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WONDER WOMAN
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Lynda Carter, Lyle Waggoner
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  Pilot Commentary, Retrospective Featurette
Length:  725 Minutes
Release Date:  June 29, 2004

"Go in peace, my daughter.  And remember:  in a world of ordinary mortals...

...you are a Wonder Woman!"

Shows ***1/2

Talk about the right show at the right time...when producer Douglas S. Cramer decided to bring Charles Moulton's classic comic strip heroine Wonder Woman to television in 1975, it became something more than just a weekly action/adventure fantasy series.  It grew into a testament to and a reflection of the blossoming spirit of feminism of the times.

And Wonder Woman was completely true to the ideal.  She was beautiful, yes, but also strong, capable, independent, and intelligent, if sometimes amusingly unaware of how the world outside her sheltered life on Paradise Island operated ("THEY steal money, and I have to fill out forms??  What a country!").  The male lead of Major Steve Trevor (Waggoner) actually served in the traditional "damsel in distress" role...his purpose was basically to have his butt saved by our favorite red white and blue clad heroine week after week.  And he made no false masculine pretenses, either...he always gave the lovely Wonder Woman all the credit she deserved for saving the day.

As introduced in the comics in 1941, Wonder Woman was an Amazon princess named Diana living on an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle.  It was a women-only society where the ladies lived in peace and harmony for thousands of years, stayed forever young and beautiful, and had tremendous powers, both physically and mentally.  And of course, no men.  One may ask how Diana's mother gave birth to her, then, but there it is...

The pilot episode "The New Original Wonder Woman" explains her background fully, and demonstrates how, during the dark hours of World War II, she was picked to return the wounded Major Trevor home to America and join their fight against the Nazi onslaught.  Her scantily clad brand of heroism turned more than a few heads in 1941, but soon, a grateful nation was singing her praises, and while Wonder Woman was saving the day in her decade, she was becoming a hero and symbol of feminine strength to young girls in the 70s.

Personally, as a kid, I loved the show more than just about anything else on television save All in the Family.  And I have to admit, it was inspired by an immediate and forever lasting crush on the young female lead, Lynda Carter.  A former Miss USA winner getting her first big break in acting, Ms. Carter made the most of it.  While the early going of the show was sometimes a bit silly and on the campy side (the only real role model for such a show at the time had been the hilariously over-the-top Batman series), she played the role with a sweet earnestness and complete conviction.  As she would still maintain decades later, she loved the character sincerely, and that love showed through radiantly episode after episode.

The first 13 episodes of Wonder Woman are all here in a three disc set, and that first year had some classics, starting with the aforementioned two hour pilot.  In the first regular episode, "Wonder Woman Meets Baroness von Gunther" and the second one "Fausta: The Nazi Wonder Woman", the dedication to feminism is made clear:  women could be bad guys, too, but not just any old run of the mill femme fatales.  The villainesses were also strong, smart, and formidable, and presented our heroine with some of her biggest challenges!

A pair of two part episodes kept the suspense up for a week at a time, starting with "The Feminum Mystique".  In it, a young future Oscar nominee Debra Winger made her debut as Wonder Woman's kid sister Drusilla, who joins her older sibling's side when a group of Nazis try to take over Paradise Island to discover the secret behind their bulletproof bracelets!  But where did Drusilla come from with no men on the island?  Oh, I already asked that...never mind.

The second two-parter "Judgment From Outer Space" lets Wonder Woman save the world quite literally, by proving to an advanced alien race who feels earth should be destroyed for its savagery that there was indeed hope for the future of humanity.

One of my favorite episodes was "The Bushwhackers", in which Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor head to Texas to break up a cattle rustling ring affecting the Army's supply of beef.  In it, Wonder Woman befriends a charming group of multi-ethnic war orphans.  Watching how loving and sweet she was with those children made me wish I was one of them at the time...sigh...

The year's only embarrassment was "Wonder Woman vs. Gargantua!", in which the Nazis use a trained gorilla (actually, some actor in a rather cheesy monkey costume) to try to get rid of Wonder Woman once and for all.  Watching her fight the big gorilla not just once but twice made me wonder just who in the hell thought that whole thing was a good idea.

In addition to the charming lead stars, Wonder Woman boasted a never-ending string of guest stars, as it became kind of 'in' to appear on the show.  In just this season alone, look for the likes of Cloris Leachman, Fannie Flagg, Stella Stevens, Kenneth Mars, Eric Braeden and Red Buttons (and hell, that's just the pilot episode!).  As the series progresses, you'll also spot John Saxon, Dick Van Patten, Carolyn Jones, Robert Reed, Roy Rogers and others!

As the series progressed over the next several years, there would be some changes, including a switch of networks and the decision to bring Wonder Woman out of the 40s and into the 70s (hey, she's immortal and eternally young, so why not?), but a lot of the groundwork of the premiere season would remain the same.  With a timely attitude toward women's liberation, a great sense of fun and style, and most of all, the irreplaceable beauty and spirit of Lynda Carter, it was destined to be a classic...it's debut on DVD proves that it still is.

BONUS TRIVIA:  The iconic 'spin' that transformed Diana Prince into Wonder Woman was Lynda Carter's own idea, coming from her early training in dance!

Video ***

Tough call in this category because it's a mixed bag.  At best, when shots are in full daylight, the colors are vibrant and beautiful and leap off the screen at you.  Wonder Woman's costume continues to dazzle after all these years, and the brighter images show better detail and less aging artifacts.  Darker scenes tend to get murky, grainy, and show more evidence of age.  The pilot episode might earn the lowest overall grades because of a significant amount of stock footage which is glaringly apparent because of how shoddy it looks.  Later episodes fared much better.  Overall, for a nearly 30 year old television program, not much to complain about, just a few flaws worth noting.

Audio **

The original mono audio is intact and is suitable if not exemplary.  Dialogue is generally clean and clear, dynamic range is minimal, the famous theme song is about what you remembered.  Overall, par for the course.

Features **

Only two extras, but they're both welcome...Lynda Carter and producer Douglas S. Cramer team up for a commentary track for the pilot episode (slightly sparse on occasion, but an enjoyable listen overall), and a new retrospective featurette "Beauty, Brawn and Bulletproof Bracelets", which is a look back at the Wonder Woman phenomenon with new interviews with both Ms. Carter (who is still stunning) and Mr. Cramer.  You'll learn plenty of good stuff along the way, including the secret behind the famous bulletproof bracelets!

Summary:

A lot of things change in 30 years, but some things don't.  Lynda Carter is still one of the most beautiful women alive, and Wonder Woman is still high flying fun.  Kudos to Warner Bros. for rolling out this groundbreaking series on disc.  Recommended.

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