, but it’s not for younger viewers – there’s a lot of implied violence and sex (strong PG-13 levels, sometimes light R). I like Jughead’s narration. When our core characters – Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Archie are together and not on the outs or fighting – it works. Some of the secondary characters: Cheryl, Josie, Kevin, and now Toni, round out the cast and add some needed diversity to the universe. I will definitely watch Season 3.

Read my review of Riverdale Season 1.

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Black Lightning Season 1 Review (spoilers)

  • Series Title: Black Lightning
  • Season: Season 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Cress Williams, Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain, Christine Adams, James Remar, Damon Gupton
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

Black Lightning is the latest superhero television show on the CW based on DC Comics. Jefferson Pierce is a high school principal and the divorced father of two daughters, one in med school and the other in high school. He’s divorced, but he and his ex-wife have a friendly relationship. And once upon a time, Jefferson was the superhero known as Black Lightning. But he’s retired from all that – he thinks.

Modern Freeland, the Pierce family’s home city, is experiencing a resurgence of gang violence, and trouble with drugs, especially a new extremely addictive drug called Green Light. Jefferson Pierce is torn between doing something about it by returning to the superhero life, and doing what his ex-wife wants: helping mold young African American students to be successful by being a high school principal. But when one of his daughters goes to a dance club owned by the 100 gang and gets held at gunpoint, released, harassed at school, and then kidnapped, Jefferson can no longer stand idly by.  He gets his suit out of mothballs, and with some help from his friend, Peter Gambi, he hits the streets to rescue his daughter.

Once Jennifer is freed, Jefferson thinks he can hang up the suit again, but at a rally at his school, a woman challenges him, stating that her daughter is still being held by the 100. The woman, LaWanda, goes to the hotel where her daughter is being held and forced to be a prostitute and she takes pictures of johns, and the other illegal activity at the hotel. Jefferson talks to his friend in the police department, Inspector Henderson, but he says he can’t do anything. When LaWanda is murdered by LaLa, a gang member and former student of Jeff’s – he gets back in the suit.

Gradually, Jefferson realizes he has to become Black Lightning because his city needs him. When I was watching this show week to week last year, it almost became annoying every time Jeff expressed doubts about being a superhero. The show is called, Black Lightning, obviously it’s going to have a Black Lightning in it. But later developments in the series and Jeff’s daughters made the show interesting to watch anyway.

Jeff’s older daughter, Anissa, is a med student, a teacher in the health studies program at Jeff’s school, and a social activist. When she starts to develop special powers, she immediately practices them and sets out to help others. She doesn’t tell her father – and he finds out in the worst way possible. (It’s a scene I found even harder to watch and more reprehensible second time around, Black Lightning beats up his own daughter when she’s in her improvised costume.)

Jeff’s younger daughter also develops powers, but she wants nothing to do with it. Jennifer wants a normal life, not to be a superhero. Jennifer also gets really, really upset when Anissa tells her she’s Thunder and their father is Black Lightning. This family drama is the heart of the show. I found Anissa’s journey to becoming Thunder more interesting than Jeff’s obvious decision to return to being Black Lightning. And Jennifer’s utter disdain for her powers, until the very end of the season, was a very different take on the subject. I liked it a lot.

Meanwhile, the city of Freeland is experiencing rampant gang violence, multiple deadly shootings, LaWanda is killed, LaLa is killed, and Jennifer’s boyfriend is shot in the back and loses the ability to walk. For Khalil its a tragic end to his track and field career. The opening episodes of the season are depressing. But as Black Lightning gets out there, especially with Thunder, they also discover there’s more going on than gang violence.

Freeland was the center of an experiment, with the people being given a “vaccine” that should have made them “passive” (yeah, I immediately thought of Pax in the Firefly movie Serenity). Instead, many people, especially children, died. Other kids became metahumans and gained powers. Gambi was part of the ASA (secret gov’t agency) cleaner crew spotting metahumans and helping to capture them. When Gambi realized the drug was killing kids, he quit. The drug, Green Light is the same drug 2.0, and it’s also turning kids into metas.

Tobias Whale is the “businessman” in control of the 100. He also killed Jefferson’s father when Jeff was a boy – a crime Jeff witnessed. Jeff’s father was a reporter who discovered the vaccine given to children in Freeland was tainted and causing deaths. His story was spiked (not run by his editor). Jeff’s father also exposed corruption surrounding Whale. Much of the early half of the season has Jeff somewhat obsessed with finding Tobias Whale, whom he thinks has returned to town (he’s right). Whale is an albino, huge, and extremely racist, cruel, and uncouth.

Whale’s paid partner is the female assassin Syonide. She reminds me of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, with her clothes, her hair, and her attitude.

Martin Proctor is Peter Gambi’s old boss from the ASA. He’s out to kill Black Lightning and keep the Freeland experiment going – even though it’s now an illegal, rogue operation. He’s racist, bigoted, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. The introduction of Proctor makes Whale seem like small potatoes, though in the end, only one of the two survives to return next season.

Black Lightning is an interesting show to watch because almost the entire cast is African American, and it really gives you a view into a different world. In the pilot, we see Jeff being pulled over by two white cops, in the rain, forced out of his car, roughed up, and presented to a mute woman who is then asked, “Is this the guy who robbed your store?” Remember, Jefferson Pierce is a respected high school principal. Jeff continuously reminds his daughters and the students at their school they must control their anger. Another community leader, a local preacher, leads a protest march after LaWanda’s death and is shot – though we’re told later that he recovered. Jeff’s friend on the force, Henderson, is a good police officer, but with so much corruption and institutional racism in his department he’s barely holding on and is limited in the help he can bring.

Black Lightning is highly recommended and will return to the CW this Fall (2018).

ANZAC Girls Review

  • Title: ANZAC Girls (mini-series)
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: ABC (Austrailia Broadcasting Corp.)
  • Cast: Georgia Flood, Antonia Prebble, Laura Brent, Anna McGahan, Caroline Craig, Honey Debelle
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

ANZAC Girls is based on a historical book about real nurses from Australia and New Zealand in World War I. As the final episode tells you: these are real women, who made a difference in the most trying of circumstances. ANZAC refers to the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps in the First World War, and the “girls” are the nurses, specifically of the Australia Army Nurses Corps. Some New Zealand women joined with the Australian nurses before the New Zealand nurses organization was formed. As Army nurses, they must have three years of prior experience – and be unmarried. This becomes quite the crux of the miniseries – because, for many of these very young women, they end up having to choose between love and duty and many choose love.

The first episode introduces the main characters: young women who want a little adventure, some who want to find love, and all who are very devoted to their duty as nurses. The nurses arrive in Cairo, and very quickly the disastrous Gallipoli campaign happens. Some of the nurses volunteer for duty on Lemnos, a Greek island that is home to the Australian hospital. But when they arrive with their matron, Grace Wilson, they find they have no quarters, and they must sleep on the open ground. There are no showers, no bathing facilities, and the latrines are disgusting. The women soldier on, despite an army colonel who believes “nurses have no bearing” on the survival of patients. Olive is a dedicated nurse who starts to fall for Pat Dooley, a medical orderly, but she chooses duty over love and is even cruel to him (because Olive, like the rest of the nurses, knows she will be forced to resign if she marries). Lemnos receives the worse cases from Gallipoli.

Meanwhile, back in Cairo, the nurses left behind think they face the worse cases, and the most pain and death. One nurse, Elsie, is mostly there to find her husband, who happens to be the son of the former Australian prime minister. She is discovered to be married, but the forward theater is so desperate for medical personnel she gets special consideration. Her husband is shot in the leg, and Elsie nurses him to health – he’s wounded again, and Elsie gets permission to transfer to the British hospital where he’s convalescing. He’s sent back to the war, and Elsie returns to Cairo and then goes with the rest of the nurses to France after the close of the Gallipoli campaign. When her husband is wounded again, she goes with him back to Australia and is forced to resign from the Australian Army Nursing Corps because: rules. She joins the Red Cross volunteer nurses and returns to France.

Olive and the rest return to Cairo briefly, then go on to France. For a few weeks, the nurses serve at a British hospital where they face the scorn of the British nurses. Matron Grace Wilson, to her credit, doesn’t let her nurses be mistreated, stands up for them, and gets them transferred to the Australian Hospital as soon as possible. The next three episodes take place in France, near the Somme. First Olive goes to the Casualty Clearing Station near the front lines. She returns and two of the other nurses go there. At the CCS, during an air raid, Alice comes into her own, helping wounded in one of the wards that are hit by German bombs. She’s awarded a military medal.

Another nurse, during extraordinary circumstances, has to administer anesthesia for a surgery when the anesthesiologist passes out from exhaustion. The surgeon talks her through it, and the patient recovers. She and two other Australian nurses are put forth for a nurse-anesthesiologist training program. She makes it with flying colors and a perfect score. Day by day she works in surgery, administering local and general anesthetic. That is until the Australian Army gets wind of the program and decides it’s not a suitable job for a woman. After receiving the news (which comes on the same day that Alice finds out her finance’s been killed), she returns to the wards and gets into a conversation with a New Zealand soldier. The two talk about being from New Zealand – and the lightbulb goes off: she’s a New Zealander! She goes to talk to the matron in charge, discovers her matron, Grace Wilson has just returned, and says that as a New Zealander she’s not subject to the new rule. She returns to life as a surgical nurse.

ANZAC Girls is a good program, but it could have been a great program! I felt that the program was a little cold – we didn’t really know what motivated these women, as they dealt with an awful lot: blood, death, horrific injuries, being bombed, disease (including typhoid and dysentery), long hours, mud, and unsanitary conditions, especially for nursing. Instead, the miniseries focuses more on their loves, the losses of those loves, and finding new love. The final episode, which features the Armistice, did make me cry, as it told of the remainder of these extraordinary women’s lives (many also served in World War II). But somehow, although I thought this series was good, I expected more. I wanted to see less of women falling in love and more about how they came to and served in a difficult profession in extraordinary circumstances.

Still, ANZAC Girls is definitely worth watching and recommended.

 

Jane the Virgin Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Jane the Virgin
  • Season: Season 2
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 5 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo, Ivonne Coll, Justin Baldoni, Brett Dier, Jaime Camil, Yael Grobglas, Anthony Mendez
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

~ Spoilers, obvi! ~

The first episode of Season 2 quickly resolves the cliff-hanger from last season, and baby Mateo is rescued from his kidnappers. Michael turns over some police evidence to get Mateo back. But what Season 2 is really about is going after one’s dreams. Jane has dreams of being a writer – and she’s taking practical steps towards that end – she takes Summer courses to make up some credits and then enrolls in grad school in a very competitive writing program. Xiomara is now actively pursuing her singing career. Jane’s father, Rogelio, has dreams of becoming an actor – and now he’s a successful telenovela star. He suffers some setbacks this season, but that also lets the audience discover how he had to work at being an actor and becoming a success – against his father’s disapproval. Even Alba has dreams of being with an old lover of hers.

But the season also simply follows the ups and downs of Jane’s life. She’s no longer with Rafael romantically, but she and Rafael are successfully co-parenting. And we see them occasionally struggling with their co-parenting, even at times arguing, and finally going to a mediator. But they also both have the ability to be adults and to do the best they can for baby Mateo. Jane, meanwhile, tries dating other people, even the hottie professor, Chavez, before Jane and Michael get back together. The season ends with their wedding and the first night of their honeymoon. However, as has become standard with this show – there is a cliff-hanger!

Season two develops the other characters as well. We find out more about Rogelio’s background and meet his parents. Petra uses Rafael’s sperm sample that she “obtained” last season to inseminate herself, and ends up pregnant with twins. She has a hard time during her pregnancy – with severe morning sickness and nausea and even has a miscarriage scare. But she successfully delivers twin girls – Elsa and Anna. She then develops post-partum depression. Shortly thereafter her long-lost twin sister arrives. Meanwhile, Rafael is still in love with Jane, but he is also determined to not stand in the way of her happiness. Alba, Jane’s grandmother decides to pursue her green card and to also pursue love, or rather, an old love (the romance doesn’t end well).

Overall, I love this show! It’s rare to see a show where the leads are all women, and the three generations of Villanueva women are very strong. They are also capable, and each has their own views on life. The enhanced reality scenes in this season vary from Jane’s hallucinating whole scenes to small hearts – but they always add to the story. The characters are more developed and well-rounded. And the main characters, even Petra, are all likable. I really enjoyed watching Season 2, and yes, I’d sit down to watch one episode and with the cliffhangers, I’d just have to hit the next button, sometimes watching three episodes in a single night.

Highly recommended!

Read my Jane the Virgin Season 1 Review.

Wonder Woman – Season 2 Review

  • Title:  Wonder Woman
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 4 (Double-sided)
  • Original Network:  ABC
  • Distribution Network:  Warner Brothers
  • Cast:  Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

The second season of Wonder Woman feels almost like three different seasons. The first ten episodes or so feature an animated opening sequence, though the pilot brings the series into “the present day”. The “present” is 1977. Season 1 was filmed in 1976-1977 and set in 1942, 34 years earlier. Since it is currently 2018, which is 41 years after 1977 – the “present-day” episodes of Wonder Woman feel almost as historic as the episodes from World War II. This means that there are some incongruities of watching an older program: everyone uses payphones, though towards the very end of the season a few car phones show up; cars are rear-wheel drive, long, and handle very badly (there’s a scene with a police car where it fishtails unbelievably – and it isn’t even snowing); and as was common in the 1970s even though the show is technically set in or at least based in Washington, DC, most of the stories take place in Los Angeles and surrounding areas. During the first ten or so episodes Steve and Diana report to Joe Atkinson and receive orders from an unseen voice. It’s all very Charlie’s Angels. After a few transition episodes, where we barely see Steve, Joe retires (or is promoted out of the show) and Steve takes his job. For the middle run of the season, Steve sends Diana Prince, his top agent on various assignments. Finally, at the end of the season, Steve and Diana seem to be taking their assignments from IRAC, a talking computer. At the very least, IRAC will be consulted at least once per episode. IRAC is a talking box of lights, not very impressive looking, and totally unrealistic as a computer. Oh, and my smartphone probably has more computing power. Welcome to the 1970s!

Most of the episodes in the second season of Wonder Woman are very formulaic. Diana and Steve are given an assignment by Joe’s unseen boss, or Steve gives Diana her assignment once he’s promoted, Diana travels to wherever her assignment is – usually California, Diana investigates and finds clues, and at least twice per episode, she spins into Wonder Woman. Diana is kind, courteous, sweet, and gets along well with children and animals. The series has forgotten about her mimic power, but she seems to have the ability to mentally speak to animals, especially horses. Steve is much less sexist in his treatment of Diana – but she runs into sexist attitudes while doing her job as a government intelligence agent. Diana’s reaction is to grin and bear it – which was very common in the 1970s and 1980s.

My favorite episode of the entire season was “The Queen and the Thief”, which is absolutely delightful. Diana is awakened in her apartment early in the morning and spins into Wonder Woman basically to get to work on time for an emergency meeting. When she arrives, she, Joe, and Steve are told notorious jewel thief Evan Robley (David Hedison) has arrived and he’s after the crown jewels of a small country no one has heard of. The country’s new Queen (Juliet Mills) was an American citizen who married the country’s prince and when he died, she became Queen. (Never mind that monarchy doesn’t actually work like that. She’d be a princess by marriage, later a consort to the King (possibly with the title of “queen” but only out of courtesy) and only her children would be in the line of succession, not herself.) Anyway, if the jewels are stolen she will lose her position as Queen and the counts or something will take over. Steve and Diana are despatched immediately undercover to help the Queen and prevent the theft. Steve is almost immediately captured, and Wonder Woman explains to the Queen he’s “safer where he is” and leaves him there. Diana and the Queen then have to ensure the jewels are not stolen, only to discover they’ve been stolen – but the ones that were stolen were paste (fake). Then things get really interesting as the theft, Diana, and the Queen work together to recover the real jewels and expose the Queen’s ambassador (Played to perfection by John Colicos) as the person behind a plot to steal the jewels, expose the Queen, and place his own traditionally-minded puppet on the throne. It sounds like a typical plot for the show, but it’s played with an incredibly light touch, and the Queen and the Theif are excellent guest stars (they need their own show). John Colicos is brilliant as always as the bad guy. And Diana’s involvement is pretty much talking to the Queen to convince her she and Diana Prince, have her interests at heart – and a brilliant jewel-heist scene which takes place in a set that looks like it was borrowed from The Avengers, that’s the British TV series starring Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg. The episode has a light touch, great costumes and sets, and a brilliant cast. It felt like it should have been a movie with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly (and in some respects was probably inspired by To Catch a Thief). And it was glorious!

Here and there, other episodes of season 2 of Wonder Woman are at least enjoyable, escapist entertainment, largely due to Lynda Carter’s excellent performance as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. Lyle Waggoner’s Steve Trevor definitely takes a back seat, which is a shame – he has pretty good chemistry with Diana, especially when they are friends and colleagues, and since Diana needs someone to talk to – she’s usually paired with the guest star of the week, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Unlike season 1, in which the show featured well-known guest stars, season 2 features familiar-looking actors of the 70s and 80s (especially if you watched The Rockford Files), but few “big stars”. And for some reason, a lot of children. No, seriously, several episodes revolve around young kids – which works if the kid can act.

Overall, I enjoyed season 2, but I also found it gets repetitive quickly. I’m going to hold off on watching season 3, but I will watch it at some point. Still recommended, if only for Lynda Carter.

Please also read my Wonder Woman Season 1 Review.

Wonder Woman – Season 1 Review

  • Title:  Wonder Woman
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 13, plus pilot
  • Discs: 5
  • Original Network:  ABC
  • Distribution Network:  Warner Brothers
  • Cast:  Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner, Richard Eastham, Beatrice Colen
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

There are some technical issues first to discuss regarding the DVD set for the first season of Lynda Carter’s TV series version of Wonder Woman. The first season, set during World War II, only has 13 episodes, yet it is spread out on five discs, with only two or three episodes per disc. As this series runs short, only 42 minutes, and is in 3×4 ratio and standard definition – they could have easily put four or five episodes per disc and reduced the number of discs to four. Since the only special feature is a short documentary – everything would fit and the package could be slimmer. Also, the episode menus refer to episodes “on the other side of the disc”, when these are standard single-sided discs and not double-sided ones. And all five discs were stacked on a single spindle. I hate that, it begs for the discs to get scratched or broken. I repackaged mine. The menus and cheap packaging made me wonder if this particular copy was legit, even though I purchased mine at Barnes and Noble during their sale on everything DC last year. Also, the copy quality leaves something to be desired – it really does look like a direct transfer from videotape. In short, if a cleaner, more compact “complete series” was offered, I’d definitely consider replacing this set, even though I seldom replace DVDs I’ve already purchased.

On to the series itself. This is the Wonder Woman that I remember watching as a little kid. Even back then, I knew that, at times, it was silly. The pilot has a great guest cast – of comic actors, including Kenneth Mars (The Producers), Henry Gibson (The Blues Brothers and Laugh-In), and Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein). It’s somewhat difficult to take actors known for playing “comedy Nazis” seriously. Lynda Carter does her best though – and I must say, the series steadily improves. Every episode of the first season features at least one actor I recognize, and frequently more than one. And it isn’t simply 70s talent either, as actors from the 50s and 60s make guest appearances as well.

Set during World War II, Diana rescues Steve Trevor after his plane crashes on Paradise Island. Diana’s mother, the Queen, played in the pilot by Cloris Leachman (and in the series by Carolyn Jones) holds a contest to choose the Amazon who will escort Steve back to the US. Diana wins the contest and heads back to America. She defeats some Nazis and ends up as Diana Prince, Yeoman First Class in the WAVEs, and secretary to Steve in Military Intelligence at the War Department, which makes her perfectly placed to find out about threats to the US and the world and to protect the country and even the planet as Wonder Woman. Diana’s only friend at the War Department is Etta Candy. Etta is a bit man-crazy, but she has a good heart.

In the first couple of episodes, Diana changes into Wonder Woman by doing a slow spin, ending up with her naval uniform on her arm – which she carefully puts away in a closet or storage locker. Later they sped up the spin and added the explosion – and her clothes disappeared. Diana also, besides her super strength, her magical lasso which forces people to tell the truth, and her bullet-proof bracelets, has the ability to be an incredible mimic – able to exactly duplicate a voice over the phone or a radio. She has her invisible plane as well.

In the first season, episodes range from foiling Nazi plots (many of which involving the Nazis trying to capture Wonder Woman) to the unusual (such as the two-part “Judgment from Outer Space” in which a guy (played by Tim O’Connor of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) from another galaxy has to determine if Earth should be destroyed or not) to an episode involving cattle rustling in Texas and Wonder Woman at Beauty contests and in Hollywood. The series improves starting with episode four, “The Feminum Mystique”, which introduces Debra Winger as Wonder Girl (Diana’s younger sister, Drusilla) and Carolyn Jones (from The Addams Family television series) as Queen Hippolyta. Although the plot of the two-part episode is similar to earlier ones, with the Nazis out to kidnap Wonder Woman to learn the secret of her bullet-proof bracelets, the story is better developed, and both Drusilla and Hippolyta are wonderful.

The first season of Wonder Woman mixes the silly with great adventure. Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman grows from an innocent, totally perplexed by life in Washington, to a competent, professional woman. When her young sister arrives, she also is innocent and confused – but she learns without becomes harsh or cynical. The stories in the back half of the season tend to be better, with some interesting changes in location (despite the fact that absolutely every place they are looks like Southern California, including Washington, New York, Nazi Germany, Argentina, and Texas). Lynda Carter brings it as Diana – she is kind, thoughtful, understanding and caring – without being overly sweet or a “mary sue” character, which is difficult to pull off. Over time her end of episode speeches improve from sounding like Maxwell Smart’s “if only he could have used his genius for niceness” to something that approaches being more realistic, given this is a show from the 1970s that seems to be aimed at children.

Overall, though there are technical issues with the actual DVD set, and at times this show plays like a comedy or parody of the Superhero genre, considering when it was made – it is still worth watching and enjoyable to watch. Because season 1 is set during the war and everyone is in uniform, it looks less dated than other programs from the 1970s – though it is also very obviously set and backlot-bound. Lynda Carter is awesome in this. Lyle Waggoner is wonderfully dippy as Steve. Steve Trevor is incredibly dumb in this (he reminds me of the Ghostbusters (2017) secretary), though by the last couple of episodes of the season he’s not quite so stupid. Still, he spends a lot of time getting knocked out, kidnapped, tied up, and dropped into traps – so Wonder Woman can rescue him. I like Diana’s friend, Etta, even though she gets to do very little.

Wonder Woman was made in the 1970s – the same time as Charlie’s Angels and the Bionic Woman, and it some ways it reminds me of those shows more than any superhero TV show or film from now. Even the sound effect for Wonder Woman using her super strength is similar to the Bionic Woman. Still, this show is worth watching if you remember when it was made. Recommended with minor reservations.

 

The Rockford Files – Season 3 Review

  • Title:  The Rockford Files
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 5
  • Original Network:  NBC
  • Distribution Network:  Universal
  • Cast:  James Garner, Noah Beery Jr, Joe Santos, Gretchen Corbett, Stuart Margolin
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

Oddly enough, the third season of The Rockford Files starts with a few weak episodes, but the season steadily improves and there are some excellent episodes. Also, Season 3 seems to have promoted attorney Beth Davenport and Rockford’s prison buddy, Angel, to regulars. This season also features some great guest stars. Best of all, it’s enjoyable to watch and unlike many other shows of its times – it’s not cringe-worthy. Well, at least, not that often.

One of the best episodes of the season, “So Help Me God”, sees Jim Rockford railroaded by a grand jury attorney, played with relish by William Daniels (of St. Elsewhere fame, though he’s also known as the voice of K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider). Rockford is subpoenaed to appear in court. He does and tells the truth, but the attorney refuses to believe him. Left with no other recourse, Rockford pleads the fifth – which lands him in jail on contempt of court charges. Even his attorney Beth can do nothing. Finally, Angel, of all people, breaks the deadlock – he finds a picture of the person Jim supposedly met with, and Jim recognizes it as a client – who gave him a different name. Jim is willing to testify to this – but by this time someone is out to get Rockford, because, well, someone is always out to get Rockford. He’s attacked and stabbed in prison. Once he recovers from that, he testifies, and he makes a statement ripping into the attorney.  Why the attorney was so determined to “get Rockford” isn’t explained – but really Jim also was the victim of a mistake. He had no idea who the guy they wanted information on was, other than what he’d seen in the papers. Once he saw a picture of the guy – he knew it was a client who gave him a false name and was perfectly willing to testify to what he knew, which wasn’t much. But it’s an excellent episode.

“The Becker Connection” sees Sgt. Dennis Becker transferred temporarily to narcotics, a few days before he’s due to transfer back to robbery/homicide, he’s hauled in by Internal Affairs. Jim has to help Dennis find out what’s going on. That Dennis is having serious money problems doesn’t help matters. Rockford is able to prove that narcotics is running a serious drug ring, and with IA closing in, they decided to make the new guy the pasty. But it’s nice to learn a bit more about Dennis (a character I always liked in this show) and we meet his wife, Peggy.

“Coulter City Wildcat” and the two-part, “The Trees, the Bees, and T.T. Flowers” focus more on Rocky and Jim’s relationship with his father. Rocky’s also an iconoclast and a very kind person. By the time of “Dirty Money, Black Light”, Jim is frustrated that his father seems to trust anyone that asks for help, thus getting himself or Jim in trouble. But the two are also close, and if anyone threatens Rocky, Jim will stop at nothing to help his father. I’ve always like the character of Rocky too, and I would have liked to see more episodes that show the two together.

“Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Waterbury Will Bury You,” is a great episode. Another PI, played by Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) comes to Rockford because his license has been pulled after he’s accused of breaking and entering. But the PI insists he was trying to save a girl, a client, so he had a good reason for the break-in. While investigating, Rockford runs into another PI – with virtually the same story, including the same girl being in trouble. And then they run into a third PI who has lost his license after a similar rather minor infraction. These PIs try to find out what’s going on. Rockford discovers that a large, corporate Security Service had decided to reduce the competition by twenty percent by eliminating the competition. James Rockford was at the top of their list, but their “client” couldn’t reach him since he was on vacation. Rockford and his PI buddies are able to prove what Waterbury is up to – since their dirty tricks including murdering a PI. But not only is the episode interesting in that it shows the depths an unscrupulous corporation would go through to destroy “the little guy”, but it is pure joy to watch the guest cast: Cleavon Little, Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Baa Baa Black Sheep, various movies, and lots of other guest performances), and Val Bisoglio (Quincy, M.E., Hill Street Blues, M*A*S*H, Saturday Night Fever).

This brings me to another point, The Rockford Files has some great guest stars. Sometimes you know their names; William Daniels, Ned Beatty, etc. and sometimes it’s just “that guy” (or gal) from “that show” – because Veronica Hamel and Joan Van Ark also make appearances. But I also noticed that the people in The Rockford Files look like people – they aren’t all gorgeous Hollywood twenty-somethings. In fact, most of the people you see in the show seem older – mid-thirties to even early forties, and that includes the main cast. The show also moves out of Los Angeles, Malibu, and Bel Air, visiting Oxnard, Ojai, and Ventura, California or at least claiming they are.

The Rockford Files is smart, fun, and most of the episodes follow a twisted as opposed to the obvious path to their conclusion. Of course, Jim Rockford gets in one fistfight or car chase per episode, and his clients still lie to him or use him. But in this season, Rockford is often helping his friends who are in trouble (even Beth calls Rockford for help when she is stalked). Thus Rockford who at times could be an unlikable character becomes more likable – and with James Garner playing the central character – you can’t not like the guy. And for a series made in the 1970s, there is little to none of the “bouncing boobs” of other series made at the same time. We don’t see Rockford dating a different girl in every episode. And although he gets some female clients, in this season most of the clients are friends or men. So there aren’t “women as victims” stereotypes. This makes the show still watchable and still enjoyable. Recommended.

Please see my The Rockford Files Season 2 Review.

Please see my The Rockford Files Season 1 Review.