Wonder Woman Pilot: “The New Original Wonder Woman”

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Aired: November 7, 1975
Writer: Stanley Ralph Ross
Director: Leonard Horn

We’re finally at the show! This was very much a part of what I wanted to do with this blog since day one, but we had to do enough house keeping to get mostly caught up with the normal order of things before I was ready to bring the show into this. But here we are, DVDs in hand, with the plans to do an episode of the 1970s TV show every week. I intend for these to be a little bit shorter, a quick recap of the episode followed by some notes. This is twofold: one, I’m mostly watching this show for fun and this blog is already a lot of work; two, TV writing is a weird beast I have no real experience with, so I’m going to tackle it with novice, haphazard zeal.

vlcsnap-2016-10-03-19h23m11s012
The unabashed comic comic stylings of this pilot are really striking. It’s not quite the camp children’s show that Batman was, but it feels confident winking at its viewers.

What Happens?

It’s World War II. We’re shown Steve Trevor, ace pilot, with a secretary who turns out to be a Nazi spy. He’s sent to intercept a Nazi fighter attempting a strike on American soil. They meet over the Bermuda Triangle, where they’re both shot down. Steve washes ashore Paradise Island. The well worn (to us, now, anyway) competition for who can take Steve back occurs. Diana wins, of course, and brings Steve back. While he recovers she’s feeling her way through man’s world, including agreeing to do a stage show reflecting bullets with her bracelets to make some money to live on. Steve’s evil secretary concocts a plan to kill him and complete the bombing run, both of which Diana stops. Diana dresses matronly to become Steve’s new secretary, but he’s pining for Wonder Woman.

Clorsi Leachman plays Hippolyta, and she chews scenery for every second she's on screen.
Clorsi Leachman plays Hippolyta, and she chews scenery for every second she’s on screen.

Notes

  • Lynda Carter is fantastic as Diana. I’m sure this’ll come up plenty of times in these write-ups, but the 24 year old Miss World USA is a real find, and there’s a reason that she’s still an iconic part of Wonder Woman’s iconography. She’s funny, she’s incredibly expressive, she looks both strong and beautiful, and there’s an earnestness to her that gets across Wonder Woman’s potential hokeyness really well.
  • It’s really weird just seeing Nazis as the villains in a TV show? I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, and especially not from this era, so just seeing swastikas plastered over everything is weird. The Nazis are played as obvious threats on one hand, and buffoonish villains on the other, and the dichotomy is strange.

    It wouldn't be a Wonder Woman origin without this exact shot.
    It wouldn’t be a Wonder Woman origin without this exact shot.
  • Equally, setting it in World War II surprises me because this reads so forcefully as a 2nd wave feminism show. Diana running around in a bathing suit talking about sisterhood feels really at home in the bra-burning politics of the 1970s, and feels like an impossible thing to imagine in the actual 1940s. This isn’t a problem, really, but when put to live action makes the original conception of Wonder Woman feel like a genuinely radical act in a way that the character often (unfortunately) doesn’t feel like in modern times.

    Wonder Woman just walking down the street is the purest form of swagger I could imagine.
    Wonder Woman just walking down the street is the purest form of swagger I could imagine.
  • Steve Trevor sucks in general, but in this show he seems SO OLD. Lyle Waggoner is 16 years Lynda Carter’s senior, and every bit of it is etched onto his face. I know this is in part an era thing, in part just Hollywood, but geez I hate it as presented.
  • The whole side bit of Diana being talked into going into showbiz by a dirty opportunist who offers to be her agent (and turns out to be a Nazi) is really great. The agent is played by comedian Red Buttons and he really crushes every scene, just making faces and generally cowering in front of Diana in every scene.

    Wonder Woman's stage career might have been short, but it was spectacular.
    Wonder Woman’s stage career might have been short, but it was spectacular.
  • One of the most indelible bits of the show is the Wonder Woman transformation sequence, which honestly is a really great effect in this first episode. I know it just becomes a flash and cut in the future, but here it’s a really nice bit of special effects. You can see it here.
  • It’s really obvious that with a young and athletic actress that they were fine with Lynda Carter doing a lot of her own stunts. There’s a fight scene in this pilot that is so well made it would be at home in a show like Buffy, which would be praised for being a stunt heavy show about women two decades later. It’s way better than any of the Batman fights from the decade prior.
  • The whole thing with Wonder Woman and Diana Prince being two separate identities is going to be a thing I’ll try not to grump too much about. It’s part of her Golden Age identity, a love triangle that probably felt tired in the 1940s much less the 1970s, but one that was so inherent to the character at this point that wishing it wasn’t there feels like asking too much. But I hate it, and I think it weakens both Diana and (even though I don’t care as much) Steve to have them both doing this Clark Kent bullshit. And that’s saying something, considering I love Clark Kent bullshit. I just don’t want Diana doing it.
  • This is a great pilot. Most of my notes here are about good things, because this seems like a great show. It’s pretty funny, everyone seems determined to put in good work, and the comic book stuff is comic book stuff. What more could you want? I’ll leave you with the ‘what more’ answered with this picture.vlcsnap-2016-10-03-19h50m58s600Yes, that’s a granny with a machine gun. She’s a Nazi granny, who showed up to Wonder Woman’s stage show trying to gun her down where revolvers and rifles would fail. Diana lets her try and manages to deflect every bullet, smirking at the gaping grandma as the scene ends. Yeah, this show’s all right.

 

 

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