Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Thoughts on the old Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show.

Well, I broke my blogging streak this week but since I've been spending a decent amount of time on class and an even greater amount of time on work, I figured I was entitled to devoting my leisure time to some nostalgia.

By that I mean rewatching the entire first season of The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, which I had sitting around on DVD but hadn't really seen since I was a kid. I'd been worried that it wouldn't live up to my memories. I mean, this is one of those shows they ran late at night in reruns, and in the afternoon on the early Sci-Fi channel schedule. For a while, it was right at 3 PM and I'd get off the bus only to ever catch Lynda Carter for the last half hour. (Batman, however, was on for an hour at 5 so I could easily catch all of the Adam West cheesiness I wanted.) I looked so forward to that, and I ran when I got off the bus to see it for a while.

I really shouldn't have been worried.

Yes, it is terribly cheesy. The effects are nonexistent, the acting is quite mockable, and the plots are riddled with holes. But hey, I knew this as a kid and I never forgot it. I had forgotten a few things, though:

1) There were two Hippolytas in the first season, and when it came down to it I preferred the edgy sexist Hippolyta ("I named this place Paradise Island... because there were no men on it") who had a closed mind Diana would have to open over the amusingly absent-minded, gentle and innocent Hippolyta ("Daughter... Can't you reason with your Nazis?") that showed in the Druscilla episodes. She wasn't a horrible stereotype in the pilot, after all she ran a very peaceful society and never once considered any other option than sending Steve home once he'd recovered. She was sarcastic and sexist, though, and considered Diana the naive one. They later decided to recast her and just make the entire family naive, and the Diana the only one who could conceive of how malicious the outside world could be. This didn't really make sense because... why would the Queen not realize why they decided to LEAVE?

2) Druscilla was annoying, but kind of fun because she could make stupid statements Diana couldn't get away with. I am glad as hell she only showed up in 3 episodes, though, because she made the thought of any Amazon-centered stuff a major pain.

3) Etta Candy was even more annoying than Druscilla. I'd COMPLETELY forgotten how horrible this character was. "Oh, I wish I was pretty" all the fucking time. Golden Age Etta Candy kicked ass because she was the head of a gang of really wild college girls, she never fretted about her looks, she told off military men and never hesitated to punch out bad guys. This was a girl who could sit in a room with General Darnell and Major Trevor and tell them exactly what's going on confidently and between bites of chocolate, and was trusted enough that Steve regularly called (and ARMED) her and her entire kooky sorority for help without prompting from Diana. Post-Crisis Etta is like this, but with body issues (which I hate) and without the gang of kooky sorority girls. TV Etta is... I don't know what the fuck she is, but she's annoying and she shouldn't be muddying up my Wonder Woman. I'll take Druscilla AND Donna Troy in a story over TV-Etta.

4) I greatly prefer Gen. Darnell from the comics to Gen. Blankenship on the TV show. Blankenship was a nice old man, but Darnell was much more on the ball.

5) Diana Prince reads the Dictionary of American Slang on her break. I love that.

6) Diana Prince reads the Dictionary of American Slang on her lunch, misses most of the pop culture references, doesn't know who Thomas Jefferson is, replaces a woman who was a spy, and somehow arouses ZERO suspicion from Steve Trevor, a man employed to find and capture foreign spies during wartime.

7) Steve Trevor, despite his secretary-shaped blind spot, actually comes off as fairly sharp and good at his job.

8) Lyle Waggoner is probably why I like the Steve Trevor character. They managed to get him perfect in the first season. There are so many ways to get this character wrong: you can overmacho him and make him a jerk (making us wonder why she likes him), you can dedicate a storyline to how she teaches him to be a better person (neglecting that a, there should be a reason she likes him and b, this is not his story, this is her story and he's supposed to be the catalyst for her life change so he'd better be fucking worth leaving Paradise for in the first place), or you can dedicate a storyline to how his masculinity is threatened by her success (which goes counter to the very concept of this character).

They avoided all three here. He's a decent human being on all fronts (though not without his jerky moments like all people), a bit sexist but it manifests in the well-meaning chivalry side (like when he tries to shield her from an explosion) rather than kneejerk chauvinism (hell, in the beauty contest episode he has the same reaction as her to first seeing all the women in a secure area). They even do away with his Loisesque dismissal of Diana Prince's abilities, and he genuinely listens to her as a colleague and a friend. He starts out the series as a war hero, and as the season goes on you get to see him do heroic things in between being kidnapped, tied up and knocked unconscious. Basically, you watch this guy and understand why Wonder Woman has a crush on him.

Because he's already a stand-up human being to begin with, he doesn't need Wonder Woman to show him the error of his ways and the character development can focus on Diana and her effect on the world at large rather than just her effect on one person through love. He does get to be fleshed out, and they do try to examine his morality and honor as a military person at some points but ultimately the people who change and grow are the side characters and the bad guys in this series. I like that for Wonder Woman, because we have plenty of great stories out there about the transformative power of a woman's love on a good man so we really don't need to go to that well when the point of the franchise is to focus on the transformative power of a woman's idealism, optimism, and ability on the whole world.

And while he's embarrassed that he needs her help so often (and doesn't really get to save her that I can recall, which is different from Golden Age Steve who got a chance to save the day every fourth or fifth story) he's not testy with her or seeing her as a threat to his supremacy. Instead, he adores her and wants to help her any chance he gets.

I don't know if we'll get that sort of relationship in a modern series, though. This series was very plot-driven. Steve's role was to show Wonder Woman which asses needed to be kicked. He had a job of pivotal importance that he needed backup on, and she could always count on him walking into the biggest trouble-spot if she hung around him long enough. In this way, he was the best love interest and sidekick for him. A modern series will focus more on inter-character conflict, though, and come up with some way to manufacture drama between the two.

Hopefully, they avoid the 3 pitfalls I listed above and come up with something sensible for them to clash over. The alien visitors episode was a good setup for character conflict, actually, because it pitted his military pragmatism against her peaceful philosophy. I don't know if we'd get something that relevant of David E. Kelley, though.

9) Lynda Carter was, is, and probably forever will be one of the most likable actresses in television history. Her Diana was so sweet and innocent without being foolish. It was a perfect Year One portrayal. They played a little with the fish out of water gags through the whole series ("There's a place where they make money?" "Tom who?") but they also established early on that she knew how to read people very well. That she was so smart about people made it all the more effective that she chose trust and compassion whenever possible.

I feel like I should give her more words, but really... what more can you say? She shows up on screen and you start smiling. She radiates goodness and light. She makes you lose yourself in that cheesy old TV show. It worked because of her.

4 comments:

  1. Lynda Carter shared Christopher Reeve's ability to make an impossible character convincing through sheer sincerity. one element you didn't mention was her ability to wear that costume so comfortably. She never seemed self-conscious or even unusually exposed.

    ...a bit sexist but it manifests in the well-meaning chivalry side (like when he tries to shield her from an explosion)...

    I don't think even that counts as sexism -- I have no doubt that Steve Trevor, particularly the Waggoner incarnation, would have tried to shield anyone he was standing next to, male or female. He's totally the throw-himself-on-the-grenade type.

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  2. Yeah, that really helped with the culture thing. She seemed like she came from a society where anyone might dress in a star-spangled bathing suit and not seem odd.

    You're right about Steve too, I'm being unfair to him there. He was just as protective of male characters like Blankenship, that Secret Service agent, and the other war heroes in the Hollywood ep.

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  3. Man, I haven't watched these in ages. But I do remember having a terrible crush on Lyle Waggoner.

    It was a cheesy show, it was silly, and ridiculous and all of those things, and I loved it madly.

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  4. Even I had a crush on Lyle Waggoner and I'm a straight guy.

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