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.