American, Superhero / War Thriller, 1975, produced by Stanley Ralph Ross, starring Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner, Warner Bros. / DC Comics.
With DC’s current cinematic universe coming a cropper, 2017’s upcoming Wonder Woman film by Patty Jenkins might be yet another failure, just like the previous films in the series, including the poorly-received Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. But let’s hope that it qualitatively rises above past DC efforts, because Wonder Woman has been suffering from lack of mediatic exposure, with only the Super Friends (Gli Super Amici) and Justice League cartoons, and this 70s TV series, to her name, in which she starred alongside Batman, Superman, Flash and Green Lantern (plus a few unaired TV pilots that have never been broadcast), whereas Batman and Superman have had dozens upon dozens of films, TV series, cartoon shows and even video games. But over the three years of its run, this show was groundbreaking, and featured a Latina woman in its lead role – a first for the time.
The series focuses on the ancient Amazonian princess Diana of Themyscira’s longstanding quest to bring truth and justice to the world of mortal man, using her superhuman strength, speed, intelligence, psychic powers and gadgets including her golden lasso, bulletproof bracelets, boomerang tiara and invisible jet. Working for the IADC intelligence agency with her boyfriend Steve Trevor, she fights crime under the guise of the “Wonder Woman” in a series of 60 episodes, each one focusing on a one-note villain and espionage scheme, usually with a supernatural element such as a giant gorilla, a telepathic dolphin, or even a chemical that turns rubber tires into steel. You can’t make that kind of stuff up.
The recurring cast is limited and rotates each season, but Steve Trevor is always present and correct, played by a rather wooden Lyle Waggoner. Guest actors provide consistently-amazing performances, with even the smallest bit-parts being filled in with grandiose, campy actors delivering lines on fleek and nailing every micro-expression with class and tact. This is especially true of the many guest movie stars who appear in the series, among them Roddy McDowall, Roy Rogers, Henry Gibson and Robert Loggia. But the best performance of all is Mexican singer Lynda Carter as Diana herself. A former Miss America-winning model as beautiful as her name (“linda” means “pretty” in Spanish), she is surprisingly charismatic in the lead role, oscillating from confident and powerful warrior, to warm and sisterly matriarch, with a heart of gold and a cheeky sense of humor, acting “natural” rather than hamming it up like a Shakespeare actor – not easy to do when your character is from Ancient Greece. Many ideas that could’ve ruined an entire episode if done badly, such as Diana performing a singing number or talking to dolphins using “mental radio”, were pulled off purely thanks to her talent.
Let that not induce you into assuming the stories were bad, per se: they are products of their times, and so, expect a lot of Cold War plots. In fact, the series is very grounded (due to its comparatively-low budget), keeping the fantasy aspects of the comics to a strict minimum. It’s disappointing that the character’s Grecian heritage is so underused in this show, but I’d rather see plots about a Communist spy with a volcano-making machine than a bunch of guys running around with tin buckets on their heads saying “Die, Earth scum!”. The series is best remembered for its feminist and pacifist overtones, coming from a decade that saw the Vietnam War and the emergence of second-wave feminism; this helps make it more unique and not just “another superhero show”. Expect a lot of dramatic speeches: it sounds boring, but those ramblings are some of the best parts of the show, and always very well-written and well-performed. The scripts are consistently witty and clever, and the plot moves at a breakneck pace, with no murder or gore, but plenty of danger and excitement; the plot twists and turns like a rollercoaster ride at Disneyland (but with less vomiting and crying children!), as Diana is sent on a case, uncovers secrets, is chloroformed and kidnapped, escapes, turns into Wonder Woman, and performs feats of superhero awesomeness.
Whatever SFX there is usually works very well, with a stunning explosion of light signaling Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman, coupled with a lovely pirouette from Lynda – the spin transformations are the deus ex machina of each episode, so expect to see that dazzling effect time and again as you binge through the series. Lynda’s stuntwomen make amazing acrobatic moves that are far more impressive than any CGI green-screen shenanigans, and the series feels very physical and real, maintaining its verisimilitude on a shoestring budget. The only downside is the invisible jet, a concept so stupid they retired it in the second season onwards: a crudely-made Barbie doll of Lynda/Wonder Woman in a see-through plastic balloon. Boo!
Ultimately, I can’t recommend this series… ENOUGH! It was, and is, one of the very best superhero TV shows I have ever seen! I was expecting it to be a freak show of bad costumes, silly special effects and hammy acting, but it hasn’t aged a bit, and treats itself just seriously enough, with plenty of levity but never giving in to “tongue-in-cheek” like Adam West’s Batman show. Less exploitative of its leading lady than Charlie’s Angels, with more fashion sense than Bionic Woman, and less awkward green makeup than the 70s Hulk show, this is one series well worth revisiting.
Score: 9 out of 10.
Recommended for: people who like series with strong female role models; fans of DC Comics superheroes; fans of cult classic 1970s television.
Note: the new WONDER WOMAN film, starring Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious) will be coming out in cinemas in the summer of 2017.
Wow, this week’s Cinematic Calamity TV series was actually GOOD! What a surprise… I guess you readers want your money back! Don’t worry, next time, it’ll be a bad movie, I promise… Next week, the Master of Movie Disaster will be reviewing a real Cinematic Calamity: HOWARD THE DUCK (Howard il Papero e il Destino del Mondo)!