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Wonder Woman 1.13 – Wonder Woman in Hollywood

For the end of Wonder Woman‘s run on ABC, they brought back Debra Winger and Carolyn Jones, along with writer Jimmy Sangster, for one of those “run around the backlot” stories that were common in the 1970s. This time some Nazis mount a plan to kidnap four of America’s greatest war heroes by convincing General Blankenship to let all four appear in a morale-boosting movie. At the same time, Drusilla returns to the States to remind Diana that she needs to come home for Paradise Island’s 2000-year anniversary, so she gets to have lots of hot dogs and ice cream along with a new adventure.

Overall, it isn’t a bad story, and much better than the previous two, but it does have the feeling of end-of-season budget woes, and one of the actors almost sinks the whole thing. Robert Hays guest stars as one of the four great war heroes, but the big secret is that he’s really a coward who lucked into a situation where he came out smelling of roses. This is immediately obvious from his first scene. In his defense, this was very early in Hays’ career. He got better.

Our son didn’t mind. He really loved this one, which had lots of opportunities for the heroines to throw villains around. Drusilla is formally called “Wonder Girl” by Hays right at the end, but unfortunately, this would be the final appearance of the character. There have been sixty gajillion different Wonder Girls in the pages of DC Comics, but Debra Winger’s version of Drusilla outshines all of them.

ABC cancelled Wonder Woman, citing the expense of doing a period show along with their desire to drop some of their superhero programming. Funny how in 1977, the two Bionic series and Wonder Woman were thought excessive on ABC, and forty years later, shows like these dominate the CW. Anyway, CBS picked it up, moved the storyline to the present day, and teamed it with The Incredible Hulk for two solid years on Friday nights.

We won’t be watching the CBS Wonder Woman. All credit to Lynda Carter, whose acting skills improved exponentially every week and who left the show looking even more gorgeous than when she began it, but it was the worst kind of cheesy, fad-chasing seventies pablum, with stories about teen idols and skateboarders, and Wolfman Jack as an evil DJ. There were minor format changes every few months, a cute robot like R2-D2, and a completely bizarre hail mary in the final episode setting up a new format, with Wonder Woman joining a team of amateur crimefighters that included an indestructible man and a chimpanzee. There’s exactly one episode I wouldn’t mind seeing again, a creepy one with John Carradine as the voice of a disembodied brain.

After the show was cancelled, Lynda Carter made a million TV movies and variety specials and recorded a couple of LPs, was the face of Maybelline for a while, and co-starred with Lee Horsley in the not-awful ’90s western Hawkeye. She had a small part in Sky High, a film that’s better than anybody expected, and that includes the people who made it. She was in Smallville at least once, and appears once in a while as the president with a big secret in Supergirl. Lyle Waggoner, who got the oddball chance to play Steve Trevor Jr. in the retooled series but was gradually phased out so that Lynda Carter could have a new handsome co-star each week, mostly retired from acting a couple of years later, after starting a business selling home-away-from-home trailers for movie shoots, but occasionally appears in amusing projects like the 2003 TV movie Return to the Batcave.

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Wonder Woman 1.5 – The Feminum Mystique (part two)

So some Nazis attack Paradise Island. The reality of seventies television means that we didn’t get what modern superhero teevee would do in this sort of situation. I can totally imagine the team that makes those four shows on the CW pulling off a full-scale pitched battle, with Amazon archers bringing down German soldiers on the beaches. Here, bizarrely, the expeditionary force happens to choose to land on the remote part of the island where the Amazons mine feminum, from which they forge their bracelets. And so the eight soldiers run into Diana’s group of unarmed (!!!) Amazons, and they overcome the women with gas grenades.

No, nobody gets an arrow or a javelin in the chest. The Amazons are content to… well, throw the villains into the water. Oh, the seventies, how you disappoint us so. Even before the Nazis get their minds wiped before being shipped into Allied hands, they have no idea that the island has a large population.

On the other hand, our son was incredibly pleased by the stunts and the tame violence. He loved seeing the villains tossed into the pond, as well as the climax, in which Wonder Woman stops an experimental jet from being stolen by an agent by grabbing a wing and letting it spin in circles. Full credit to the producers and Lynda Carter for pulling that off: it wasn’t a stuntwoman, and it looked pretty dangerous.

Honestly, my favorite part of the episode came when John Saxon’s villainous character briefly justified the Nazi cause to Carolyn Jones’s Queen Hippolyta. I say this not because of the scene’s content, but because these are two really great actors working extremely well together. Saxon is still working; he has nearly 200 credits at IMDB and I notice that we’ll be seeing him again down the line in other projects.

Overall, it’s a good story, with some very intelligent bits – watching the villains determine Paradise Island’s location based on Drusilla’s recounting of constellations is really clever – and some very good acting, from the veterans as well as from newcomer Debra Winger. Times have changed and expectations have evolved, but for its day, this was not bad at all.

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Wonder Woman 1.4 – The Feminum Mystique (part one)

The first two-part episode of Wonder Woman is another that everybody remembers. It introduces Debra Winger as Diana’s younger sister Drusilla. In other Paradise Island news, Carolyn Jones takes over the role of Queen Hippolyta, and Erica Hagen, who had been in a couple of first season Land of the Lost episodes, plays another Amazon named Dalma.

The Queen has decided that Diana has spent enough time in America and should return home to fulfill her duties. This is set in June 1942. I was saying the other week that this show would make more sense if it had been set in ’43, but now we’re meant to believe that Major Trevor washed ashore on the island in the spring and the queen thinks Diana should have ended the war already? Oddly, that’s precisely what John Saxon’s bosses in Germany say this week: a proactive Wonder Woman would end the war within weeks.

The original story was written by Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday, who would later create the iconic cop drama Cagney & Lacey, and the teleplay credited to regular Hammer Films scribe Jimmy Sangster, who had moved to California in the early seventies and was popping around various studios writing TV episodes. The title is a cute pun on Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, but it doesn’t make any sense in this show yet. “Feminum” is the name of the indestructible metal that the Amazons use for their bracelets, but that is not explained in part one of the story.

Our son really enjoyed this one, and was excited when Drusilla does a spin and turns into a costumed hero. He was less happy when she gets into trouble and is captured by John Saxon’s gang. I enjoyed the way that Drusilla is shown to be naive and doesn’t understand our culture, the way that Wonder Woman was all too briefly in the original film. But our son is still learning our culture as well, and I had to pause a couple of times to explain things like code phrases and how Drusilla’s yellow dress is garishly unlike what teens in 1942 were wearing.

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